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Kearns High latest football team out of postseason due to COVID-19 cases

One of the top high school football programs in Utah won’t get to compete for a championship due to COVID-19.

The Kearns Cougars, who finished 8-1 in the regular season and hoped for a deep playoff run, ended their season Thursday after three people on the team tested positive for the coronavirus, Granite School District spokesperson Ben Horsley said.

Cougars coach Matt Rickards told The DN Media in an email that entire staff is “devastated.”

“This is just absolutely horrible to end the season like this,” Rickards said. “We are a family and that is what makes this hurt so much. The game in itself is fun and what we work hard towards competing. But the thing we will miss the most is spending that time together, working as a family to reach a goal.

“It always ends at some point but you would like to go out swinging at the very least. My hope is that these guys will be resilient and stay focused on finishing high school strong and never take anything for granted.”

The three on the team tested positive within a 14-day window, which prompted a recommendation that the entire team be dismissed.

However, the recommendation for dismissal, Horsley said, is not equivalent to a quarantine. Kearns High as a whole has 15 confirmed cases at the school, which will immediately move to distance learning.

“We have agonized over the fact that this dismissal will effectively end the football team’s season,” the school district wrote in a letter to Kearns parents that was obtained by The Tribune. “We acknowledge the great success they have experienced this season. We sincerely regret this is the case but really acknowledge that the safety for our students and employees will continue to be paramount above all else.”

The dismissal for both the school and the team is 14 days. The Cougars had a second round playoff game scheduled for Oct. 30 after receiving a bye in the first round. But the team will have to forfeit that game.

Kearns was fifth in the RPI rankings in 6A.

The Cougars are the third high school this week that has been forced to shut down its season due to coronavirus cases. Fremont and Uintah were the first two.

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BYU men’s basketball focusing on competitiveness through practice

Over the first week of practice, coach Mark Pope would notice players would arrive to practice early and take the time to get in extra shooting drills, the sound of multiple basketballs being dribbled and shot making its way into his office.

Now, in their second week of two-a-day practices, the pre-practice dribbling has quieted down, but not because guys aren’t getting to the gym early. Instead, the athletes are squeezing in a much needed break before continuing with the second grueling workout of the day.

The second-year coach has been inspired by the new Duke women’s basketball coach, Kara Lawson. The former NBA and Olympic champion gave a talk describing the difference between working hard and competitiveness — and Pope thought it was “genius.”

“I thought it was a really, really profound way to look at the game and how we practice, and so we talked to our team about it — we actually quoted her,” Pope said. “So over the last 10 days, these guys have gotten so hyper competitive.”

As of Monday, Pope told his staff they might need to reel it back a bit because the players may end up killing each other from competing and fighting for every advantage.

But Pope has been impressed by it and what he’s seen from his team so far.

“Hopefully that’ll be a hallmark for this team, is a team that really, really competes,” Pope said. “Compete is a word with a lot of depth, it means a lot of things, but if we can do that, we’re going to be a good team this year.”

Junior forward Kolby Lee said the grind is the same as previous years. However, the focus this time around has been on getting reps because there are a lot of new and younger guys on the roster.

The Cougars are working out new offensive schemes, defensive scheme and figuring out their different looks and options.

The versatility and depth BYU’s current roster boasts has encouraged the team to be more competitive in practices.

“It’s so competitive — every single practice,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of juice with Pope. He’s a heck of a coach and we want to go to battle with this guy every week.”

But through his entire basketball career, high school through college, Averette said he’s never been on a team with this type of “juice.” He couldn’t quite put into words what’s specifically different about the energy Pope brings and how it manifests with this group of players, but he likes it.

“You’ve got a group of guys who’s really rooting for each other every single play,” Averette said. “… There’s no jealousy, we’re just looking to come in and get better every single day. We’ve got a lot of tough guys — tough-nosed guys.”

While the Cougars have yet to finalize the nonconference portion of the schedule (the full schedule should be released in a week or two), Pope hopes he has another part of the team locked down: identity.

Last season, Pope and his Cougars became known for having the “best locker room in America.” That’s still the goal, but Pope has a different team from last year with a lot of new faces.

Still, he hopes to continue the same mentality.

“In terms of the identity, like the core of who we are, I hope that never changes,” Pope said. “Just in terms of like … being relentless and everything that means to us, this tenacious effort to get better every single day — it’s like a DNA of us. And working every day towards the best of America. That’s our DNA, that’s who we are.”

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Eye on the Y: Breaking down BYU football’s early season success

Hey guys! It’s been a hot minute since I last graced your inboxes and so much has happened — so let’s get right into it.

There’s no denying, 12th-ranked BYU is having a good season, but how much of it is from improvements the Cougars have made since last season and how much is due to the pandemic? It can get tricky, but I will say this: BYU had one of the largest advantages going into the season because the Cougars were able to start voluntary team workouts and official team practices well before the majority of programs throughout the nation.

I asked my Twitter followers if they believed BYU would be having this level of success had the pandemic never happened. The results after 167 votes: 38.9% voted “No,” 35.3% voted “Hard to say” and 25.7% voted “Yes.”

The biggest proof of improvement has been the way the Cougars ground out a win against UTSA and were able to mount a comeback at Houston. A year ago, that UTSA game may have resulted in a loss. (Remember Toledo and USF?)

But would that improvement be enough to overtake the originally difficult schedule? The Cougars were set to take on six Power Five opponents this year before the pandemic forced cancelations and caused BYU to completely rework its schedule.

By this point, BYU would have played Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State, Minnesota, Utah State and Missouri. Seeing as the majority of those teams have yet to even start their respective season, I can’t completely gauge how this year’s Cougars would have fared.

It’s pretty obvious that playing the bulk of your difficulty early on would leave a team banged up midway through the season. I believe the Cougars could have managed to win 3-4 of the first half of games, as do my Twitter followers (65.9% said BYU would have won 3-4 games).

The trickier part would be predicting how the Cougars would respond to the beat-down to keep swinging the second half of the season.

But that’s the thing. Even though BYU was forced to get rid of a super strong schedule that would test the Cougars and instead had to fill up the season with winnable games, BYU hasn’t just taken it easy. In fact, the first three games were a perfect example of domination: BYU left nothing in question as it outscored opponents 148-24.

I’m going to be completely honest, having come in at midseason last year, I wasn’t entirely sure if Wilson would be the best one for the quarterback job this season, especially because Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney did a good job of filling in during Wilson’s absence. I saw the mistakes Wilson made that could have been avoided and wasn’t overly impressed with him. He was good, but not completely amazing.

Wilson has been lights out in mesmerizing performances so far this season. And it has started to garner attention from people outside of the state of Utah, including Kansas Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the too-early Heisman watch list.

Maybe this wasn’t the season BYU was going to have, but it was the season they were destined to have. It’s the one they’ve been needing to have.

And maybe the Cougars will be able to find themselves back in a New Year Six Bowl bid or even in playoff contention — a long shot, I know.

How is new BYU center Matt Haarms’ adjusting?

Getting to be able to finally take the court at the Marriott Center last week for the Cougars’ first team practice was “wonderful,” Haarms said, after everything it took to get there. Even with all the unexpected twists and turns the pandemic has forced on the college basketball season, Haarms wouldn’t change his decision.

“I’ve never been happier with my decision — every single day I feel better about it,” “Since I stepped on campus, there hasn’t been a single moment, a single day of doubt. Every day I learn to trust the coaches — everything they tell me is true. I learn so much every single day.”

However, Haarms made it clear that his initial plan of coming to BYU for just one year is still intact.

“For me, I don’t think it’s really relevant; I’ll be 24 at the end of this year,” Haarms said. “This is my year. This is my one year. I’ve treated it like this and I’m going to keep treating it like that. God forbid something happens to me that I have that extra year, but I’m treating it like my one year.”

In case you missed it, BYU defensive end Zac Dawe has had an interesting — and obstacle-filled — journey as a Cougar. But even through all his ups and downs, he persevered and has now become a high-impact player for BYU. Read my story here.

Normita’s Spanish lesson of the week

Because Spanish is my native language, and my Mexican heritage and culture is a huge part of me, I thought I’d have some fun with these newsletters and start some Spanish lessons. I know many BYU fans have served Spanish-speaking missions, so know that my Spanish may be different from the Spanish spoken in other countries outside of Mexico.

Not to start y’all off with a hard word, but this word isn’t easy translatable. It’s a word of “encouragement” and implies the act of reassuring, inspiring or even cheering someone on to overcome a challenge. Usually it’s used as “Don’t give up! You can do it!”

Example: “¡Ándale, Cougars! ¡Ánimo!”

Translation: “Come on, Cougars! You can do it!”

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