This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Provo • Since Riley Nelson took over as BYU's starting quarterback, the Cougar offense has been humming along driving the length of the field, chewing up the clock, scoring points.
Nelson, however, isn't the only new player in BYU's backfield.
At the same time that coach Bronco Mendenhall switched from Jake Heaps to Nelson, Michael Alisa became the Cougars' dominant running back.
He has been outstanding, too.
Prior to victories against San Jose State and Oregon State, Alisa had carried three times for 2 yards. His contribution was limited to special teams.
Then, a few days before the San Jose game, offensive coordinator Brandon Doman told Alisa he would "get a few carries … just to see" how he'd do.
Alisa did fine.
After rushing for 91 yards on 16 carries in a 29-16 win over the Spartans, he carried 20 times for 84 yards and a touchdown during a 38-28 victory at Oregon State.
In the two games, Alisa averaged 4.9 yards per carry and provided BYU with a straight-ahead power runner who forces the defense to worry about the line of scrimmage. The Cougars' play-action schemes became more effective.
"Mike has a natural running style," Nelson says. "Full of energy, really physical. And the more physical you can be, the more enthusiastic your O-linemen will block.
"When the other players see him not going down on one tackle, you say to yourself, 'I'm not going to be brought down by one guy, either.' That's what he's brought to the team."
Alisa was an outstanding two-way player at Timpview High. He picked BYU from a stack of scholarship offers and started his collegiate career as a linebacker.
After the 2008 season, Alisa served an LDS Church mission in Puerto Rico.
On some of those balmy Caribbean nights, with his daily missionary work behind him, Alisa pondered his return to BYU.
When he did, Alisa dreamed of carrying the football, not tackling others who were doing so.
"I was focused on my mission, obviously," he said. "But sometimes, when I was laying in bed thinking about football, I just knew that I wanted to play running back.
"I knew, if I came back and didn't make the move over [to offense], I'd regret it the rest of my life. I didn't know what would happen, but I wanted to give it a shot."
Alisa came home a few months before the start of the 2011 season. Although BYU's defensive coaches tried convincing him to stay at linebacker, he stuck with his plan.
"I had to follow my dream," Alisa said.
In September, despite being buried on the depth chart, Alisa didn't get discouraged.
"My brothers and everyone around me helped," he said. "They kept saying, 'Even if you're at the bottom, just keep working hard, keep your chin up, stay hungry.' "
Alisa's opportunity came faster than he could have imagined.
After BYU's offense struggled against early opponents like Ole Miss, Texas and Utah, the coaches began noticing his between-the-tackles ability in practice.
It earned him a shot against San Jose State.
Asked about his breakout game against the Spartans, Alisa shook his head and said, "I don't want to dwell on the past. I just want to keep growing, keep improving. I still have a long way to go."
Maybe, but Mendenhall says Alisa's physical style and ability to gain yards after taking a hit remind him of ex-BYU star Harvey Unga.
"Harvey's stronger, heavier and a fast, fast guy," said Alisa. "He's got all the tools. If I ever get to his level, I'd be happy."
At this point, the Cougars might be counting on it.
Michael Alisa file
Hometown • Provo
High School • Timpview (2007)
Position • Running back
Class • Sophomore
Height • 6-foot-1
Weight • 213 pounds
Career highlights • Two-way player on Class 4A state championship team in 2006. … Helped Timpview finish 13-0 and win another state title in 2007. … Also recruited by Boise State, California, Oklahoma, Washington State, UNLV and Utah. … Lettered as a freshman at BYU in 2008. … Played in 12 games at linebacker and on special teams. … Finished with 11 tackles, including nine solo. … Forced a fumble against San Diego State and blocked a kick against New Mexico. … This year, he rushed 20 times for 84 yards and a touchdown at Oregon State. … Gained 91 yards on 16 carries against San Jose State.
Idaho State at BYU
P Saturday, 1 p.m.
TV • BYUtv