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PROVO — Through a week of fall camp, the BYU football team was able to avoid any serious injuries ahead of the 2017 season.
The first casualty came Friday.
Austin McChesney, a sophomore cornerback who was projected to see plenty of time on the Cougars’ two-deep depth chart, will likely miss the 2017 season with a knee injury, KSL has learned.
Head coach Kalani Sitake would not confirm how long McChesney will be sidelined. But he admitted the prognosis doesn’t look good for the former all-region wide receiver from Lone Peak High.
“It doesn’t look too good for him with the injury, but he’s doing great,” Sitake said after Friday’s workout. “He was having a great cap and it’s one of the unfortunate parts of the game. It’s just a sad part. We hate to lose someone on our two-deep at corner.”
McChesney played in nine games as a freshman, racking up seven tackles and a 37-yard interception in a 20-3 win at Cincinnati. He still has a redshirt season available, since he used a greyshirt season following a two-year mission for the LDS Church to San Diego.
Even with the return of starters Dayan Ghanwoloku and Troy Warner, McChesney was expected to see plenty of time at cornerback alongside primary backups Chris Wilcox, Michael Shelton and Isaiah Armstrong.
In addition to those listed, Sitake also mentioned junior college transfer Trevion Greene to fill in for McChesney, and he didn’t rule out playing starting safety Micah Hannemann at cornerback in a pinch.
“We still feel comfortable with our depth there at corner,” Sitake said. “Having two returning starters helps, and having Chris Wilcox who’s had some experience helps us as well.
“Right now, we’re trying to get the other guys to step up, and they’re doing a good job with the reps that they’re getting.”
The Cougars also announced four captains for the 2017 season Friday, after a vote by teammates.
Quarterback Tanner Mangum and four-year starting center Tejan Koroma were named offensive team captains, and linebackers Fred Warner and Butch Pau’u were tabbed to lead the defense.
“It’s the biggest honor we can get,” Warner said. “It shows that we’ve put in the work, and it’s all paid off. To have our teammates vote for us means a lot.
“These are the guys that we are grinding with day and day out, and the guys we will go to battle with. Knowing they respect us like that means a lot to the both of us.”
Warner and Pau’u formed a formidable threesome with Francis Bernard at linebacker for the Cougars in 2016, and Mangum has already played in 18 games of his career, including a freshman season that saw him break a BYU record with 3,377 yards passing and 23 touchdowns in 2015.
Koroma was a freshman All-American in 2014 by the Football Writers Association of America, among others, and has started every game of his career at BYU.
“He’s energetic, he’s vocal, and he’s not afraid to raise his voice and speak up,” Mangum said of Koroma. “He corrects guys when needed, and more than anything shows by example that he will do whatever it takes. He’s always getting extra work, he’s in here Saturdays, or he’s working out and getting stronger. He’s a beast.”
“I think it’s very fitting for him to be named captain.”
More Nwigwe catches, please
Of the position swaps that may be catching on is offensive lineman JJ Nwigwe, who has been spotted lining up at tight end and was even photographed in a tight end jersey Wednesday during photo day.
Nwigwe played in 12 games as a sophomore in 2016, and also featured on field goal and punt protection packages for a special teams unit that ranked No. 6 nationally in opponents’ punt return average.
Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer won’t commit to the 6-foot-5, 278-pound Nwigwe as a full-time tight end yet. But he did say the Cougars are starting to find spots for him at the position.
“He’ll have a 60 jersey on the sideline,” Detmer said. “JJ’s such a good athlete and a physical player that he needs to be on the field somewhere.
“He’s a big, physical tight end who can sneak out there and get out in some play-action. He’s got to make that transition, but he’s taken ownership of it. I think he enjoys it, and he can help us in the run game.
“He just wants to contribute, and that’s a great spot to help us as a team.”