How do a BYU quarterback and wide receiver develop chemistry? The Call of Duty video game

The Cougars have made video games a bonding experience

(Jaren Wilkey | BYU) Jaren Hall participates in BYU football spring practice in Provo, Monday, Feb. 28, 2022.

Provo • It was either Jaren Hall or Puka Nacua’s idea. And it was one of two popular video games, Call of Duty or Fortnite, that started the tradition.

All these months later, and dozens of late-night sessions after, it is tough to pinpoint exactly how it all happened. Sometime between the end of the season and the start of spring camp, everything just sort of fell into place.

But now it is like clockwork. The offense collectively finishes their workouts and their treatment. They grab food from the buffet and retreat to their apartments.

Then, on cue, they turn on their Xbox systems and wait for Hall’s command through the headset. Most of the time they play wildly popular war game Call of Duty. Sometimes, more recently, they opt for the futuristic Overwatch. But it is always Hall barking in the directions as a chorus of BYU skill players listen, and navigate a map on the video game.

“That’s QB1,” Nacua said. “Whatever he says, we follow. Getting used to how he talks.”

If you are wondering how BYU’s offense — which returns 88% of its production from last year — is working to build in year two of the Jaren Hall experience, you don’t have to look any further than a series of Provo apartments after practice.

There, in separate rooms across the BYU corridor, you will find the whole cavalry of skill position players online, eyes intent on the television, playing video games with one another. Call of Duty is the staple. But anything from Fortnite to Madden is acceptable. The important part is the bonding experience, and learning the intricacies of Hall’s voice and leadership style.

“Any time you can get together, especially in the offseason, outside of the workouts it’s fun,” Hall said, knowing he will eventually turn in the soft hum of his television for a 60,000-seat stadium.

Last year, BYU’s offense came together on the fly.

Hall didn’t lock up the starting job until the summer. Nacua transferred late from Washington and had surgery. And the rest of the group was mostly young and just trying to stay above water. Ironically, one-year starter Isaac Rex was the most tenured of the group.

And despite averaging 452 yards per game, it was a team putting things together as it went along. The offense might score 66 points one week, and then lose a few players to injury. They’d come back with 59 points, just to see a handful more go down. The offense had few long-standing relationships even throughout the 12-week season.

But this year is different. Nacua walked into the first day of spring camp and said he recognized everyone’s face, a far cry from meeting people in the middle of the year in 2021.

Hall also comes in as the incumbent starter, not needing to learn the offense anymore. Instead, he can focus on the relationships that often make an offense flourish. He has blocked off time to meet people where they are, playing ping pong, basketball and spike ball.

“I know they are big into the games,” BYU wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake said. “I don’t play Call of Duty but I hear they are linking up. I think it’s healthy for us.”

The offensive group knows BYU’s success in its final year of independence will be placed on their shoulders; the Cougars’ defense is young, a unit that is likely a year away from truly being consistent.

So, if BYU is to pull off wins against Notre Dame and Baylor, and Oregon and Arkansas, the offense will need to put up points.

That’s why whenever Hall, or any of the offense, talks to the media they are asked some iteration of the question: How are you going to get better with everyone coming back?

In some ways, it is a difficult question to answer. How will Hall improve after throwing for 2,500 yards and having a quarterback rating of 156.6? How will Nacua take the next step or receiver Keanu Hill emerge as the clear third starter?

A small part of that answer: Call of Duty.

“When it comes to video games, that’s where our best bonding comes from,” Hill said. “That’s where we are really going to grow as a unit because we really don’t have anyone new coming in.”

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