BYU Hoping Kearsley Can Contribute
Rarely are true freshmen able to come in and make an impact on the offensive line in college football.
At BYU, players like Matt Reynolds and John Tait are a couple of rare athletes who started on the offensive line as freshmen.
But even those guys were redshirt freshmen who had served missions and came to the job as relatively mature student-athletes.
In 2013, the Cougars may find themselves relying on 18-year-old true freshman Brayden Kearsley more than they would like.
According to multiple recruiting sites, the 6-4, 298-pound native of Aloha, Oregon comes to Provo as the most highly-touted of BYU’s recruits in the 2013 class.
Both Rivals.com and Scout.com ranked Kearsley as a four-star recruit. Rivals listed him as the No. 25 offensive tackle in the country, while Scout ranked him as the No. 16 guard in the land. He’s projected to play guard or center at the next level after starting at tackle the past two years for Aloha.
“Brayden is really, really good,” Bronco Mendenhall said on national signing day. “I love his feet, I love his toughness and he’s a football young man–meaning that if you took it away from him he would probably stop breathing or eating.”
Because of graduation, transfers, and an unusual number of career-ending injuries along the front line at BYU over the past 12 months, Kearsley may find himself thrust into the position of having to contribute right away.
The Cougars are also expected to receive an influx of junior college offensive linemen this fall to help bolster the BYU protection, but none of the JUCO transfers were as highly-regarded as Kearsley coming out of high school.
The question is just how much of an impact the true freshman can make as BYU prepares for what appears to be one of the toughest schedules in school history.
Perhaps nobody knows Brayden’s abilities and potential at the next level better than Aloha head coach Bill Volk. A 17-year veteran of the Aloha staff, Volk was named head coach following the 2012 season after serving as the program’s assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. He has seen a number of players from Aloha make the successful transition to Division-1 football.
He’s also been Brayden’s position coach since he entered the program. However, the relationship between Volk and Keasley goes back more than just the few years that Brayden has been playing for the Warriors.
“I’ve known Brayden since he was one-and-a-half or two years old,” says Volk with a chuckle.
That’s because Brayden’s father Stuart Kearsley has been the head wrestling coach at the school for the last 23 years and also serves as the head coach of the freshman football team.
“I’m excited for the guy–I can’t wait to watch him,” Volks says of Brayden. “I know he waffled a little bit between BYU and a local school (Oregon State) here in Oregon, but as it got down to crunch time he realized he was solidifying his future with this one decision.
“Honestly, in my heart, I would have liked to see him play closer so I could go watch him more often, but this is what’s good for him, this is what’s right in his heart. He’s always been that kid that wore that ‘Y’ on his chest with pride.”
Volk projects that his protege has a very bright future ahead of him, even going as far as to say that he expects to hear Kearsley’s name called someday during the NFL draft. “It’s endless what this kid can do,” the coach explains.
“Brayden has great feet, he’s very strong, he has good levers. He just has to stay within himself and give himself some time and not get frustrated (at the next level), just be patient with himself. He’s very physical and he’s a pretty good technician. As a player he wants to get better, he wants to grow, he wants to keep improving.”
Even at a young age, it was obvious to Volk that Kearsley had a hunger to be the best player that he could be.
“During his sophomore year–the year we won the state title–it was his first year and he started for us at strong guard. He came in at lunch every day with one of our senior linemen and the three of us would watch film and eat and talk. He’s always been a student of the game. He’s almost like another piece of the furniture in the coaches’ office. He spends just as much time in the coaches’ office as most of our coaches do–probably more.”
In addition to being a great student of the game, Kearsley also has the reputation of playing with a mean streak. In fact, Volk has had to coach him to dial down his aggression at times in order for him to keep his technique.
“I tell him that you want to be competitive, but there is part of that when you have to kind of pull back a little bit. My motto is ‘Get The Edge’, and he’ll challenge me with, ‘Hey coach I’m just getting the edge.'”
While Volk is high on Kearsley’s abilities, he’s also aware that stepping up at a program like BYU and contributing right away as a true freshman straight out of high school is a tall task for anyone, even a four- or five-star recruit.
“That’s a high expectation for a guy that doesn’t know the system yet, hasn’t played a single down or taken a single rep. The offensive line is so complicated.
“He’s a kid that could possibly pull it off, but I think it’s way to early to make a prediction and say that he’s going to be an impact player (in his first year). BYU’s not known for 18-year-olds coming in and playing on the offensive line.”
The transition could be made even tougher if Kearsley is switched to center, a position that he has never played before. When BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae visited Brayden in his home shortly after he was hired in January, he told the high school standout that he thought he had a very bright future at center.
“Center is kind of like the quarterback on the line and that guy has to be the smartest player on the line,” says Volk. “It’s a tribute to Brayden’s work ethic these last several years, to put him into a position to get so much notoriety. He needs to be commended for that, but at the same time, let’s be patient, knowing that we have a few years with him at BYU.”
One thing that may help Brayden make a successful transition to the college game is the zone blocking scheme that Anae has installed in Provo. It’s designed to simplify things for the offensive linemen and takes pressure off of his guys to win one-on-one match ups at the point of attack.
“With zone blocking there are so many double-teams at the first level, as they are working the second level, so he’ll be getting help from one of his teammates, so that could really help solidify things a lot. That might be their answer for a young line.”
Whether Kearsley is able to make a significant contribution as a first-year player remains to be seen, but Volk believes that he will make his presence felt in the BYU program before his career in Provo is over.
“He’s a savvy player, I think he understands the bigger picture. Bronco is going to do a fabulous job with him and I’m excited to watch what happens.”
Here are highlights of Brayden taken from a single game during his senior season.