PROVO — Jonah Trinnaman is barely 21 years old, but he's proving to be the leader of the BYU wide receiving corps ahead of his senior season.
The team's leading returning receiver from 2016, Trinnaman is in his second season at BYU after an All-American career at Snow College. He caught 28 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown in 13 games, including eight starts, as a junior and proved to be one of the more reliable wide outs in Taysom Hill's senior year.
And by the end of the 2017 season, Trinnaman has confidence in the prediction by offensive coordinator Ty Detmer that several of the Cougar wide outs "will be household names."
“With the schedule we play and big games on ESPN all over the country, I think a lot of people will watch us make plays and remember us," Trinnaman said after Friday's practice. "They’ll see us as big time this year.”
For now, there's plenty of work to do as the receivers learn timing with starting quarterback Tanner Mangum, as well as backups Beau Hoge, Koy Detmer Jr., Austin Kafentzis, Kody Wilstead and Joe Critchlow.
But even that is coming along.
“We’ve got to work on some timing, and when you go 11-on-11, it’s more difficult," head coach Kalani Sitake said. "But I’ve been really pleased with the improvement from yesterday to today, and I think our quarterbacks are throwing the ball really well.
“The receivers are a talented bunch, and I’m really excited about the way the passing game is going.”
Youngsters like freshmen Neil Pau'u, Tariq Buchanan and Chayce Bolli will undoubtedly look up to their elder statesmen in the receiving room. But don't expect Trinnaman to be waving a pair of pom poms for his underclassmen teammates.
"As a senior, people are looking up to me — but I’m just one of the guys," the former American Fork High standout said. "I just try to lead by example. In reality, everyone is older than me. I played last year, and I just try to show people the right thing.”
Pau'u was an especially intriguing prospect for BYU. The younger brother of BYU linebacker Butch Pau'u was a dual-threat quarterback at Servite High in Anaheim, California, and the three-star athlete has made an early impression on his coaches and teammates.
“I love Neil; he’s a young dude, but I think he’s going to be really good," Trinnaman said. "He pass-blocks really well, runs good routes, and as he gets older, he’s going to get that much better.”
JJ Nwigwe tries the tight-end shuffle
Offensive lineman JJ Nwigwe donned the No. 96 jersey in Friday's practice and ran routes with the tight ends. It's not an indictment on the Cougars' current crop of tight ends, but the first few days of fall camp allow the coaches to rotate their players into different positions.
It didn't hurt Nwigwe's case that he had one of the standout plays during the media viewing-portion of practice, an athletic catch from backup quarterback Beau Hoge.
He’s a good blocker, and I think he can help us," Sitake said of Nwigwe. "As a coaching staff, we decided to give him a chance and see what happens. We’ll see if this one sticks."
Defense building on foundation
The first year under defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki bore some strong results, led by current New England Patriots linebacker Harvey Langi.
Current defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi, now back full-time after splitting time with the BYU basketball team, thinks the 2017 defense will build on that game.
“We’ve got a foundation, and we’ve got enough guys that played last year to build on it," Kaufusi said. "We’re not jumping into the dark, but we know where we are going and what we can do — so let’s just keep going.”
BYU lost plenty of talent across the defensive line, but coaches have been impressed by the likes of Trajan Pili and 410-pound recruit Motekiai Langi.
Kaufusi has enjoyed playing next to the internet legend big man from Tonga. But he had a word of caution as well.
“I think it’s a lot more fun ... as long as, if you see he falls, you are outside of the radius," Kaufusi joked.