The 5 most important BYU football players this season

Breaking down the Cougars’ depth ahead of the start of fall camp

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU quarterbacks, from left, Jaren Hall, Baylor Romney and Jacob Conover answer questions during BYU Football Media Day at the BYU Broadcasting Building in Provo on Thursday, June 17, 2021

Fall camp opens Thursday.

The most difficult schedule in BYU’s independent era kicks off in about a month.

There is a lot for head coach Kalani Sitake and his staff to tackle between now and then. One of the biggest issues the BYU coaching staff needs to sort through is the depth chart. How will the Cougars be able to fill the void left by last year’s departing players, most of whom were key starters?

These could be BYU’s five most important player this season.

(Tyler Richardson | BYU) Quarterback Jaren Hall participates in BYU spring football practice, Thursday, March 18, 2021.

1. Whoever replaces Zach Wilson: Whether it’s Baylor Romney, Jaren Hall or Jacob Conover, whoever wins the starting role will inevitably be a huge part in determining BYU’s success. Romney and Hall both have experience taking snaps for the Cougars, but Conover brings in confidence and plays similarly to the other two, making him an easy fit to BYU’s offense.

“It’s going to be a really tough decision,” offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said. “It’s going to be a tough call. I think all three of them know one guy can be named a starter, but you still need to win — you’ve got to go win games to do it. I’ve never been a coach that has a quick hook. I want the quarterback to know that I believe in them and I’ll let them play through some mistakes and stuff, but this is going to be a tight race for sure. I don’t see anybody just taking this thing over and blowing the other two guys out of the water because they’re good players.”

Don’t expect to know the starting quarterback any time soon. An educated guess would be that the staff will come to a conclusion midway through fall camp, but won’t announce it until the team takes the field against Arizona in the season opener.

BYU running back Tyler Allgeier (25) runs the ball for a first down past North Alabama cornerback Will Singleton, bottom, defensive end Tyler Antkowiak (41) and linebacker Christon Taylor (25) in the second quarter during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Jeff Swinger, Pool)

Tyler Allgeier, redshirt sophomore, RB: Last season, Allgeier rushed for 1,130 yards and 13 touchdowns. It was the first single-season 1,000-yard rushing performance by a Cougar since Jamaal Williams last did so in 2016.

Allgeier’s breakout rushing performance came a year after the Fontana, Calif., native had split roles as linebacker, running back and kick returner. Now, fully focused on the running back position, and after last season’s performance, Allgeier is looking to run away with the role of RB1.

However, Allgeier — who has already made two preseason watchlists — won’t have to do everything alone. Running backs coach Harvey Unga said he plans to use a full supporting cast on the run game.

He’s just not sure how many players, exactly, he’ll use.

“Whoever’s healthy; It’s hard to say,” Unga said. “You know last year, when we started out the season, we had a guy like Lopini Katoa who could do everything and was your veteran back. And then a new up and coming kid like Tyler Allgeir, who showcased that he belonged there, too. It was hard to figure all that out, but as the season went on, guys kind of showcased different abilities, different strengths, different weaknesses and from there coach Grimes and ARod did a good job of figuring out who fit where and when we were going to use them. I guess it’s a collective decision.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) James Empey. BYU football photo day in Provo on Wednesday Aug. 7, 2019.

James Empey, redshirt junior, OL: Empey is the biggest returning starter to an offensive line that lost Brady Christensen, Tristen Hoge and Chandon Herring. The American Fork product, who serves as a team captain, has started in all 34 games he has played over the last three seasons.

The offensive lineman, who made four preseason watchlists, is set to be a starter again this season, but he would gladly give up that title if there was someone better for the lineup.

“Competition is open for everybody — no spot is anybody’s to keep,” Empey said. “I think competition is important, especially in football. You get pushed when you have somebody that’s trying to take your spot. So I believe, and I think a lot of guys believe, that there’s a lot of room for people to take over there. At the end of the day, the goal that we have is to have the best five on the field.”

Hawaii running back Miles Reed (26) is tackled from behind by BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar, right, during the second half of the Hawaii Bowl NCAA college football game Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Payton Wilgar, redshirt sophomore, LB: With the linebacker room looking to fill the departing leadership role of Isaiah Kaufusi, it looks like Wilgar is stepping into those shoes. At least, he’s one of two guys in the linebacker room that position coach Kevin Clune believes is taking on a leadership role amongst the group.

“I think Keenan [Pili] does it his way; He’s much quieter, but a great example,” Clune said. “And then Payton does it his way, another great example of hard work. I think those two guys should be leading this defense. Some other leaders will develop, I’m sure. Every position group needs a leader, but I think those two guys start with great examples of hard work and what needs to get done. Second, they’ve got a drive and a vision, and they’re getting people onto that path.”

Last season, Wilgar made 57 total tackles, five tackles for loss (12 yards), one forced fumble, four pass break ups and five quarterback hurries. The legacy player has been a constant for the linebackers over the last two seasons.

BYU's Jake Oldroyd (39) celebrates a 33-yard field goal with teammate Hayden Livingston in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee to send the game into overtime Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Jake Oldroyd, redshirt sophomore, K: When it comes to the special teams, no one stands out more than Oldroyd. The 23-year-old initially joined the Cougars in 2016, but really has shown what he can do just over the last two seasons.

Although there were some hiccups in Oldroyd’s performance during the 2019 season, the BYU kicker was nearly perfect in 2020. The sophomore took care of kickoffs, field goals and PATs last season and was a perfect 13 of 13 on field goals and a nearly perfect 60 of 62 on PATs. Of the 86 kickoffs Oldroyd made last season, 47 were touchbacks.

As long as the Cougar offense can continue to get in scoring position or cross the goal line, Oldroyd is sure to continue to score on field goals and PATS, bringing stability to the BYU team.