Brigham Young is working hard to maintain its football footprint in Nevada. Not only has it brokered home-and-away series against UNLV and UNR, but BYU also signed two Las Vegas standouts to its 2013 recruiting class.
Linebackers Kai Nacua of Liberty High School and Trajan Pili of Centennial will join a unit that in 2012 ranked No. 2 nationally in rushing defense, No. 2 in red-zone defense, No. 3 in scoring defense and No. 3 in total defense.
“The football is getting better (in Nevada),” BYU coach and defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall said. “But more specifically to BYU, playing great football is only part of the equation. What type of grades are the young men earning, what kind of lives they are living in regards to their faith and how they are in the community are also factors.”
Mendenhall said he watched Nacua play six positions at Liberty, including quarterback, but the 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound newcomer will line up at outside linebacker for the Cougars.
“He is super athletic,” Mendenhall said. “He is very versatile.”
Pili, also an outside linebacker, played offense and defense at Centennial.
“Trajan will be a primary pass rusher. He is very aggressive and plays hard,” Mendenhall said. “He earned his way onto our team through our camps, so we know what we are getting with him.”
Nacua and Pili will be tutored by senior-to-be Kyle Van Noy, another Nevada product who earned All-America status at linebacker.
■ HILL AHEAD OF SCHEDULE — Quarterback Taysom Hill, a sophomore to be, said he is ahead of schedule rehabbing his surgically repaired knee.
Hill said he’ll be ready for spring practice next month, but Mendenhall is taking a more conservative approach. Hill will compete with redshirt sophomore Ammon Olsen and senior Jason Munns for the starting job.
“I love (Hill’s) skills,” Mendenhall said. “But I’m not crowning him the starter.”
■ REBUILDING THE LINE — BYU signed eight offensive linemen — four from junior colleges and four from high schools. The Cougars lost six linemen to career-ending injuries last season.
■ BALANCING ACT — Heading into his ninth season as coach, Mendenhall has had 284 players leave for two-year church missions and return to the team. BYU has 51 players now serving missions.
■ TOUGH SCHEDULE — The Cougars kick off the 2013 season at Virginia on Aug. 31. Included in BYU’s 12 regular-season games are trips to Notre Dame and Wisconsin and home dates against Texas and Boise State.
“This is the most difficult schedule BYU has ever played,” Mendenhall said. “As the coach, I have the most to lose, but I want to play the biggest teams on the biggest stages.”
■ BASKETBALL REMATCH — In men’s basketball, BYU (18-7, 8-3 West Coast) hosts San Francisco (10-13, 3-7) at 6 p.m. Saturday on BYUtv (Cox 352). The Cougars rallied to beat the Dons 80-76 in San Francisco on Jan. 5, with Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino each scoring 22 points.
Dave McCann is a news anchor for KSL television in Salt Lake City and play-by-play voice for BYU sports on BYUtv. He is also the host of True Blue, which airs Mondays at 5:30 p.m. on BYUtv. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @DaveMcCannKSL.