BYU has all of its talent returning, and then some, in the running back room

Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa are front runners, but there’s still plenty of competition left in the race for RB1.

(Tyler Richardson | BYU) Running backs coach Harvey Unga, left, participates in BYU spring football practice, Thursday, March 18, 2021.

BYU football is seeing a lot of turnover all over the field, having lost multiple starters across many positions — with the exception of the running back group.

In fact, position coach Harvey Unga didn’t lose anyone. Instead, he added a couple of new players to an already deep running back room. And it’s one that could see continued success for a few more years.

With the exception of Lopini Katoa, who’s listed as a junior, the rest of the running backs are either freshmen or sophomores. While it’s a young group, last year’s COVID-19 season froze eligibility across the board and many of the running backs have redshirted a year in their respective careers. So, they’re not as young or inexperienced as a quick glance at the roster would make believe.

For Unga, having a younger group doesn’t change anything on his end.

“I treat these guys like they’re veteran players and a lot of them understand [that] I’m going to give them the same respect that I’ll give the older guys as long as they carry themselves in that manner,” Unga said. “And I think a lot of them, a lot of these guys, respond well with that.”

The Cougar currently leading the pack is Tyler Allgeier.

A year ago, Allgeier won the RB1 competition and finished the 2020 season with 1,130 yards and 13 touchdowns on 150 carries. Heading into the 2021 season, Allgeier is the highest graded Cougar by Pro Football Focus with a 93.1 rushing grade — and is ranked as one of the top 10, coming in at No. 9, returning running backs.

Although Allgeier is the odds-on favorite to regain the starting position again, there’s still plenty of competition he’ll have to face before that decision gets made.

There’s Katoa, who’s been a constant producer for the Cougars for the last three years; Sione Finau, who was the first Cougar rush for 100 yards in a game in 2019 before suffering a season-ending injury; Jackson McChesney, who has a breakout 228 rushing yard game against UMass in 2019, but sat out the majority of the 2020 season due to a foot injury; plus more than half a dozen other athletes who want to compete for the role.

Luckily, at this moment, none of Unga’s players are dealing with serious injuries, which has plagued the running back group over the last couple of years.

“Injuries are the things that held those guys out,” Unga said. “...To me, as of now, they should be all ready to go this fall. They know where I stand as far as the depth and everything like that. I’ve always been a big fan of just competing.”

Unga said he’s talked to Allgeier about the competition. While Allgeier and Katoa are the front runners of the group, Unga expects the other guys to fight for the starting role. After all, that’s what he did when he came to BYU in 2006.

The running back room will also see the addition of two true freshman at fall camp — Faka’osi Nasilai and Beau Robinson.

With the amount of talent and experience in the group, Unga expect the running game to still be a strong part of the Cougars’ offensive plans in 2021.

“I hope they challenge these older guys and I hope they give them a run for their money,” “And who knows, maybe one of these younger guys becomes the next Jamaal Williams or one of these superstars to come out of here. Tyler Allgeier is a prime example. He took a few snaps here and there previously before this last season, but he worked his butt off and stayed focused and things worked out for him.”