As BYU holds its annual football media day, all signs point to normalcy for 2021

Coaches and players conduct face-to-face interviews for the first time in more than a year, and are excited to have fans back in the stands.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake answers interview questions from print media during BYU Football Media Day at the BYU Broadcasting Building in Provo on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

Provo • As of Thursday, 47,000 tickets have been sold for BYU’s season opener against Arizona at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Sept. 4. Those trekking to Nevada will have the opportunity to attend Fan Fest at Craig Ranch Regional Park the night before the season opener.

All signs point to BYU football, as well as businesses and other institutions around the nation, returning to a new sense of normalcy as 2021 unfolds.

“We had tremendous support last year,” coach Kalani Sitake said. “… it’s going to be nice to see [the fans]. I know we’ve been looking forward to this. And then football is right around the corner.”

The first sign that the 2021 season will play out differently than 2020 came on Thursday when BYU hosted its annual football media day (which was canceled last year). After either rapid testing the morning of or providing proof of full vaccination, participants, coaches, players and staff could be seen roaming around the BYU Broadcast building sans masks. For the first time in more than a year, coaches and players conducted face-to-face interviews rather than through Zoom calls.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, center, is joined by head football coach Kalani Sitake as they go on live tv programming for BYU Football Media Day at the BYU Broadcasting Building in Provo on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

Assuming the pandemic continues to wane and BYU continues to take necessary precautions, the Cougars should be able to play the current Power Five-stacked schedule without incident.

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said part of making sure there’s no hitches in the upcoming season is by encouraging players to get vaccinated and continue to take precautions.

“I’m happy to say it — I got [the vaccine] as soon as I could,” Roderick said. “I wanted to play football and do my job and just enjoy it. I think we all do, it was a hard year. Encouraging, definitely, everybody to be vaccinated.”

When it comes to what coaches and players are most excited about going back to a normal season, the consensus was having stadiums filled with fans once more.

There’s also no replacement for the energy fans bring to a game, especially against tough competition like BYU will face this fall. (The Cougars have seven P5 programs on the schedule.)

“I appreciate that energy that fans bring, whether you’re at home or on the road,” Roderick said. “There’s nothing like the electricity in a football stadium on Saturdays. Can’t wait for that.”

Besides having fans and the usual tough schedule back on deck for BYU, the Cougars are excited to get back to normal to prove they earned last year’s success.

A lot of players mentioned feeling like people didn’t take them seriously over the 2020 season simply because of the much weaker strength of schedule — a situation that was out of their control.

“I think a lot of the players — I think every player — has a chip on their shoulder,” cornerback Keenan Ellis said. “I hear people saying that year was kind of clunky or whatever, but we were ready to play whatever — we scheduled all those teams against us. Going to this year, I think we have that chip on our shoulder and we want to prove all the doubters wrong.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Aaron Roderick, offensive coordinator and quarterback coach joins coaches, players and staff participating in BYU football media day in the BYU Broadcasting Building in Provo on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

While the Cougars wait for the 2021 season to start, cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford is just excited to be able to start doing all the little things that he wasn’t able to do since last March. The sixth-year coach is ready to go back to giving handshakes and hugs, sweating next to people and get the feeling of football back.

But the team will have to continue to stay vigilant in order to have all that in the fall.

“Whatever the case may be, I’m just trying to help everybody stay healthy, and hopefully we can get back to 100% normalcy very soon,” Gilford said.