Provo • Days after Kalani Sitake finished watching the film of the 2021 season, one of the first calls he made was not to another coach or player. Instead, he reached out to a handful of health professionals.
As Sitake was combing through BYU’s 10-3 campaign, one of the main themes he saw had nothing to do with football. It centered on the rash of injuries that seemingly hit the Cougars every week.
By the end of the season, BYU had lost nearly half of its offensive starters from opening day. And defensively, only three players played in every game. Even the special teams unit was hit at different points in the year.
“It was a grind last year,” Sitake said. “We have to prioritize health. We are getting a lot of advice. We are [compiling] as much research as we can to see what we can learn from last year. Also what can we do in the offseason to prepare for that?”
And one of the main messages coming from specialists was revamping BYU’s offseason practice schedule and lifting habits. As the program enters spring practice this week, the spotlight is firmly on health.
“We have a lot of emphasis on [it],” BYU quarterback Jaren Hall said, who missed three games last year due to injury. “We have [continuity] in the skill positions. So, we want to play fast and keep everyone healthy during it.”
The immediate changes can be seen in BYU’s spring practice schedule. The program lengthened the duration of the offseason camp by a week and a half, allowing for more off days. Instead of practicing four times a week — as it did in 2021 — there will only be three practices a week this year.
Sitake also added an extra lifting day to the schedule in place of a fourth practice. The idea is if BYU gets stronger, and practices are more spaced out, the injuries will become less frequent. Notably, lifting days do not count toward BYU’s allotted 15 practices for the spring season.
“You expand it out a week and a half to get some extra recovery days,” Hall said. “You get healed up. It’s good. It’s not too much strain on your body.”
In a way, being able to focus on health is a luxury for BYU. Most of its skill players have returned from a year ago — with 18 starters coming back — and spring practice does not have to be as intense physically. When there are younger guys taking larger roles, the offseason tends to be more about getting players ready for the physicality of college football. It translates to more physically demanding schedules.
But it’s a luxury Sitake will take. Especially as he looks around spring practice and continues to see the remains of injuries that happened last year. Starters like Peyton Wilgar and Isaac Rex are still not back with the team, rehabbing after season-ending injuries.
One player, Keenan Ellis, was walking around practice in street clothes. He had to medically retire after an injury sustained in the first five minutes of the season.
Of course, not every injury is preventable. But that doesn’t mean health won’t be tested in 2022. BYU will open the season with 10 games in succession without a bye week.
So if there was ever an offseason to focus on health, this would be it.
“As we have started to string some of that information together [on injuries] I don’t know if we are that far off,” Sitake said. “It’s important that we are doing spring ball the way we are doing it. We have to be strategic the way we place our practices.”
•Micah Harper is back with the team after missing all of 2021 with an injury. He will compete for a starting spot in BYU’s secondary.
• Keanu Saleapaga is also rejoining BYU after missing last season for an undisclosed reason. Saleapaga played on the offensive and defensive line in his time in 2019 and briefly in 2020.