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Provo • A new candidate has emerged to replace NFL-bound running back Jamaal Williams in the BYU backfield.

Former Syracuse High star Kavika Fonua, who played safety his freshman season before a church mission to Vancouver, B.C., and linebacker last season, carried the ball six times for 53 yards in Saturday's scrimmage and is officially a running back.

"Me and Kalani [Sitake] talked and decided that, just for my future, I have the best chance of making it at running back," said Fonua, who will be a junior in 2017. "I know my physique [suits] being a running back, rather than a linebacker, in the NFL. So I am just going after that now."

The 6-foot, 215-pound Fonua played on both sides of the ball at Syracuse, but he was recruited to play defense by former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and assistant Nick Howell. He accounted for a combined 1,222 yards rushing and receiving his senior year at Syracuse High, averaging 7.3 yards per carry.

"I think running back is his position, to be honest with you," Sitake said. "I remember him in high school. I recruited him as a running back when I was at Utah. I think he is natural for it. He sets up his blocks very well. He is very similar to KJ Hall. I think that is more suited for him."

How did Fonua develop his rushing instincts?

"A little bit of playing video games, a little bit of [playing it] in high school," he said.

Senior safety Matt Hadley got some reps at running back on more of a trial basis at the start of spring camp, but he has been slowed by a foot injury. Fonua's move is permanent.

Sitake said Monday that the Cougars are deep but inexperienced at running back.

"They are all instinctive running backs," he said. "Kavika Fonua, that's the right spot for him. He's patient, he has great vision for the game. Ula [Tolutau], same thing. We have a lot of guys that could function in the system. We will probably see a lot more two backs [sets]. We have running backs that can run routes and can split out and run slot positions, so I guess you can expect to see more running backs who feel more comfortable in their roles."

Upon further review

Having viewed the film from Saturday's scrimmage over the weekend, Sitake said "some of the things I thought were bad weren't really as bad as I thought." He was particularly unhappy Saturday with the way quarterback Tanner Mangum handled the football, fumbling once and throwing three interceptions in 11-on-11 work and one pick in 6-on-7 work.

"It improved a lot up front on both sides of the ball," Sitake said. "I was really pleased with the practice, actually really happy with the tackling on defense, which goes to show that the practices and drills that we were doing with little contact helped save our guys [from injury]. Most of tackling is basically courage, and want-to."


The Cougars will simulate a "game week" in practices this week, scouting their first opponent (Portland State) and preparing for Friday's Alumni Day activities and scrimmage at the stadium. For instance, Monday's practice was like a Monday practice during a typical game week and coaches began installing a game plan. … In June, BYU coaches will replicate last Friday's Pro Day for players currently in the program to get them ready for the real one when their college careers are over. "It will be the same setup," he said. "We just want to get our guys used to that, which is their make-or-break time for guys that don't get to the [NFL] combine. We need to make is more comfortable for them."

Twitter: @drewjay —

Spring camp developments

• Coach Kalani Sitake said the Cougars escaped Saturday's scrimmage in the rain relatively injury free, although big running back Ula Tolutau "dinged up" some guys with big hits.

• Sitake said the battle to replace Kai Nacua as the starting free safety is intense, with Zayne Anderson, Utah transfer Austin Lee and senior Sawyer Powell in the mix and prized recruit Chaz Ah You joining the program this summer.