PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – The BYU running game struggled through multiple injuries last year, and finished 89th in the nation in rushing yards.
But this year, the Cougars could have a 3-headed monster to carry the load.
Last year’s leading rusher Lopini Katoa is back and finally healthy. But after the Cougars added grad transfers Ty’Son Williams from South Carolina and Emmanuel Esukpa from Rice, all of a sudden the running game looks a lot stronger.
“We’ve got talented guys all across the board that can do everything,” said Esukpa, who rushed for 778 yards and six touchdowns in three seasons with the Owls. “So, it’s just fun coming out here and competing. If someone makes a play, then you have it in your mind, OK, I’m going to make a play. Then, the guy behind him is like, I’m going to one up him.”
“That’s always a great thing when you have depth at the running back position,” said Williams, who had 328 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Gamecocks. “It’s a physical position, so the more numbers you have, the better.”
Katoa led the Cougars with 428 yards and 8 touchdowns last season, but was limited to just three games of ten or more carries because of injuries. He welcomes the competition in the backfield.
“It’s been really positive all around,” Katoa said. “They’re experienced guys and hard workers. They just heighten the talent level in the room, and the competition makes everyone better.”
Head coach Kalani Sitake really appreciates what Williams and Esukpa have brought to the team — experience and leadership.
“When they take the field, it’s a different level of professionalism,” Sitake said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that this is their last year. This is a last go for them, so when they’re in here, they’re practicing and not screwing around.”
Williams and Esukpa saw an opportunity to play right away, but they also decided to transfer to BYU because of Sitake and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes.
“Just their will to win,” said Esukpa. “They give us a sense of freedom, and also a sense that you have to put your head down and work.”
“For Coach Kalani, I just like how he is as a head coach,” added Williams. He’s honest with you. Then Coach Grimes is the same way. He cares about his guys.”
While both Esukpa and Williams both admitted they were not familiar with a the BYU-Utah rivalry, they are learning quickly.
“When I got here, I found out pretty quick,” Williams said. “I would just post random things on Instagram, and people were like, “Beat Utah.’ What I was asking had nothing to do with Utah.”
“It seems like that’s all people care about out here,” Esukpa said. “It’s just nice and fun to have the fans behind you. It gets you more focused on the game. I want to not only beat Utah for our team, but for the fans.”