PROVO — Matt Hadley’s move to the linebacker wasn’t a surprise when the BYU football team released its first depth chart ahead of the season-opener Saturday against Portland State.
If there’s a spot on the chart he hasn’t played, they are few. Hadley had emerged as the starting safety after moving back and forth from running back in the spring, and now he’s set to start alongside talented linebackers Fred Warner and Butch Pau’u.
Hadley was listed as the primary at “will” linebacker — the spot vacated by Francis Bernard — despite Hadley lining up as a safety just a week ago. He was listed ahead of Adam Pulsipher and Johnny Tapusoa at the position.
“I’m just grateful that the coaches trust me with it,” Hadley said. “I’ve been able to see my ability and what I can do, how I can contribute to the different positions they’ve tried me at.
“Moving is a tough adjustment, but we’re all football players and should be able to figure it out.”
Even more excited was Hadley’s older brother Spencer, who played linebacker at BYU from 2008-13 and finished with 149 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two interceptions. The two have a group text set up between them and former BYU standout Brandon Ogletree, and the former Cougar defensive stars have already been drilling their younger counterpart in his new position.
“He’s going to give me a lot more tips as I come. But he was really, really excited,” Hadley said of the family legacy at linebacker. “I’m going to work to do what I can, that’s for sure.”
Hadley will also see time as a “dimeback” — a hybrid of a linebacker and a defensive back — and he’s listed as the starting kick returner on special teams.
Essentially, the coaching staff is just looking for a way to get the 6-foot, 215-pound native of rural Connell, Washington, on the field.
“He’s just a good ballplayer,” defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said of Hadley. “I thought he did good enough at running back to stay there. He was our starting safety, and things just kind of happened where he moved there.
“He fits in anywhere on the field.”
Hadley still has things to work on at linebacker; the game moves faster 5 yards from the line of scrimmage, as opposed to 11 yards off, and he’s trying to gain around seven pounds to get up to 220 during the regular season.
But that’s more than just eating at the buffet, he quickly noted.
“It’s got to be good weight,” he said with a nod to head coach Kalani Sitake’s constant jokes. “But I’m eating more consistent.”
Mo field goal blocks
Hadley won’t be the only defensive player making a move, either.
Tuiaki said incoming defensive lineman Motekiai Langi — the 410-pounder who has already reached a certain level of internet celebrity — will see plenty of time on special teams, notably on field goal and field goal-block units.
Langi wasn’t listed on the 2-3 deep chart across the defensive line, but his play on special teams will be important as BYU adds the size of the 6-foot-7 Langi alongside 6-9 Corbin Kaufusi and potentially even the 6-8 Austin Hoyt or Kieffer Longson, Tuiaki said.
“We love the way he’s coming along,” Tuiaki said of Langi. “And he has a great attitude — he’s funny, really, really funny.”
Scout team look
Kody Wilstead has been running the scout team in advance of Portland State, as the former Pine View High standout tries to simulate Vikings true freshman Jalani Eason. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Eason is one of eight true freshmen that Portland State will send to BYU, and the first true freshman starting quarterback at Portland State since 2012.
“We’ve also taken Austin Kafentzis over to run quarterback and give us a look at some things,” Tuiaki added. “We’ve got some guys who do those things.”