The deep stable of BYU tight ends has been sorted out and lined up for action come Thursday’s game against Washington State. First to take the field will be junior Kaneakua Friel.
“I’m pretty excited to be given the chance to play this week,” said a humble Friel. “I just want to prepare well and be ready for whatever comes at me. I just want to help the offense move the ball. We need to move the ball, get first downs, get into the end zone and I just want to contribute to the offense any way possible. If that means blocking or catching balls and getting upfield, I’m just going to give it my all.”
“Right now, Kaneakua is going to start because he got a lot more reps in the fall,” said Richard Wilson. “With me and Austin [Holt], Coach kind of held us out of some stuff because of our knees, but throughout the game you’re going to see some stuff with all of us three. We’ll be making plays and I’m excited.”
The call to be the first to start the Washington State game was unexpected for Friel.
“It did kind of surprise me,” Friel admitted. “I knew that I had been playing well and I was doing my best to be consistent and being a player. I was just trying to be one of those guys that the offensive coordinator and our quarterback could trust.
“I felt like this fall camp all of us have been doing well, especially Austin and Richard, which is why it’s more surprising to me to be named that guy. But at the same time I know that whoever it is, whether is me, Richard, Austin or even Devin [Mahina] when he comes back, we’ll be able to move the ball.”
Washington State will see a steady dose of BYU’s talented tight ends, and it won’t just be Friel making plays. Wilson and Holt, who were some of the top tight ends in the country out of high school, will also be out on the field at some point in time.
“I’ll be playing quite a bit and as much as Coach puts me in there,” said Wilson. “Right now in practice we’ve been rotated every two plays, and so we’ll probably do that in the game, so you’ll probably see a lot of us in the game. Every two plays we’ll probably be going in.”
“Yeah, the other guys will get into the mix too,” said Friel with a smile. “Obviously I can’t run the whole game. I’m just going to do what I can to help the team, and I know Richard and Austin do the same when they’re out there on the field.”
Whether the rotation Wilson talked about is used in games remains to be seen, but Wilson seems to think that there will be a heavy dose of the three amigos in Friel, Holt and himself.
“Kaneakua will start and then me or Austin will go in for two plays and so on,” said Wilson. “You’ll see some two-tight end stuff, so you’ll obviously see two of us in when that happens.”
The tight ends have worked on being well-rounded, so that they be a receiving threat when lined up as at the flex position or a blocking threat when in the three-point stance.
“A lot of us got a lot of reps doing both, especially Austin,” said Wilson. “Austin generally doesn’t get a lot of flex tight end stuff, but this fall camp he did and he did really well. We all did well, so that’s just more of all of us out there in the flex while we can all put our hand on the ground. It’s just going to help our offense more and not tip off defenses with specific players in general.”
“This year we’re looking a lot better as a whole than last year as a tight end corps,” said Friel. “I believe that us tight ends are going to make a big difference and have a positive effect on the tight end position this year. It’s going to be different for us this year than last and you’ll see it right away.”
This talented cadre of tight ends has improved because they are now stepping out of refining fires and off Coach Reynolds’ welding table.
“Last year was kind of hard for me coming back [from my mission] with weak legs and constantly having my hamstring pulled,” Friel said. “I feel like this year what I’ve done is really mentally prepare myself, whether it was during practice or over the summer, to perform at my best every play and every day.
“Coach Reynolds said that knowing what you’re doing is about 85 percent of the game. Some people say otherwise and will say that effort will win games, but if you’re putting in a lot effort into doing something you know nothing about, it becomes wasted effort. Coach Reynolds has really been helping us to gain that tight end I.Q. in reading blitzes, reading defenses, reading coverages, and then combining that with our athletic abilities to give 100 percent effort. I think this is why you’ll see our tight ends be a much bigger factor in our offense this year than last.”
Facing BYU’s talented tight end trio will be Washington State outside linebackers Travis Long (6 feet 4 inches, 245 pounds) and Chester Su’a (6 feet1 inch, 225 pounds).
“[Long] is a great player and a big physical dude,” said Wilson. “The other guy [Su’a] is kind of young but an athlete, so we have to be ready and come out and hit them hard first. I think if we do that then we’ll be fine, but they’re good athletes.
“Luckily for us, we have a great defense and have been going up against a great defense all year long. I think that’s got us well prepared and ready. I’m really excited.”