BYU’s Top 5 Returning Missionaries for 2014
With national letter of intent day in the rear-view mirror, the BYU coaching staff can now turn its attention to preparing for a brand new season. The Cougars will kick off their preparations for 2014 in just three weeks with the opening of spring camp.
The program announced the addition of 20 new recruits to the fold last Wednesday, to go along with 18 returning missionaries who will bolster the roster and help plug some key holes created by the graduation of several seniors from 2013.
Unlike last season when BYU had just four missionaries return to the team, several RMs are expected to make key contributions in 2014. Here’s a look at the top five guys to keep an eye on as the new season rolls out.
1. DL Graham Rowley (6-4, 280 Jr.)
Rowley saw significant action as a freshman and sophomore following a standout high school career in Hawaii. He played in eight games as a true freshmen and then saw action in all 13 games in his second year in the program, including three starts at defensive end.
He totaled 16 tackles, three for loss and recorded 1.5 sacks during his sophomore season. His return gives the coaches the freedom of experimenting with Bronson Kaufusi at outside linebacker. With Bronson’s position move and the graduation of Eathyn Manumaleuna, Bronco Mendenhall will be counting on Graham to come in and pick up where he left off in 2011.
Given his past experience and level of production on the field, he has to be considered an early favorite to earn a starting spot at defensive end. He holds up better against the run than does Kaufusi and he’s also versatile enough to allow Bronco to move him around on the defensive line, including playing him at nose tackle in obvious passing situations.
Rowley is already enrolled and working out with the team and will be available for spring ball.
2. DL Travis Tuiloma (6-2, 320 So.)
Tuiloma is another defensive linemen who saw significant time on the field before his mission. As a redshirt freshman he played in all 13 games and tallied 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks from his nose tackle position. His play helped BYU rank 14th in the country in total defense in 2011.
The former First-Team All-State performer from Kansas was also an accomplished wrestler in high school and fits the bill as a classic two-gap talent in the middle of the defensive line on the gridiron.
He’ll be in the mix at the nose once again as he returns from his mission to Samoa for his sophomore season. Expect him to battle Marques Johnson for time in the middle, and depending on how quickly he bounces back from his mission, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see him win the starting job at some point in 2014.
3. OL Ului Lapuaho (6-7, 310 Fr.)
Mendenhall gushed about Lapuaho on signing day last week.
“There’s not a player in our program that I am more excited about right now,” Mendenhall said. “He looks exactly like, not only an NFL player, but maybe an All-Pro NFL player at offensive tackle.”
That’s a rare level of praise coming from Bronco, especially for an athlete who has yet to step on the field at the Division-1 college level. He immediately upgrades the talent level on the offensive line, a position group that has been the biggest weakness on the team the past couple of seasons.
Lui will be a candidate to start right away at the crucial left tackle position. BYU has been searching for an answer at that spot ever since Ryker Mathews injured both of his hips a couple of seasons ago. If Mathews returns to 100 percent this coming year, he may be able to move back into the starting role on the left side. If not, the spot becomes wide open.
4. LB Austin Heder (6-1, 241 So.)
Heder saw the field mainly as a blocking fullback as a true freshman out of Pleasant Grove High School. Mendenhall loves the way Austin plays the game and has referred to him as a perfect fit at middle linebacker in BYU’s defense. He loves contact and relishes delivering big hits.
Given the fact that he has solid playing experience, and that the Cougars are looking to replace their two starting inside linebackers, Heder figures to be a factor this coming season on the defensive side of the ball. He has the reputation of being a fierce, physical player who plays down hill and is a big time run stopper.
He’ll likely battle Manoa Pikula and Zac Stout for playing time as the key run-stuffing inside linebacker this coming year, and if the past is any indication, it will be tough to keep him off the field.
5. LB Troy Hinds (6-5, 240 Fr.)
Mendenhall has described Troy Hinds as one of the best high school prospects to ever come out of the state of Utah. Troy played at Davis High in Kaysville where he was recruited by the likes of Notre Dame, Nebraska, Michigan, Oklahoma and virtually all of the PAC-12 schools.
He served his mission to Mississippi straight out of high school and doesn’t return home until this summer, which could effect how much of an impact he will make this year. If he can get his legs back quickly this fall, Troy will have a chance to make a contribution at one of the outside linebackers positions. If he were back in time to compete this spring, he would be higher on this list.
Hinds, combined with incoming high school players Fred Warner, Tyler Cook and Sione Takitaki, will infuse the outside linebacker spots with a ton of young, outstanding talent for next season.
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