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by Jeff Reynolds, BYU Athletic Communications
PROVO, Utah (April 12, 2008) -- Over the years, the end of the spring football season has been marked by the annual Blue-White game in Edwards Stadium. Over the past couple seasons, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall has taken a different approach to the spring finale.
In typical workman-like fashion, the Cougars entered the stadium on Saturday to practice. After nearly 40 minutes of working on drills, including 7-on-7's, team drills and various situational drills, Mendenhall finally cleared the field and brought on some of the younger, up-and-coming players to participate in a 40-play scrimmage in front of the 16,700 fans who had gathered.
"I think the format for this event is exactly right," Mendenhall said. "After starting with some situation work that I felt was important to get in, we gave a chance to our younger players to see what they could do in a live situation. They had a chance to demonstrate where they stand. We have a very good idea of the two-deep. What we found out today, possibly, are those who might travel, might be involved with special teams, might be the next tier of players."
While Mendenhall said he was pleased with what he saw from a number of younger players, the fans got a glimpse of at least one player who clearly took advantage of his opportunity. Redshirt freshman J.J. DiLuigi was credited with a scrimmage best 55 all-purpose yards, including 28 yards receiving and 27 yards rushing.
"It felt great to be out here in this atmosphere," DiLuigi said. "It was a chance for the first-team guys to sit back and let us play. I was just trying to show the coaches that they could have faith in me. I felt like I had a pretty good day today. There's more to come."
With Freshman All-American Harvey Unga returning, along with standouts Manase Tonga and Fui Vakapuna, the running back position already enjoys outstanding talent and depth. Throughout spring camp, Wayne Latu has made a move to earn the next spot in line at running back; however, after Saturday's scrimmage, Mendenhall said that gap may be closing.
"J.J., through the spring, has been progressing," Mendenhall said. "I think today was his best day of spring practice. He had more touches and showed some versatility. Quite frankly, Wayne Latu, to this point, had been ahead of J.J. (on the depth chart). Wayne has had an outstanding spring. Today, J.J. showed the race is tighter for that next running-back spot between he and Wayne. He closed that gap. He had a chance, and I think he made the most of it."
While sophomore quarterback Kurt McEuen led the quarterbacks in the scrimmage with 70 yards passing on 7-of-10 attempts, it was junior Brenden Gaskins who led the offense on it's only scoring drive of the scrimmage. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior led the squad on an 8-play, 70-yard drive that was capped by a Kelly Bills two-yard run for a touchdown. During the drive, Gaskins completed four of five attempts for 56 yards, including a 22-yard completion to true freshman Spencer Hafoka, who recently returned from a church mission. A future play-maker, Hafoka also had an impressive diving catch during the team drills earlier in the day. Also recently returned from a church mission, freshman running back Bryan Kariya made a strong showing during the scoring drive, posting an eight-yard run and a 13-yard reception that set up Bills's touchdown run.
Throughout spring camp, Hafoka has impressed coaches and all indications will add to the depth at receiver this season, despite recently returning from a church mission.
"Spencer is one of the players who's impressed me the most (throughout spring camp)," Mendenhall said. "He did a great job today. Our receiving core overall is in great shape."
Defensively, Andrew RIch and Jameson Frazier were each credited with interceptions during the scrimmage. Rich, a transfer from Snow College, picked off McEuen to stop a potential touchdown after the offense had traveled down to the 21-yard line, marching 49 yards on eight plays.
The Cougars will now take time to focus on final exams this next week, and then begin another round of off-season conditioning and workouts before reporting back to Fall Camp on Friday, August 1. The Cougars will kickoff the 2008 season on Saturday, August 30 against Northern Iowa at Edwards Stadium--just 139 days away.