By Kevin Reynolds
Aug. 8, 2023, 11:57 a.m.
Updated: 12:26 p.m.
Provo • BYU’s first week of fall camp was all about welcoming in the new.
Sixty new faces, 42 signees since December. A completely overhauled roster for what comes next in the Big 12.
In all that new, there were two notable players the Cougars left behind in their preparations for the Power Five. Former quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters and kicker Justen Smith are not with the team and Kalani Sitake does not expect them back.
“No, I think he is done for now,” Sitake said when asked about Miaiava-Peters.
As for Smith? “Same thing,” Sitake said.
Maiava-Peters was the starting quarterback during the New Mexico Bowl last year after injuries struck Jaren Hall and Cade Fennegan. He threw for 47 yards and an interception. He also had a rushing touchdown.
This spring, Maiava-Peters was moved to running back. It is a crowded room — with four players already seriously contending for carries — but offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick didn’t discount using Maiava-Peters. A former quarterback who could run, Roderick could’ve used Maiava-Peters in special situations.
The more pressing loss, though, might be Smith. With BYU’s place-kicking situation still in flux, BYU lost one of its main options to replace former kicker Jake Oldroyd.
Smith had attempted four field goals in his career, making three. It wasn’t a large body of work, but it was still the most in the room. Now, special teams coordinator Kelly Poppinga must choose between Matthias Dunn, Will Ferrin and Jordan Kapisi to kick the field goals for BYU this year.
Dunn is a walk-on. Kapisi just joined the program this week. And Ferrin is a Boise State transfer who was a kickoff specialist. He has never attempted a field goal in his college career.
Still, Poppinga felt confident that BYU could find somebody to kick field goals without Smith.
“We obviously have to get them in a game situation,” Poppinga said. “But from what they did the last three practices, I don’t think Will has missed. I think Matthias has missed one in the first three. Yeah, very encouraged.”
Smith is medically disqualified with an injury dating back to last season.
“Through spring ball he was kind of struggling,” Poppinga said. “Knew it was kind of a long shot to get himself healthy. Yeah, for him and his future, it was the best for him to step away and focus on academics.”
Aidan Robbins’ health and the running back situation
UNLV transfer Aidan Robbins had to sit out of live portions of practice last spring with a wrist injury. He had surgery in January and wasn’t fully ready in March.
But now Robbins is fully cleared and taking command of the running back position. Truthfully, it was his to lose coming into camp. He is a 1,000-yard rusher already in his career.
“After four days, he already looks like he belongs,” Roderick said. “He looks like he is going to be a good player for us.”
The compelling part about Robbins’ emergence, though, is what it does for the rest of the running backs room. BYU already had two experienced backs from last year and brought in two more. Hinckley Ropati and Miles Davis are back. They both had their moments last year and Ropati is a senior in 2023.
Plus, BYU brought in LJ Martin from high school and Deion Smith from Colorado. Martin was highly recruited and flipped his commitment from Stanford in December. Smith is a Power Five running back who can catch passes out of the backfield.
With Robbins initially positioned to start, how will the pecking order sift out behind him? Running backs coach Harvey Unga will have options based on what the situation calls for. Davis is a fast change-of-pace back and Smith brings a different element to the offense. Ropati appears to be the most well-rounded option to be a true backup to Robbins.
But it will become clearer in the next few weeks.
Another Weber State transfer and a secondary that’s getting more interesting
One of Jay Hill’s first moves as defensive coordinator was to bring along Eddie Heckard from Weber State to BYU’s secondary. Heckard should be slotted as an instant starter and one of the best players on the Cougars’ defense right now.
But another Weber addition that shouldn’t be overlooked is Kamden Garrett. He played in 37 games for Hill and could also start at corner this year. Garrett flashed in the first week of camp and plays nicely off of Heckard.
Southern Utah transfer Dylan Flowers also had a productive first few practices. He had a couple of pass breakups and is now in the mix to play at the corner spot.
All of a sudden, the cornerback position is more interesting than originally thought. Jakob Robinson and some veterans will have their say, but this new group of Flowers and Garrett are also in the mix. Some other intriguing options are transfer Jayden Dunlap and Mory Bamba, who could push for snaps this year, too.
Linebacker probably remains the position where BYU made the biggest leap from 2022 to 2023 in terms of depth. But this secondary has a case for being the most intriguing defensive position in camp.

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