BYU football: Injury count rises

Two key starters go down with injuries despite light practice.
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What's a college football coach supposed to do?

That's what BYU's Bronco Mendenhall was thinking Monday morning, after two key starters went down with injuries despite the fact that the Cougars practiced in just "shells" -- helmets and shoulder pads -- in part to avoid the risk of injury.

"Really, no matter what you do as a head coach, injuries happen," Mendenhall said. "It can be from too much hitting, not enough hitting, uppers, lowers, every other day, every third day. ... If they are going to happen, I think they are going to happen."

The number of BYU players who have suffered some sort of ailment in fall camp is now well over 30, but the latest two to go down could prove especially costly if they are less than 100 percent prior to the game against Oklahoma on Sept. 5.

Monday morning, preseason all-conference running back Harvey Unga suffered a "hamstring [injury] of some degree," Mendenhall said.

The junior's status the next few days of camp is yet-to-be-determined, but Mendenhall quickly added that Unga "won't be out" in the opener when asked who would play in his place.

The irony is that Unga has been held out of most contact drills in fall camp. He suffered the injury in a non-contact passing drill and watched the rest of practice with an ice pack on the back of his upper left leg.

Safety Scott Johnson, meanwhile, paid for the aggressive physical style that has made him so popular among coaches and BYU fans when he collided with running back Manase Tonga in an 11-on-11 scrimmage situation. He suffered a concussion and will probably be out the remainder of the week.

"Scott was actually trying to clock Manase Tonga , but he lost the battle," Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall said even if Johnson cannot practice again until the Thursday before Oklahoma game, "we would still play him because he is so assignment sound and so critical for our defense."

Monday's injuries illustrate that some times injuries just aren't preventable, the coach allowed.

"We have been very fresh [entering the past few seasons]," Mendenhall said. "But there's not much else I can do, especially if I think the volume [of contact] is [at the right level]. And I think it is."

More injuries

Backup defensive end Vic So'oto sprained an ankle in Saturday's scrimmage and sat out Monday, along with safety Andrew Rich and running back Bryan Kariya . Rich is still nursing a tight groin and Kariya a tender ankle. Several players who have been injured practiced Monday, but were held out of contact drills.

Camp corner

What we learned » Sophomore McKay Jacobson will be the primary kick and punt returner this season.

Who was hot » Receiver Spencer Hafoka, who missed spring ball with influenza, caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Max Hall.

Who was sidelined » Running back J.J. DiLuigi (shoulder contusion), linebacker Terrance Hooks (hamstring), cornerback Robbie Buckner (hamstring) and cornerback Brandon Bradley (groin strain) partially practiced Monday.