Provo • Joshua Quezada's enthusiasm, work ethic and cheery disposition will be missed in the weight room, locker room and team meetings, BYU football players and coaches all said on Thursday as camp started without the junior running back whose surprise announcement two weeks ago that he was leaving sent shock waves throughout the program.
But his former teammates and coaches stopped short of saying Quezada will be missed on the football field, claiming that there are plenty of capable ballcarriers and pass-catchers to fill the void left by the La Habra, Calif., athlete who never fully lived up to the hype that accompanied him to Provo.
"We have tremendous depth. We are going to be just fine," said running backs coach Joe DuPaix. "You know, the one thing I want to say is that we love Josh Quezada. He's a great young man. We want him to go and be successful and have a great career in whatever he chooses to do. We think the world of Josh, and wish him the best."
Quezada talked to The Salt Lake Tribune last week about why he abruptly left the program, saying it was the "right thing to do" for his family but declining to get into specific details. As of Friday, he had not responded to repeated inquiries about his next destination.
So the Cougars enter 2012 with Mike Alisa as their primary ballcarrier after the junior from Provo's Timpview High, a converted linebacker, rushed for 455 yards and three touchdowns on 85 carries last year. Behind Alisa, the carries that probably would have gone to Quezada will be taken by senior David Foote and sophomore Iona Pritchard. A pair of freshmen, returned missionary Adam Hine and California speedster Jamaal Williams, are in the mix, along with Paul Lasike, the BYU rugby star who is trying his hand at football.
"Really, just one less [ballcarrier]," coach Bronco Mendenhall said of the impact of Quezada's departure. "With more ability for Paul Lasike to possibly shine. More opportunity maybe for Jamaal Williams to emerge. More opportunity for David Foote to have a more significant role. Then when you have Iona Pritchard, who could be a big-back ballcarrier, but also a fullback, I still think there will be plenty of bodies there, with Mike Alisa being the primary ballcarrier."
Pritchard, who is still returning from the ankle and knee injuries suffered during the first scrimmage of last year's preseason camp, has been compared by BYU coaches to ex-Cougar great Manase Tonga. Pritchard's versatility will enable coaches to use him as a blocking fullback along with Zed Mendenhall, but also as a pass-catching halfback.
"Right now, we have a heckuva competition going," DuPaix said. "When we are out there in our two-back sets, you are looking at David Foote, Iona Pritchard, Adam Hine, Jamaal Williams, Paul Lasike [joining Alisa]. I mean, all five of those guys are competing to try and bump up into that next spot."
Graduated running back J.J. Di Luigi was especially effective as a pass-catcher. But this stable of backs has more balance and versatility, DuPaix said. If there's a game-breaker among the group, it could be Williams, from Summit High in Fontana, Calif.
"Jamaal is a great athlete," DuPaix said. "He is a great athlete. He's learning the offense, the ins and outs of why we do certain things. He's learning the plays. You watch him out here, he's already doing some really nice things. I am really excited that he is here."
Then again, coaches and teammates were saying the same things about Quezada two years ago.
"Well, Josh has got to do what is best for him," said quarterback Riley Nelson. "If he's not happy here, and the best decision for him in his life is to not be here, then we have to respect that decision. We are sad to see him go. He was a great teammate and a great worker, consistently one of our hardest and best workers, as far as the weight room and offseason workouts. But we will be OK, moving forward."
BYU's top running backs
Player Year Ht/Wt Comment
Mike Alisa Jr. 6-1/220 Former LB has emerged as primary ballcarrier
David Foote Sr. 5-11/200 Thirteen carries for 146 yards in 2011
Iona Pritchard So. 6-0/244 Suffered season-ending ankle/knee injury last fall camp
Zed Mendenhall Sr. 5-11/253 Lead blocker rarely carries the ball; protection specialist
Adam Hine Fr. 6-1/202 Redshirted last year after returning in summer from mission
Paul Lasike So. 6-0/222 Rugby star is still learning football, but shows promise
Jamaal Williams Fr. 6-0/190 Speedster passes the eye test, but he's buried on depth chart