In 2009, Mike Hague suffered a season-ending injury after the third game of the season. In 2010 he played most of the season while trying to get his legs back. Now the junior fullback-turned-safety is feeling physically better than he's felt for quite some time.
"It's been quite a bit of a transition," he said. "I've been getting used to my body. I've lost a bunch of weight and it was just me getting my feet back. Now I've gotten my feet 100 percent back."
It all started with Hague wanting to be a better running back. He wanted to slim down a bit so he could move a lot quicker.
"One of the main things that I did was I started a really rigorous diet and got my body back in shape," he said. "I ended up losing about 45 pounds and really got my body in shape. I started competing in the conditioning with the skill positions and started winning some of them, so Coach Mendenhall asked me one day to come over to the defense. It started to feel right and look right. Coach Howell was kind of excited about the change too and walked me through it. He's been really patient with me, and so now it's just getting my body ready for it."
Hague's physical transformation has given him more speed and quickness. No longer a gritty fullback, the 5-foot-10-inch, 210-pound skill player feels good about the shape he’s in.
"I'm lighter now than I've been since my sophomore year in high school. I feel that good. Now it's getting used to controlling my body as a defender as compared to controlling my body on offense – muscle memory and using different muscles that I normally wouldn't use on offense. For example, like backpedaling and then turning and running. That's the biggest transition."
As a senior in high school, Hague rushed for more than 2,000 yards and scored 28 touchdowns en route to being named Utah's 5A Player of the Year. While at BYU, the transition from a Cougar running back/fullback to a safety has taken some getting use to, but there is one familiar aspect Hague does like about his new position.
"You know, it is a bit of a transition, but I love hitting," Hague said. "Last year when I was playing fullback the guys knew that I loved hitting. Playing free safety, I've got a chance to do a little more sit-back work at first. Then I can come up and hit people. It's definitely a different position. Now it's a lot more defensive technique against offensive technique. It's a different change, but I like it a lot. You definitely have to change your mindset and you have to have a short memory, and I don't like to lose."
During one particular team practice, walk-on wide receiver Cody Raymond found himself on the punishing end of a Hague hit after the pass intended for him fell incomplete. The hit drew a flag from nearby officials and some jeers from former offensive teammates.
"I know I'm going to get some talk from that," Hague said. "I tried to run through the play and I supposedly late-hit Cody, so I'll get some crap from that. I didn't mean any harm, but I hit him a little late. Coach said to run through the ball, and so I did my best to do that and I ended up being called for a penalty."
Little by little, Hague is getting used to the defensive scheme. He's been in rotation with the first- and second-team playing alongside Jray Galea'i.
"As far as getting all the scheme in and all that stuff, that comes with time," Hague said. "Luckily I've been able to soak it all in with time, and the more time I have, the more I'll soak in."
Soaking it in will come a lot faster with the help of coaches and teammates. Hague is spending a lot of time with his new defensive teammates to learn the schemes and calls.
"Definitely right now, I'm looking to Travis Uale a lot and kind of shadow him," Hague said. "Just a lot of his knowledge of the defense is something you can hold onto. Steven Thomas, who played and started last year, ended up having to stop playing football last year because of health reasons. He's walked me through a lot of the stuff. Robbie Buckner, or ‘Buck,’ is my roommate and I live with him. We've been friends since our junior year in high school, and just playing with those guys feels good. Like I said, playing with those guys, I just feel at home. Watching Jray and playing with him has been really good for me. I'm playing with him this year, and if I make the wrong call, he'll correct me on it."
So far Mike Hague looks like he's adapting to his new position. He's a physical player and, as he's already shown during practice, never shies away from physical contact. He's a smart player, which is what one wants in the secondary, but is still a step slow in getting to the point of attack. In time that will change as he continues to grow and learn within the secondary.