Provo • Linebacker Fred Warner talked excitedly at BYU’s football media day last June about how much he was looking forward to his senior season in Provo, and how the trio of himself, Francis Bernard and Butch Pau’u had the potential to form one of the greatest linebacking units in school history.
The season obviously has not gone as planned. Bernard was asked to redshirt for personal reasons related to the school’s Honor Code, Pau’u has missed two and a half games due to injury and Warner has found himself the captain of a 1-5 team that desperately needs his leadership to get things turned around.
“There are a lot of what-ifs, but we have to play with who we have,” Warner said Tuesday as the Cougars prepared for Saturday’s rematch with Mississippi State (3-2) in Starkville. “That is the bottom line. You can’t look back and blame anybody. We have the guys. That’s not the problem. We just have to fix what we are doing.”
Lost in the losing is the fact that Warner is having a sensational season and has emerged as BYU’s best player. He leads the team in total tackles with 51, 19 more than Corbin Kaufusi, who has the second most.
Warner has moved into 11th place on BYU’s career solo tackles list with 32 solo tackles through six games.
“Fred has been the guy who has played hard every down,” coach Kalani Sitake said. “He’s played the most downs on our defense. And he’s productive. We had 60 plays on offense and [Boise State] had 67. For Fred to have 10 tackles is really good. He’s been playing really hard, and he’s a bright spot on the defense and that linebacking crew.”
BYU TACKLE LEADERS
Player • Position • Unassisted • Assisted • Total
Fred Warner • Linebacker • 32 • 19 • 51
Corbin Kaufusi • Defensive end • 19 • 13 • 32
Sione Takitaki • Defensive end • 13 • 17 • 30
Dayan Ghanwoloku • Cornerback • 14 • 16 • 30
Troy Warner • Cornerback • 15 • 13 • 28
Butch Pau’u • Linebacker • 16 • 10 • 26
Pau’u will be back this week after a hand injury caused him to miss the second half of the Utah State game and all of the Boise State game. However, Matt Hadley, the safety who was converted to a linebacker when Bernard’s absence was announced, remains out with an undisclosed injury.
“Man, the season is hard for him,” sophomore cornerback Troy Warner said about his brother’s final year in Provo. “Obviously senior year, you want your team to do the best. But it is more about how the team feels to him. And that’s the kind of guy he is. He is a leader on this team for a reason, and I think he is going to try to do his part and help others do their part to get this team moving in the right direction.”
Fred Warner said that task dominates his thoughts night and day, heightened because he was elected a captain along with Pau’u, quarterback Tanner Mangum and center Tejan Koroma. He called a players-only meeting after the Wisconsin loss and stressed accountability to his teammates, but the results haven’t been there.
“It is always easy to lead when things are going great,” he said. “Times like these, you have to show up and be the guy to lift the team up through hard times and all the adversity and just show your true colors because this is when you find out who is with you and who is not. I am always trying to be a good example to everybody else on how to get to work every day.”
Warner and Koroma are probably the two most NFL draft-worthy players on the team, but Warner said he isn’t thinking about how the team’s slide could affect his professional football prospects.
“I know I have a lot to play for, this being my last season and hoping to play more football after the season,” he said. “I still have to compete and play at my very best every day. So that’s my motivation right now.”
Asked to do more with the injuries to Pau’u and Hadley and the absence of Bernard, Warner said his body still is holding up well because he’s maintained a high fitness and weightlifting regimen and taken care of himself the proper way after bruising, physical games.
“My body feels really good for this point in the season,” he said.