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PROVO, Utah - When Gary Crowton was named as the man who would replace LaVell Edwards as the head coach of the BYU football program, he brought with him a new type of energy and excitement that was felt the moment he arrived in Provo. Yet, even with his coaching accomplishments, and a new vigor surrounding campus, most expected it would take Crowton a year or two to implement his high-powered offense and restore the proud tradition of BYU football.
What Crowton, his coaching staff, and the 2001 Cougars accomplished in only one season will not soon be forgotten; a 12-2 record and the program's first-ever outright MWC Championship. Now, with eagle-soaring expectations, Crowton has the task of re-tooling the nation's top-rated offense and defending the MWC title. To some, a task as arduous as climbing Mount Everest, but to Crowton it's just part of the job.
"Last season we had a lot of success," he says. "We had great leadership and some talented players. They are gone now, and it is our job to find new leaders and equally talented players to continue winning championships. That's our job.
"We lost a lot of good players and we have a lot of growing to do from the player's standpoint. I'm excited about this new team. It's kind of fun, going out there trying to figure out where everybody goes. There's good energy with this team and everybody is excited. We won't know for sure how everything will all come together, with all the incoming freshman and junior college transfers, but we feel like we're going to be pretty good. "
Gone from the 2001 MWC Championship season are Doak Walker Award winner, consensus All-American and the nation's leading scorer, Luke Staley. In addition, the Cougars will look to replace quarterback Brandon Doman, offensive linemen Jason Scukanec , Aaron McCubbins and Teag Whiting, tight end Doug Jolley, defensive line book ends Ryan Denney and Brett Keisel, linebackers Justin Ena and Isaac Kelley, as well as safety Dustin Staley.
However, the Cougars return 20 offensive lettermen, including five offensive starters. On defense, BYU will welcome back 19 defensive letterwinners, including six starters. In addition to a solid list of returning players, Crowton and the BYU coaching staff managed to assemble one of the nation's top recruiting classes, many of whom will have an opportunity to contribute this season.
While last year's starter Brandon Doman is gone, Crowton will have four QBs in camp, with the nation's top-ranked high school quarterback on his way to Provo. Bret Engemann has been listed as the early front-runner in this talented pack of signal callers. Engemann started for the Cougars in 2000 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury at Syracuse. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound junior is best remembered for leading the Cougars to a come-from-behind, over-time victory at Virginia in only his second game as a starter. Engemann red-shirted last season and spent the year learning Crowton's complex offense.
Todd Mortensen, a 6-foot-4, 221-pound sophomore returns for his second season under Crowton. Mortensen saw limited action as a freshman, competing in just five games behind Doman and back-up Charlie Peterson. Mortensen completed four-of-eight attempts as a freshman, including one for a touchdown (at Hawaii.)
One of the Cougars' top recruits in 1999 is back after serving a two-year, LDS Church mission to Panama City, Panama. Matt Berry, a 6-foot-5, 218-pound freshman redshirted in 1999, prior to serving his mission. Berry will benefit from working out with the team during spring drills and will be competing for playing time in 2002.
Lance Pendleton, a 6-foot-0, 180-pound redshirt freshman will also get plenty of reps during spring and fall camps. Pendleton has great quickness and adds a Doman-like dimension to the Cougars' offense.
Even though the 2001 season was officially over in December, it seemed like the Cougars continued winning when the nation's top quarterback prospect signed to play for BYU. Ben Olsen, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound Parade and USA Today High School All-American remains undecided if he will redshirt or leave on a Church mission. Either way, the Cougars will be in good hands at quarterback this season. Olsen threw for 2,989 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior at Thousand Oaks High School.
"Some might see this as a rebuilding year at quarterback," Crowton said. "I'm not sure that's the case. I think we have a lot of talent at quarterback, but we'll just have to see how everyone does. We're going to make sure we get a good look at everyone and then make decisions from there."
One of the biggest challenges the BYU coaching staff will face this fall is replacing the nation's top running back. Luke Staley, gone to the NFL, not only accounted for 28 touchdowns, but he was responsible for nearly 30 percent of the Cougars' total offense. Though a daunting task, the Cougars believe Marcus Whalen will be able to climb into those shoes and lend credibility to BYU's run game. Whalen is back after a red-shirt season and with a strong recruiting effort at running back, the BYU ground attack should continue to be keep defenders on guard.
Whalen competed in nine games as a true freshman in 2000. He carried the ball 38 times for 209 yards, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Against Utah State, Whalen carried the ball 10 times for 91 second-half yards, giving Cougar fans a sense of great things to come.
"Marcus is very explosive, he's very quick through the line," Crowton says. "We are expecting he will be able to come off his red-shirt year and do some great things. We'll have to see what happens with some of the younger guys, so we're counting on Marcus to play a fairly significant roll."
The Cougars will also look to a few underclassmen to develop and hopefully, see some playing time at running back. During spring drills, Logan Deans, a 6-foot-0 220-pound sophomore took many of the first-team reps, while Whalen was out with hamstring and groin problems. Deans showed signs of being a powerful runner, as well as effective blocker. He's physical and showed his ability to run through the line, as well as beating defenders to the corner.
Other players who competed at running back during the spring, and are expected to compete for playing time are Jared Harper, a 6-foot-0 225-pound sophomore, Curtis Holder, a 5-foot-7, 175-pound sophomore, Kyle Wilson, Steve Later, Rick Swensen and Glenn Havea.
During the off-season, the Cougars signed additional running backs who are expected to make an immediate impact on the running game. Most notably, the BYU coaches are excited about Curtis Brown, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound speedster out of Palmdale, Calif. An honor-roll student at Paraclete High School, Brown recorded over 7,000 career rushing yards, including a 1,500-yard, 27-touchdown performance as a senior.
Reynaldo Brathwaite, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound back out of Grossmont Junior College is also expected to make an immediate impact, although an off-season operation to repair ACL damage in his knee may prevent the All-CIF record holder from competing for playing time early on. Thomas Stancil is another back BYU coaches are exited to get in camp. Stancil led Bakersfield High School to an undefeated season and CIF title as a senior, scoring 20 touchdowns and rushing for 1,772 yards.
Other signees at running back include Raufui Vakapuna from East High School in Salt Lake City, Aaron Singh, who plans to serve a church mission before coming to BYU and Mulivai Pula from Kahuku High School in Kahuku, Hawaii.
Probably the least effected position, in terms of losing players to graduation, the Cougars return an experienced and physical group of receivers. All totaled, eight of the ten BYU receivers who were credited with at least one reception last season are back. The receiving corps is led by All-American candidate Reno Mahe.
Mahe, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior, has made a name for himself with his soft hands and shifty moves. Best remembered for his gritty performance against Utah last season, just days after having his appendix removed, the ever-joking Mahe ranked ninth in the nation with an average 9.0 receptions per game. He also ranked among the nation's top receivers, averaging over 93 receiving yards per game.
Initially recruited for his speed, Rodney Wilkerson proved to be a deep threat for the Cougars last season. He was credited with 15 receptions for 292 yards and had three touchdowns as a freshman. Back, with a solid year of experience under his belt, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound speedster is expected to play a major roll in the BYU passing game this season.
Senior Andrew Ord is back for a final season, coming off a solid campaign as a junior. Ord competed in all 14 games for the Cougars, recording 17 receptions for 183 yards. Ord was also credited for the game-winning touchdown at New Mexico.
Junior Toby Christensen is slated to see significant time at receiver after a solid sophomore season. Christensen, at 5-foot-11, 195-pounds, will not only be used for his sure hands, but can handle physical defenders in his down-field blocking assignments. Christensen will be joined by David Christensen, who sat out last season due to injury. In addition, Justin Anderson returns for his final season at BYU, along with Ryan Slater, Jason Kukahiko, Ammon Kaonohi, Pat Williams, David Tafuna, Breyon Jones and Brett Copper.
The Cougars will also look to newcomer Daniel Coates, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound receiver from Layton, Utah to make an immediate impact. Coates, the 5-A Most Valuable Player and Utah Player of the Year, will enter fall camp after recording 2,386 yards and 23 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Northridge High School. Joining Coates will be all-state performer Ferron Fonoimaona from Kahuku High School in Kahuku, Hawaii.
While the Cougars will be without Mr. Versatility Aaron McCubbins, the quote machine Jason Scukanec and the team's most physical player, Teag Whiting, BYU will be in good hands with returning starters Dustin Rykert and Ben Archibald. Both players anchor the offensive line at tackle and will be assisted by returning lettermen, Ryan Keele at center, Isaac Herring at guard and Scott Jackson at guard. This year's projected starters average nearly 6-foot-5 and weigh in at 308 pounds per man.
With depth as a key to this year's offensive line, other players with significant experience include Hanale Vincent, Quinn Christensen, Vincent Xanthos, Matt Griffith, James Eastman, Nate Hall and Jeff Rhea.
While to some, losing an all-conference performer like Doug Jolley would mean a re-building year at tight end, the Cougars are in very good hands. In fact, the Cougars return one of the top tight end duos in the Mountain West, and arguable in the country.
Spencer Nead, a strapping 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior, returns after an impressive junior campaign. In addition to rating as one of the Cougars' top blockers, Nead racked up 22 receptions for 266 yards and five touchdowns. Equally as intimidating to defenders, Gabriel Reid returns for his senior season. Reid had five receptions for 79 yards and three touchdowns as a junior.
Young tight ends expected to compete for playing time include Aissac Aiono, Justin Jory, Trevor Halverson and Jeremy Gillespie.
There is no question the Cougars will miss the presence of all-conference performers Ryan Denney and Brett Keisel along the defensive line, but with new line coach Steve Kaufusi and key players returning to the defensive line, the Cougars are expected to fair well in the trenches.
John Denney, who redshirted the 2001 season, has been penciled as a starter at one end, along with C.J. Ah You. Ah You showed signs of great things to come as a freshman, but his season was cut short with a season-ending knee injury. Brandon Stephens also returns to the defensive line, having racked up significant playing time last season. Switching from linebacker to defensive end, Moa Peaua and Brady Poppinga will also compete for playing time at defensive end.
Initially listed as one who would come in and make an immediate impact, the Cougars must now wait on eligibility issues to be cleared up before they can count on the highly-regarded talent of Junior College All-American Scott Young. Once cleared, Young, a transfer from Dixie State College will see significant time at defensive end.
While defensive coordinator Ken Schmidt and the BYU defensive coaching staff experimented with different defensive fronts during spring drills, one thing is for sure, the defensive tackle position will be in good hands with junior Ifo Pili. Pili played in all 14 games as a sophomore after returning from a Church mission. He racked up 28 tackles on the season, including five tackles for a combined loss of 24 yards. He will be joined by the likes of junior Ryan Gunderson and senior Jeff Cowart. Both Gunderson and Cowart saw significant playing time along the defensive line last season, accounting for a combined 43 tackles, including seven tackles for a loss.
After red-shirting last season, Daniel Marquardt made great strides during spring drills and will see playing time along the defensive line this season as well. The Cougars also added some depth to the defensive line when Mania Brown, a transfer from Nebraska, signed with BYU early in the spring. Due to NCAA transfer rules however, Brown must sit out a year, but will be ready to go in 2003.
It's one thing to say that two of the three starting linebackers were lost to graduation, but it is something quite different to say that the Cougars will be without their top two defenders this season. Justin Ena and Isaac Kelley accounted for a combined 190 tackles last season, including 19 tackles for a combined loss of 56 yards.
Replacing Ena and Kelley will be up to junior Paul Walkenhorst. Lucky for the 6-foot-5, 250-pound linebacker, he returns as a two-year starter and ranked third behind Ena and Kelley last season with 69 tackles. Walkenhorst will move to the middle linebacker position this year, making way for guys like Levi Madarieta, Bill Wright and Colby Bockwoldt to shore up the outside positions.
Going away from the big, physical linebacker, the Cougars appear to be focusing more on speed and overall quickness for pass protection this coming season. Madarieta, who will make the switch from safety to linebacker, is listed at 6-foot-3, 221 pounds. He will compete with Wright, a 6-foot-3, 234-pound backer, for the starting roll at the strong-side linebacker position. Madarieta was the Cougars' fifth-ranked defender last season, recording 65 tackles as a sophomore. Wright, who will enter his junior season, recorded 21 tackles in a back-up roll last season.
The weak-side linebacker position will be manned by the likes of Colby Bockwoldt, Ammon Mauga, Mike Tanner, Brent Carlson or Bryant Atkinson. Each will be competing for that starting position.
Other young linebackers who will challenge for playing time include Lance Reynolds, Jr., Andrew Selcho, Mike Young and Chris Stevens.
While there is no question Jernaro Gilford, an All-American candidate at corner, will bring experience and leadership to the secondary, Cougar coaches will be looking long and hard to fill the opposite corner position.
Gilford lead the team with six interceptions last season and was credited with 56 tackles and 11 pass deflections. At the opposite corner position, several young players will be competing for playing time, including O'Neil Howell, Mike Sumko and Micah Alba.
Newcomers expected to compete for an immediate roll include junior college transfers Walt Williams and James Allen. Freshman signees include Nate Hutchinson and Travonne Jackson.
Williams, a native of Miami, Fla., will enter fall camp after being listed as one of the top-25 recruits in the country. Williams was a first-team all-conference performer at Easter Arizona Junior College. Allen, a speedster out of Los Angeles Southwest Junior College, will enter the BYU program with three years of eligibility.
The Cougars lost Dustin Staley to graduation, but return a deep and experienced group of players who will compete for playing time, as well as one of the two starting positions. Sophomore Aaron Francisco, who started in three games and saw action in all 14 games for the Cougars as a true freshman, returns and is likely to start at the free safety position. Francisco, an all-conference candidate registered 27 tackles last season and was credited with two interceptions.
Junior Brandon Heaney, a potential starter at strong safety, also returns after a successful sophomore campaign. Heaney registered 46 tackles on the season, including 39 solo takedowns.
Others who are expected to compete for playing time include junior Alex Farris, junior Michael Madsen, junior Kurt Elliott, senior Todd Barker, sophomore Jon Burbidge and sophomore Jared Meibos.
During the off-season, Crowton decided to make some changes to special teams. He assigned running backs coach, Paul Tidwell, to take over as special teams coordinator in an effort to give special teams more of an offensive flavor.
Tidwell will have the luxury of having kicker Matt Payne return to the special teams unit. Payne, a 6-foot-4, 238-pound sophomore tied an NCAA record for most PATs in a single-season. Payne has been working during the off-season to improve his distance and accuracy on both kickoffs and field-goal attempts.
Payne, along with Jared McLaughlin and Tyson Dunham will continue to compete for punting duties. Denney has been penciled in as the deep snapper, while Reno Mahe, David Christensen, Toby Christense, Curtis Holder and Marcus Whalen have been listed as potential punt and kick return specialists.
written by BYU Athletic Media Relations