PROVO -- Inside linebacker coach Paul Tidwell is grinning a lot these days. Having been fraught with depth issues at both the inside backer spots, this fall is showing something completely different.
“We’re deep,” he said. “We have a lot better depth than we’ve had most years. I feel really good about our top six linebackers with the group and feel there are a lot of guys I can play. Guys are competing hard and it’s a fun group this year.”
Most of the inside linebacker talk this preseason has centered around Uona Kaveinga and justifiably so, according to coaches and players. Despite having yet to play a down as a BYU Cougar, he’s earned as much respect as any defensive player on the team.
But what about the old man of the group?
As merely a junior, Ogletree stands as the wily old veteran and as the group’s lone returning starter from a year ago. His influence among those he’s competing with has been invaluable to his position group.
“He’s the man,” said Spencer Hadley, who is both competing with and learning from Ogletree at the buck linebacker position. “He’s obviously the most knowledgeable of all the Buck linebackers, so we’re all learning from him and that’s a big help. He’s a fun guy to play with and he definitely raises the level we play at when he’s around.”
Ogletree is expected to be the starter at Buck linebacker, playing alongside Kaveinga, who will start at the Mike linebacker spot. How they both came to earn their respective starting spots couldn't have been more different, however.
The story of Kaveinga’s journey to BYU has been well-noted, having transferred over from USC. His arrival has been celebrated time and again by coaches, players, media and by the fans.
Ogletree, meanwhile, signed with BYU back in 2006 as a two-star, unranked linebacker with offers from just BYU and from Air Force. Kaveinga, on the other hand, was a four-star athlete and ranked No. 9 nationally at his position with offers from such schools as Oklahoma, USC, and Georgia Tech among many others out of high school.
Kaveinga was someone fans readily expected to start and star from the second they learned of his plans to play for BYU. Ogletree, meanwhile, wasn't likely penciled in as an expected starter by anyone before earning the spot with his play.
While their pre-BYU accolades differ significantly, they’re similar where it counts which in on the field of play.
“Brandon has that same type of intensity, that same love of the game that Uona has,” Tidwell said. “They’re just two real football guys. Two guys that love every part about being a football player. It’s what makes them good and I’m very excited to see what both of them can do out there at the same time when we begin playing.”
Throughout practice sessions, the intensity and the play of the entire defense seems to rise when Ogletree and Kaveinga are out there together. While Kaveinga was out there from Day 1 of fall camp, Ogletree had to battle back from some injuries.
“It seems like it’s that way every year that I’ve been here,” he said about his injuries. “Every year it’s something, so this fall, it wasn’t anything different. I don’t know, I just go as hard as I possibly can whenever I’m out there, so maybe that’s it. I’m used to it though, so I don’t see it as a big deal anymore.”
While being shelved due to injury, Ogletree helped out where he could along with helping himself before getting back on the practice field.
“Like I said, I’m used to being hurt during practice sessions,” he said. “So what you do is you take mental notes of every rep and you help out wherever you can. Being a player with experience, guys look to you to tell them things and I’ve tried to be helpful with that.”
The important thing for Ogletree, and for the defense is that he’s fully healthy now, as the team sets to kickoff their season against Ole Miss.
“I’m ready to go,” he said. “I’m going full speed now and I feel great. We all feel great. We have a lot of guys that can play football, so we’re having a lot of fun and we’re going to have a lot of fun this season.”
Tidwell is a coach who likes to use a rotation for his position group. While Kaveinga and Ogletree are both expected to see most of the reps at the Mike and the Buck positions respectively, it’s good have to capable rotating options.
“At Mike, we’ll use Austen Jorgensen who is very experienced in our program and is someone who has had some good experience playing,” Tidwell said. “At Buck, primarily we’ll use Spencer Hadley, who came back in good shape off of his mission and played well for us before his mission.”
It’s never known just how long it will take for any individual player to regain his pre-mission form. For Hadley though, returning to that form came sooner rather than later.
“I felt OK in spring, but I definitely feel better with what I’m able to do now,” he said. “I just kind of picked up where I left off in spring, and it’s been more intense, but it’s been good. I’m definitely playing a lot faster and I think we all are compared to where we were at in spring.”
The other backup options look to be Aveni Leung-Wai and Tyler Beck.
“Aveni has played really well this fall,” Tidwell noted. “He’s as athletic as anyone we have in the group, he just needs to get his assignments down a little better and when he gets that, he’ll really help us. Tyler Beck just needs to get healthy. He’s coming off of his knee injury, but when he gets healthy, he’ll be someone who can help us as well.”
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