It’s been a roller coaster week for BYU football.
But while the Cougars have had to deal with cancellations and a single addition to their schedule while watching the school’s other sports programs lose out on fall seasons due to the West Coast Conference’s recent decision to postpone to spring, the Cougars are using their fall camp practices for more than just holding out hope for a chance to play.
Being able to practice serves as a reprieve to a pandemic that encourages people to self-isolate.
Coach Kalani Sitake has seen how having simple conversations has helped his players and staff.
“That’s what they miss,” Sitake said. “It’s just not the same as it would be texting and things like that. Just eye to eye contact and interactions, seeing someone’s emotions — even though it’s hidden through a mask — seeing someone eye to eye is something that I think we’ve all missed in our society.”
The efforts by athletic director Tom Holmoe have also been inspiring, Sitake and his players said.
Ask any AD, and football schedules are made years in advance. Conversations and deals start well before the pen meets the paper.
Holmoe’s stellar 2020 schedule started falling apart on July 9, when the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced they would play a conference-only schedule. Over the past five weeks, BYU has lost all but two of its originally scheduled games — against Houston on Oct. 16 and North Alabama on Nov. 21.
“He’s always open with us and kind of telling us where he’s at,” senior defensive lineman Zac Dawe said. “Lately he’s been helping the leadership stay in the loop with, like, the games of Troy and also Navy. And helping keep us always on alert and ready to go. But I think just being here around all the boys and rally around each other and just trust that he’s going to do his job, and I think he’s doing the best he can.”
Wide receiver Dax Milne has had some conversations with friends from other programs that have opted to postpone their seasons. Most recently, the junior was talking to a friend on the Southern Utah team who has mixed feelings about being canceled.
“It’s kind of cool being the only team in the West that’s ready and able to play, but no one’s really given me any heat for it,” Milne said.
As far as expanding their schedule, Sitake said he hasn’t been given any parameters or guidelines for possible opponents. He’s been included in some conversations, but it’s “not my expertise” he said.
Instead he’s just focused on keeping his players safe, making sure they follow the necessary precautions and protocols on the field and at BYU sports facilities. He’s leaving the rest up to Holmoe.
“He’s the busiest man I’ve seen around for a long time,” Sitake said. “Even when we have our meetings, his phone’s always blowing up, so I appreciate all the hard work that he’s putting through. … Thinking about it, from an AD perspective, he’s going from running the teams and then trying to keep the players safe and also listening to the doctors and people in the medical field, and their opinions. And then assessing all that and talking to the coaches. He’s done a great job of communicating with all of us. It’s been really, really cool to see his leadership take place.”
As a senior, Dawe said the pandemic has already changed fall camp drastically from years prior.
Without a full schedule to properly plan and prepare for, the team has to be reactive to any opportunity and attack each one with everything they've got.
There have already been hundreds of seniors around the country who have had their final season cut — a thought that weighs on Dawe’s mind.
“We’re just grateful to be part of this program who’s willing to try and do everything that they can,” Dawe said. “And we have Tom Holmoe and coach Kalani Sitake doing everything they can so we can have a season. Like I’m wearing a mask. We do everything we can so we can play this season.”