A Whole New Fui?...



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Perhaps a week ahead of schedule, RB Fui Vakapuna has been cleared to return to the gridiron, after missing the last few weeks with a broken hand. Bronco told us last night he will play Fui at special teams and perhaps give him some snaps in the backfield vs. Eastern Washington.

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Having talked to Bronco, running backs coach Lance Reynolds, the team medical staff and then seeing Fui for myself on Wednesday, this much is clear: Fui's injury was in a way the best thing that could have appened for Fui, BYU and the Cougar running game.

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First of all, Fui's absence allowed his ankle to more fully heal. The expectation in August was that Fui would be at 100% by the end of camp, but that never happened. Fui's ankle remained sore, he was tentative on the field and simply not the back he was before the injury. The last month gave Fui much-needed time to allow the ankle to improve--something that has helped him as much mentally as it has physically.

All it took was seeing Fui in action at practice Wednesday to see the difference a month makes. We still need to see him run this way in a game, but all indications are you are going to see a speedier, jumpier, and more punishing running back when Fui gets back in the backfield.

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Secondly, Fui's absence allowed Harvey Unga to get more touches, and the talented freshman responded exactly as coaches hoped he would--racking up two hundred-yard rushing games in the three games minus Vakapuna. Harvey has established himself as the workhorse go-to back--something that might not have occurred as quickly in a 3-man rotation.

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Thirdly, at the very time of year many teams' backfields suffer from attrition due to the season-long pounding in the trenches, BYU gets a fresh back who's physically sound and could be playing to prove himself down the stretch. BYU can only benefit by bringing Fui back into the mix and giving opponents another big back to worry about when Harvey gets a breather.

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WR Austin Collie looks good--certainly the best he's been since getting hurt at Tulsa. If he's not back returning kicks vs. Eastern Washington, he should be back there no later than the following week at San Diego State.

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OL Garrett Reden replaces the suspended Ray Feinga at left guard Saturday. Bronco says Feinga should be back at practice next Monday. Feinga missed a start earlier this season due to disciplinary reasons, so he's been walking a bit of a fine line this year.

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To hoops now, and it was no surprise that BYU was picked to defend as Mountain West Conference champions--at least the media were not surprised, since they're the ones who gave BYU 15 of 22 first place votes. As for the coaches, rumblings are that the MWC bench bosses have been scratching their heads over BYU's presumptive pick atop the preseason poll. Evidently, some of them are wondering how a team that lost the conference's player of the year and upwards of half a dozen seniors are such an overwhelming favorite.

Having seen this team through the summer and into fall practices, these guys are well worth the preseason pick. BYU is as talented a team as you will find in the MWC, and to watch these players run and gun in Dave Rose's high-octane system is to realize they will not be out-hustled, and will rarely be out-shot this season.

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Credit the conference media members for doing enough homework to recognize the potential of Freshman of the Year selection Jimmer Fredette. I think either Fredette or forward Chris Collinsworth will help BYU extend its streak of Freshman of the Year citations to three consecutive seasons.

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Strength and Conditioning coach Justin McClure is extremely pleased with how the Cougars prepared for the season to come. The fastest player on the team remains Trent Plaisted (freshman Mike Loyd is a very close second), while the fastest time in the mile-run belongs to walk-on point guard Nick Martineau. All 16 players completed the mile-run between 5:00 and 6:00--very impressive. For those who wonder how the lanky Lee Cummard gets it done, Justin says Lee has a better strength-to-weight ratio than many football players. Lee may have trouble putting on weight, but he is "basketball strong," and it's why he could join Trent Plaisted as an all-conference first-team selection by the end of the year.

Meantime, sophomore Jonathan Tavernari has improved his physique and conditioning dramatically over last season, adding leg strength in particular.

Among freshmen, Fredette has lost about 15 pounds of excess baggage since reporting for duty, while Chris Collinsworth has been immersed in weight training for really the first time in his playing career, and has responded well.

In short, the dedication to offseason preparation is present top-to-bottom on this team, and once the chemistry begins to match the talent and effort, this team will be well on its way to defending its title.

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Broadcast News I: BYU's two exhibition games (November 2nd v. Laval and November 7th v. Bryant) will be broadcast online only, via ksl.com's "X-Stream" channel. Our over-the-air coverage gets underway with the regular season opener November 10th at Long Beach State.

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Broadcast News II: Former Cougar player and coach Andy Toolson joins the broadcast crew this season, filling in for Mark Durrant on select games this season. Andy takes the seat previously filled by Russell Larson, who will remain with us courtside as a statistician for BYU home games.

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