As a large part of Kalani Sitake’s staff enters their sixth season at BYU, the coaching staff is most excited about one particular position: cornerbacks.
While BYU football, particularly the defense, is on the younger side, it seems the Cougar secondary may be the oldest group of the bunch. Filled with plenty of juniors — both true and redshirt — the cornerback and safety position groups are poised to have a big year.
It couldn’t come at a better time as the Cougars are looking to find a way to replicate last year’s success while having to fill the whole left behind by the departure of top talent.
Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki is ready to see how his secondary will perform this fall.
“All the time that we’ve been here as a staff, it’s been the most talented corner group that we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Tuiaki said. “Everything is relative to other teams and all that stuff, but for us, long and fast kids. So, we’re excited about them.”
BYU cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford is well aware of the depth he has at cornerback. The position coach has four returning players and a transfer player who have started and all have more than 100 snaps under their belts.
“That’s five guys who have very good experience,” Gilford said. “Those guys are going to add competition to the room, which is always good for me. Just gotta knock on wood that we stay healthy.”
At safety, the Cougars also have plenty of experience. On the post-spring depth chart, juniors Chaz Ah You and Malik Moore are listed as the starting strong safety and free safety, respectively.
While it would make sense for these positions to take the spotlight due to their experience, that’s not the case. At least not for Gilford.
The sixth-year coach is “a low-key guy” who likes to “stay under the radar,” he said. In turn, he’s going to try to keep his position group low-key.
And, either way, Gilford is still aware of a weakness within his group: playmaking in live games. He believes the group hasn’t fully shown that yet.
“Again, I have a lot of guys with a ton of experience, but I want us to take it to the next level and really, really go there,” Gilford said. “Get them to shut down, make plays in the games and be consistent about doing it.”
On the safety side, Ah You is coming off a season where he didn’t play the majority of the year because he underwent surgery, but recently declared himself to be fully healthy, mentally and physically. (Ah You has previously talked about his struggle with mental health.)
Ah You is also new to the safety position, having previously played linebacker. The move was a way to fix a gaping hole left by Troy Warner and Zayne Anderson and try to prevent a fully inexperienced group.
The safety room also has a new coach — Ed Lamb. The assistant head coach and special teams coordinator took on responsibilities for the safety room, which he used to do in 2016-17, due to the shuffling the staff room had with new hires over the off-season.
Kevin Clune was hired as the linebackers coach, moving Lamb to safeties. Preston Hadley, who used to coach safeties, is now coaching the defensive ends.
Even with all the shuffling around, both on the coaches side and the players side, Lamb feels confident Ah You will be able to lead the safeties.
And Ah You is just as confident.
“All those safety positions, I could play them all,” Ah You said.