Provo • Sporadically throughout the offseason, Kody Epps would text Jaren Hall asking to meet in BYU’s film room.
There wasn’t a specific intention behind the request for Epps, but the young wide receiver just wanted to sit down with his quarterback and absorb the way he watched film. He would take notes about what Hall said about a given defense, or about what he liked about a given route.
And after a couple of hours, Epps and Hall would head out onto the practice field at night and apply what they learned.
“Just the time we spent together when it was just me and him,” Epps said of his growing connection with Hall. “All those little things that just help me get on the same page as him and articulate his language. Our connection is great. He has become a big brother to me. Last year, we didn’t have that time [to get to know each other].”
The new familiarity between Hall and Epps is a common theme across the rest of the roster. And something BYU thinks will be the key to fueling its chase for a third straight 10-win season — a feat only accomplished three times in program history.
This BYU team, unlike year’s past, is settled in its personnel and comfortable heading into its training camp.
It starts with Hall, heading into year two as the undoubted starting quarterback and leader. But it trickles down to a defense that returns 10 of the 11 opening-day starters from 2021. And a roster as a whole that returns 85% of its production from a year ago — the most in the country.
“We feel really good with the amount of talent and experience we have on this team,” head coach Kalani Sitake said, noting this might be his most experienced group in seven years. “You can tell this isn’t the guys’ first camp. Guys are used to the grind by now.”
Last year, BYU came into fall camp trying to answer the big questions. It didn’t have a quarterback. It had a new offensive coordinator. The defense had more new faces than old ones.
But on the opening day in 2022, linebacker Ben Bywater remarked that it almost didn’t feel like the start of a season because he knew everyone there.
“With all the [veteran] guys we have, everyone is where they are supposed to be [to chase 10 wins],” Hall said.
The experience manifests in small, but significant, ways. BYU has its offense nearly fully installed prior to the summer. Play scripts have started to circulate for the first game, something that normally occurs the week before kickoff. And the offense is comfortably in the hands of Hall, tweaking it to what he likes and doesn’t. Hall consulted with nearly every player on the offense, bouncing ideas off each other in a way they couldn’t do last year.
The coaching staff spent much of their time this summer focusing on adding ruffles to the playbook to highlight individual players. Like how can Hall improve on a 2,583-yard and 20-touchdown season? Or what can they add to make Puka Nacua more of a target in year two?
It is a luxury BYU has, especially as it did not lose a coach in the coaching carousel this offseason. It is one of only five teams in the country to have that.
“Our coaches are on our heads about plays [already],” Epps said. “But it means a lot to us because we are all connected this year. It is a wired system now, feeding information to each other.”
Fifth-year wide receiver Gunner Romney gave a more diplomatic answer on what that can do for a program.
“I know what to expect from them and they know what to expect from me,” Romney said. “It helps you take that next step.”
The only surprises that surfaced with fall camp are guys who decided to return. Defensive end Earl Tuioti-Mariner came back for his sixth season. He is a player, who after years of injuries, many thought would leave. But he gives the defensive line another body to shore up a big question mark of production.
Mariner might be a good case study for this fall camp. For every question mark BYU has, it feels the answer is some version of experience and connectedness. They were buzzwords on day one.
Mariner told stories about how even things like groups chats have been more lively and the team more familiar. It’s why he came back. And why BYU feels like it has a chance to chase history in 2022.
“We are as deep as we have been in a long time,” Mariner said. “We are connected this year. This year is definitely going to be a better year than last year [because of that].”
Linebackers Keenan Pili and Payton Wilgar both practiced with the team on Thursday. Both are working themselves back from season-ending injuries in 2021. Tight end Isaac Rex also got reps with the first team after missing the spring with a leg injury.
Linebacker Chaz Ah You was left off the opening roster but was in attendance for camp. Sitake said Ah You is working himself back from either an injury or an academic issue, but did not specify. The same goes for punt returner Hobbs Nyberg.