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With three games to play in his team's regular season, Bronco Mendenhall said "if our players and coaches work hard enough... then it could be a remarkable turnaround and a really nice finish and a great season end."
Mendenhall made the comments at the start of the weekly radio broadcast of "BYU Football with Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall," which also featured appearances from former BYU wide receiver/CFL star Ben Cahoon and BYU freshman RB Joshua "Juice" Quezada.
You can hear the entire broadcast by clicking on the audio link in the "Cougar Cuts" box to the right, or by going to the show page audio archive in the "BYU Sports Menu."
BYU has won back-to-back games and three of four as the Cougars continue their postseason push; the last outing was BYU's best game of the season, a 55-7 shellacking of the UNLV Rebels.
UNLV is not a good team, and even the coach has been mitigating his enthusiasm for his team's performance by acknowledging UNLV's season struggles. Last night, however, Mendenhall credited his team for playing an excellent game in improving to 4-5 on the year.
"For the first time collectively, as a full football team, we really executed at a level where regardless of who we were playing and how they were playing, it probably would have been good enough to win the game. That in and of itself itself is what I left the stadium feeling."
"Certainly the margin of victory might have been different based on who were playing, but how we played was probably the cleanest game and the best game of the season."
Talking about how this year's team has struggled to duplicate the success of the last four teams, the coach said "each year... as you lose players and you gain players, sometimes critical stories are lost along the way, and if those stories aren't maintained, then you lose your culture."
"I could have done a much better job of making sure that the younger players had a better idea of what these stories were."
Mendenhall went on to describe the 'story' of how BYU clinched a bowl bid at Wyoming in his rookie year of 2005 after three straight bowl-less seasons for the Cougar football program. "That's similar to where this team currently is, yet they weren't there, they didn't know the story, they didn't know how hard that team had to work."
"What (this team) knew was '11-2, 11-2, 10-3, 11-2; this is BYU and that's just going to happen.' Well, they now are in critical roles,and the burden and the opportunities shift to them."
"I didn't prepare them well enough, or they didn't understand well enough what I was asking them to do, what that was going to entail. We're getting closer."
Heading to Colorado State this weekend, and noting BYU's 0-4 road record this season, Mendenhall says "we've acknowledged it to our players, letting them know that is more difficult (to win away from home). Addressing the brutal facts with them...they have to take that into account and make sure that individually they embrace that, so our team can play at a higher level in a more hostile setting."
CFL all-time career reception record holder Ben Cahoon joined us in the President's loge as a live guest during the second segment of last night's broadcast. Cahoon (a Utah resident during his offseason) was recently awarded the LaVell Edwards Distinguished Alumni Award by Bronco Mendenhall and the BYU Football program.
"When we had an opportunity to consider who might be deserving to be recognized, you're really looking for the epitome of a BYU Football player. Not only were they exception on the football field, but they represent all of the core values, they have the characteristics that LaVell embraced and what he embodied."
"If we can continue to draw student-athletes to BYU like (Ben Cahoon), then we'll end up doing great things for the program."
Knowing that Cahoon does offseason work with the BYU QBs and receivers, I asked Mendenhall about Cahoon's continuing assistance to contributions to current Cougar players.
"It's fantastic. Ben has their ear because he can still demonstrate and show--not only just speak to it or draw it on the board--but can still actually go out there and say 'do it like this,' and do it better than they could ever think about doing it; that's quite an impact."
In a discussion about the art of pass-catching, Cahoon said "catching the ball can be taught."
"Catching is 90% mental, so you need to be able to practice on the field, and then you need to be able to visualize in your bedroom--imagine yourself making great grabs--then you need to be able to approach the game with complete confidence that whatever comes your way, you're going to come down with it."
Cahoon helped me complete the phrase I have heard him share with me in the past, about his pass-catching philosophy: "The tough catches are routine; the impossible ones just take a little more practice."
Having worked with Jake Heaps before the season, Cahoon said he caught balls from Jake "and I dropped balls from Jake; the guy's got a cannon."
Cahoon said what stood about about Heaps "was his football maturity. He was confident, he knew where he was going to go with the ball. If he didn't he faked it well, and that's important, too."
"He's just got a hose for an arm, throws a very nice ball, and is just a confident, quality quarterback. He's going to be phenomenal."
I asked Mendenhall what he would like his receivers to take from Cahoon's game, and the coach described observing Cahoon during his offseason workouts at BYU and the detailed way in which he ran his routes, etc.
"It's not just catching the football; there's all this position mastery that went into it prior to that. I would hope that our receivers would think that catching the football is important, but be 'un-coverable,' and sometimes that's not only about speed--in fact seldom is it only about speed."
A player who has more than a thousand professional catches to his credit (many of the spectacular variety) says his favorite catch all-time was his "very first catch at BYU," in the Pigskin Classic v. Texas A&M in 1996. Cahoon laid out to grab the Steve Sarkisian over-throw and he said "that will for always be my favorite."
Cahoon every year "it's been one year at a time," when it comes to deciding when the right time will be to retire as a pro football player. Asked if he has interest in coaching down the line, Cahoon said "I think so. For 13 years, plus six years of practices and games, you've learned some things that you can teach some kids."
"My coaches have been phenomenally instrumental in my growth and development, and I hope to maybe be able to pass some of that on to other kids."
The Joshua "Juice" Quezada story is a very interesting one, and I strongly encourage you to listen to the third segment of the show to get a complete picture of the freshman running back and his journey to BYU.
It is easy to sense the admiration Bronco Mendenhall has for the La Habra High School product, who the coach says will "be the equivalent of the best leaders we've had here. He will lead by example, he'll have a tremendous work ethic, he will have been very competitive and will have performed on the field at a high level. He'll have excellent grades and he'll be a great ambassador for our program."
"He'll be a great example to the next running backs coming behind him, saying 'this is how we do it at BYU and let me show you how.'"
"They'll think they'll never be able to do it as good as (Quezada) is doing it by the time he leaves here, and he'll pass on the legacy that will help our program."
A non-LDS signee at BYU, Quezada says he "loves the beliefs and what they represent. I love how I can feel so much at home. It's a great environment... compared to back home, so that's what first attracted me."
"Back home, it's a lot different. I didn't realize how different people can be, just a couple hundred miles away. When I came to BYU, I was like 'wow, I'm loving it.'"
Mendenhall said he recently asked Quezada if BYU was what he thought it would be, "and he said, 'it's better.'"
Mendenhall's "Ken Garff Keys to the Game" for the BYU game at CSU:
1. Special teams play on the road.
2. Run/pass balance offensively, with ball security.
3. Defensively, controlling the big play and CSU's play-action.