It's always tough to gauge exactly how well a true freshman will fare upon making the jump to the collegiate level. The level of play and the speed of the game is raised significantly from high school to the college competition which many true freshmen have difficulty with.
Fortunately for Zac Stout, he came to BYU via Oaks Christian high school in Southern California which plays at arguably the highest prep level nationally. Stout played a key role within the Oaks Christian football team starting at middle linebacker which has prepped him relatively well for the jump to the collegiate level.
His position coach Paul Tidwell has noticed.
"We thought when we were recruiting Zac that he might be able to adjust better to adjust to the speed of the college game better than a lot of guys coming in because of his high school experience at Oaks Christian," he said. "It's still a struggle and there are a lot of things he needs to get better, but I've been pleased with how he's come in and in the progress he's made so far."
"I feel that my experience at Oaks Christian has definitely helped me with my adjustment to playing at BYU," added Stout. "It's obviously faster here and I still have a ton of things that I have to improve, but I do feel that my high school coaches and the level of play there prepared me for college play as well as I could have hoped."
No high school experience can fully prepare players fully for what they have to adjust to in division-one college football. For this reason coaches have brought Stout along carefully during his initial season not wanting to just throw him out there and maybe set him back in gaining the confidence necessary in playing effectively at his position.
Eventually it is hoped that he can make a bigger contribution to his position with his playing time increasing with every game.
"Coaches never tell me a specific plan they have to play me from game to game," said Stout. "They just tell me to be ready to go in at any time. I played a little against Washington and with every game since then I've gotten more and more reps. Hopefully it's because they're gaining confidence in me."
According to Tidwell, that's exactly it. With every practice session leading up to every game Stout has shown to have improved steadily on every aspect of playing as an effective inside linebacker in BYU's 3-4 system.
Stout's majority of action has been seen at the demanding Mike linebacker position where quick reads, physical play and leadership are at a premium. The position has been manned primarily by senior walk-on Shane Hunter who is doubling as an on-the-field coach.
"I'm so thankful for Shane and all the help he's given me," expressed Stout. "He spends a lot of time with not only me, but with everyone. He's really like another coach out there and it‘s really perfect for me and my development to have someone like Shane helping me every step of the way."
He's also thankful for his actual position coach.
"I love Coach Tidwell," he said. "What I love about him is that he's very personable and he make it fun for all of us. But then, if you mess up, he'll definitely get mad at you and let you know it and I really like that about him. He's not always chewing you out, but does so when you need it and I think that's what a great coach does."
One thing that Tidwell has been harping on with Stout is to improve his coverages and to be more vocal. Adjusting his play in order to become more effective in both of those aspects has been Stout's biggest challenge.
"Being vocal and making all the right checks and constantly talking is hard to get for sure," he said. "When you play Mike you always have to be talking, saying ‘alert this' and ‘alert that' and you have to be right so your teammates have confidence in you, but I'm getting it and that's probably the biggest thing I've improved on so far."
He's also had to kick some old high-school habits.
"In high school it's easy to get into the habit of watching the quarterback when you're in coverage the whole time, but in college, you can't do that," he explained. "That's one of the habits I have that Coach Tidwell is working hard with me to break. It's just too fast out there with coverages to be watching the quarterback the whole time, but it's something I feel I'm getting better at with every day I‘m out there."
As he continues his progression it's hopeful that he'll begin to slowly assert himself as the primary mike linebacker on the team. Stout doesn't know when that time will come exactly, but he's doing everything possible to be ready for it.
Along with enjoying his experience on the football field, Stout is also enjoying every aspect of his BYU experience so far. During the recruiting process, coaches explained to him what BYU would be like and he's found out that what they explained is exactly the experience that he's enjoying.
"You stay busy, that's for sure, but I seriously love it here," he summed up. "I knew BYU was the best place for me coming in and nothing has been really different than what I thought it would be. I already have great friends, I love my coaches and I feel that I'm really progressing as football player and as a student and a person. It's really been everything I wanted BYU to be so far."