Kenny Cox | Posted: 1 Aug 2023 | Updated: 7 Aug 2023

BYU football opens 2023 fall camp

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BYU football practice
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PROVO, Utah – BYU conducted its first practice of fall football camp Tuesday in preparation for the start of the 2023 season just one month away. The Cougars open up their inaugural season as a member of the Big 12 Conference on Saturday, Sept. 2 vs. Sam Houston State in LaVell Edwards Stadium.

The team reported Monday, beginning with a team meeting in the morning, followed by position group meetings, other orientation meetings, meals and gear issue in the evening. See some of the photos and tweets below of BYU's reporting day, including the debut of its new-look team room. 

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake, heading into his eighth season as the head coach, leads the program into the Big 12 after going 29-9 the last three seasons and 56-34 overall at BYU. 

The Cougars enter the Big 12 after a dozen years as an independent program. BYU finished the Independence Era with a record of 99-56. The 99 wins tied for No. 15 in college football over those 12 seasons. The Cougars enter the league, along with newcomers Cincinnati, Houston and UCF, looking to make an immediate competitive impact. 

Sitake retooled the defensive coaching staff, bringing in Jay Hill, the defensive-minded head coach of FCS in-state power Weber State to serve as the associate head coach and defensive coordinator. Hill’s Wildcat teams were consistently among the top performers on defense in the FCS under his tutelage. In addition to Hill, the Cougars also added experienced coaches Kelly Poppinga (special teams and defensive ends), Justin Ena (linebackers) and Sione Po’uha (defensive tackles) onto the defensive staff. Cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford returns for the defensive backfield.

Sitake on the coaching staff (On Sirius XM at Big 12 Media Day)
“My responsibility and obligation is to my players, I think of them first. Then I have to think of our fans and their expectations, and we felt there was a need for change on the defensive side of things. I feel good about where we are right now, which is tough to do, but I believe we are headed in the right direction. We need to have complimentary football between our three phases, offense, defense and special teams, and I think we have the men on our staff to get it done.”

Also returning is offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick and his offensive staff of passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake, offensive line coach Darrell Funk, tight ends coach Steve Clark and running backs coach Harvey Unga. The offensive unit has been one of the most consistent and productive groups the last three years, ranking in the top 30 in several offensive categories and produced two NFL quarterbacks in Jaren Hall and Zach Wilson, along with NFL running back Tyler Allgeier and wideouts Dax Milne and Puka Nacua of recent note. 

In addition to the staff changes, Sitake also brought in several newcomers from the transfer portal, adding more than 20 players to the team that began their collegiate careers elsewhere, including several FBS transfers. The Cougars transfer portal class was ranked No. 21 by 247 Sports. Headlining the transfer class includes quarterback Kedon Slovis, most recently from Pittsburgh following his career at USC, with 37 career starts under his belt and 9,973 passing yards. In addition to Slovis, BYU added one of the top available running backs in the portal in Aidan Robbins out of UNLV. The Cougars also added a pair of wideouts in Darius Lassiter (Eastern Washington) and Keelan Marion (UConn) along with Oklahoma State starting left tackle Caleb Etienne. 

Sitake on the offense (Sirius XM at Big 12 Media Day)
“Kedon’s got tons of experience. Going into hostile territory, seeing big time stadiums isn’t going to be new to him. I feel really good about where we’re at right now. I feel good about the team. I feel good about the way that guys are working, the way they look, and the way that they’re performing.”

On defense, BYU added several pieces, including FCS All-American corner Eddie Heckard from Weber State, Utah State’s top tackler AJ Vongphachanh and two Boise State defensive linemen with edge rusher Isaiah Bagnah and tackle Jackson Cravens to bolster that unit. 

In addition to the transfers, freshman newcomers include one of the nation's top tight end products Jackson Bowers, running back LJ Martin out of Texas and defensive end John Henry Daley from Lone Peak among several others joining the program for the first time. 

Sitake on new defense (Sirius XM at Big 12 Media Day)
“I don’t mind taking chances and I want Jay to feel like this is the defense with his personality and feel ownership of it. The thing is, we speak the same language. What I saw in spring, he’s doing exactly what I expected him to do.”

BYU's 2023 fall camp coverage will include detailed position previews of each unit and their coach, BYU football notables, in addition to select quotes from various media interviews during camp, photo galleries and other team information. 

Read quotes from Tuesday's interviews following the team's first practice below. 

Head coach Kalani Sitake

On day one of fall camp

“We have a lot of talent, depth and good competition. We got a lot of reps in today. There’s a lot of film for us to watch from today but our overall day-one energy is supposed to be like this. There’s a different feel to the team this year and I like it. That’s probably due to the great leadership and coaches we’re getting. I felt really good about where we were at with Spring football and I feel really good about where we’re at now on day one of fall camp.”

On goals for fall camp

“I want to keep the competition going and start to solidify the depth chart a little more. Right now, there’s a lot of great athletes competing for limited spots. In the next little bit, we will get them as many reps as we can, then evaluate and see what we’re going to go with as we get close to the game.”

On his coordinators

“[Defensive Coordinator] Jay Hill’s been around for a while. He and I see eye to eye on a lot of different things. There’s not a lot of things that I can teach him. He works well with what [offensive coordinator] Aaron Roderick is doing, and they both work well with what Kelly Poppinga’s doing on special teams.

On roster newcomers, unknowns

“The unknowns can run and they’re very athletic, so that’s a good sign. Our veteran players have done a great job teaching during player-run practices during the offseason. You can see that. They look good and they’re understanding the technique. That’s a huge credit to what the players have done and the leadership we have on our team.”

On the running backs, Aidan Robbins’ health

“Even though Aidan didn’t get a lot of live reps in Spring, it still felt like he was part of us. It was good to see him out there today doing 11-on-11 stuff. He’s done a great job. You can see the change in his body. He’s running well. I like his size; I like how big he is. It’s going to be nice to get him to complement our other running backs. [Running backs coach] Harvey Unga and Aaron Roderick have done a great job getting that group full of talent.”

Defensive coordinator Jay Hill

On day one of camp

“It's good to be back on the field. The thing that's obvious to me right now is we have a bunch of guys that care, and they want to do things right. They go hard and that's a great place to start. I think that that's where most great defenses are built. I thought the organization in detail of just everything that went on today was very good. It was a really good day-one practice.”

On scheming against Big 12 offenses

“We’re going to be facing a lot of great talent and we’re going to face a lot of teams that put up points and yards. It's no different than college football anywhere else. I mean, you're going to have to lineup everyday and stop the run. You're going to have to line up and tackle well and you're going to have to line up and defend passes on third downs. I think we focus more on just the task at hand, how do we get better each day right now and obviously we'll take one opponent at a time as we get to the season.”

On the key defensive objectives of camp

“Establishing depth is critical right now. We’ve got to figure who our playmakers are, who we can most rely on when we need a play that’s got to be made and who are those guys that are going to step up and make it. We have a lot of new faces; we've taken some transfers out of the portal and we've taken a bunch of young freshmen that have just joined us that we expect to be really good players. I'd say depth, getting better with assignments and schemes is going to be critical and then just finding out exactly who we are in our identity and personality.”

On the characteristics of a great defense

“Great players. Number one, I think the scheme, techniques, and fundamentals that you teach are critical, but none of it matters if you don't have great players. We need players to step up. They have to learn the schemes, they have to learn the systems and then bottom line, great defense comes down to being tough, having discipline and tackling.”

On standouts from today’s practice

“Today, I liked the interior defensive linemen. I thought I saw Caden Haws show up a couple of times and Atunaisa Mahe showed up a couple of times. Eddie Heckard looked really good in coverage and Jakob Robinson. I really liked the corner group. That group is coming along. We added some really good depth to that group and we have some good young players that are going to step up. The linebacker depth is probably the biggest improvement that I've seen from spring ball to now. That group got really deep really fast and with a lot of guys that can play.”

Quarterback Kedon Slovis

On first day of fall camp

“It was good for day one. Obviously, a lot of new guys and new faces. It's the first day so it is not going to be perfect but it's good to knock off the rust and I think we executed pretty well.”

On goals for fall camp

“We just need to continue to develop and be the same team every day. Again, there’s a lot of new faces, things are going to move around and guys are going to plug and play different spots. You can’t waste an opportunity out here. We all need to show up every day and be consistent.”

On the team’s sense of urgency this fall camp going into the Big 12

“There’s definitely an energy around the building right now and we have to pick it up because there’s a lot of good teams on our schedule. We have to elevate our play.”

On the receivers

“The receivers do things the right way. For me, their timing is important. I want the guys to be in the right place at the right time. I think we have really talented receivers.”

On where he feels most confident

“There are a lot of things, I think, with the players and really the staff. I think the guys around us have a ton of depth. It is just a matter of making it work, and I trust our coaching staff to kind of put the pieces together and make us look good and ready for Sam Houston and the rest of the season.”

On offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick

“He is so good at finding the right pieces and making it work. You are going to have great plays, but if you don’t have the right personnel for those plays, they are not going to work. He is one of the best in the country because he puts it all in place for the personnel we have.”

Safety Micah Harper

On the first day of practice

“It felt really good being back with some of the guys that we missed during spring ball and getting the new additions from the transfer portal. It’s always just a good time in the fall when we’re back in football. I think it was a great practice. Offense, defense, special teams, we all got after it. At the end of the day, nobody got hurt so I think that’s a success.”

On roster turnover and getting new teammates ready

“It’s a process for sure. We’ve all got to adapt to each other’s play but I think it’s going to be nice chemistry once Sept. 2 comes against Sam Houston.”

On adapting to the leadership of being a veteran

“I think I’m adapting just by the nature of being here and getting a lot of snaps at BYU. I would say it did go by fast and I felt like I just got here, but I’m ready to step into that leadership role and lead this team.”

On the defense's readiness for first game

“Honestly I think that we need to know our defense, know how we play, build a chemistry, and then at the end of the day, we play our best ball and it will be hard for offenses to score on us.”

On defensive players who stood out in practice 

I think Dylan Flowers, a Southern Utah transfer, stood out to me today. Isaiah Glasker, my roommate last year, is a dog at the end of the day, a very athletic linebacker. Expect great things from him for sure.”

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