There are strange rumblings coming out of Quarterback U. Something about...defense? "The D is going to be the focus around here," says BYU fullback Hema Heimuli. "Those guys could be our saviors."
"This defense has the potential to dominate," says linebacker Shay Muirbrook.
"Truly," says tight end Chad Lewis, "this defense is dang good."
Five times last year the Cougars held opponents to no more than two touchdowns, and they ranked a solid 22nd in the nation against the run. With six starting defenders back, plus some talented newcomers, the expectations could be realized.
Much of the Cougars' fortunes rest on the meaty shoulders of identical twins Stan and John Raass, both seniors who were born in Tonga. Stan is a 6-foot, 260-pound thumper at outside linebacker, while John is an amazingly agile nosetackle who has bulked up to 300 pounds. "Only other twins will understand, but we know what each other is thinking and what we're going to do before we even do it," John says. During games the Raass boys shout signals to each other in Tongan.
Muirbrook, who packs a large wallop, and tackle Mike Ulufale can be counted on for big plays and leadership. A pair of redshirt freshmen, cornerback Jason Walker and defensive end Ed Kehl, also figure to emerge as playmakers.
During La Veil Edwards's 23 years as coach, BYU quarterbacks have thrown for more than 44 miles. Steve Sarkisian, an All-America last year at El Camino J.C. in Torrance, Calif., takes over for the departed John Walsh. Sarkisian studied so much film over the winter that in spring ball he blew the coaches' minds with his knowledge of the complex offense. Most important, he earned the confidence of his teammates. During one scrimmage a couple of jittery linemen kept jumping offside. In the huddle Sarkisian changed the snap count and said with a smile, "And hold your water this time." That cracked up the players, and according to Heimuli, "Right then, we knew the kid was O.K."
If Heimuli sounds like a respected elder, that's because he is one. He gained more than 1,000 total yards last year, but his guttiest performance came off the field. Last Nov. 11 Heimuli dozed off while driving. His car went out of control and rolled over at least a half dozen times. Wearing a seat belt saved his life, but Heimuli bounced around like a kernel of corn in a popper and was sliced up so badly that he needed 70 stitches. When paramedics arrived, the first thing Heimuli asked was, "Will I be able to play next weekend?" He did.