The common theme around the BYU football program right now is that of comfort. Everyone from the coaches to players and the supporting staff feel comfortable with the new regime under head coach Kalani Sitake in Provo. With that comfort though is still numerous opportunities for competition and players to emerge as breakout stars.
The Cougars already have proven stars in quarterback Tanner Mangum and linebackers Fred Warner and Butch Pau’u (who was on this last season). Who are the players that are ready to break out and could potentially propel BYU from a projected good season to that of a special year?
Here are five names to keep an eye on who fit that billing.
Zayne Anderson, Safety
Anderson was dubbed by special teams coordinator Ed Lamb as the “Scottie Pippen of BYU’s special teams” a season ago. Anderson has excelled as a gunner on special teams and in limited time at safety. The Cougars are looking to replace one of the school’s best safeties ever in Kai Nacua and Anderson has the inside track with his excellent athleticism.
Matt Bushman, Tight End
Bushman signed in 2014 with BYU and is entering his true freshman season in the fall of 2017. Bushman returned home from his LDS mission last October and had a lot of time to get acclimated to Ty Detmer’s new pro-style offense. With that extra time to prepare and observe, Bushman excelled in spring ball and was one of the Cougars’ bright spots on the offense side. Expect Bushman to become a top target for quarterback Tanner Mangum this fall.
Kieffer Longson, Offensive Tackle
At 6-foot-7 and 318-pounds, how do you not get this guy on the field? Entering fall camp, Longson will battle Austin Hoyt, who has starting experience, for the starting nod at right tackle. Longson redshirted last season after having an unexpected early return home from an LDS mission. Longson was recruited by Ohio State and Florida State coming out of high school, and he fits the mold for what Sitake wants in his linemen – size and lots of it.
Micah Simon, Wide Receiver
Athletes from the state of Texas just have a different level of speed compared to other states. Simon has turned a lot of heads around the BYU football program because of his sub-4.4 40 speed. The Cougars have a lot of question marks at the wide receiver spot, so expect Simon, who once led his high school team to a state championship at quarterback, to get every opportunity possible to emerge as a playmaker.
Sione Takitaki, Defensive End
Takitaki has been in and out of the BYU football program due to various off-the-field issues. He did not play all of last season, but is now back with the program and has been cleared to return to the field. That’s a huge boost for a BYU defense that last year was in the bottom 40 nationally in total sacks. Takitaki’s gift is a knack for getting in the backfield and causing havoc. If he plays the entire season, Takitaki could finish the season with double-digit sacks.
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.