Provo • Brayden El-Bakri loved collisions on the football field while growing up in the Brighton High area, working hard to prove other people, and BYU football, wrong about his athletic abilities.
So when an offer to walk on at BYU came from running backs coach Joe DuPaix in 2012, the 210-pound tailback jumped at the opportunity, turning down chances to play at smaller programs — possibly on scholarship.
El-Bakri, now a junior who weighs around 240 pounds, still hasn’t been put on scholarship, but he’s happy with the way things have turned out.
“This is the dream,” he said. “You always want to play for a team that you have loved.”
El-Bakri is the Cougars’ starting fullback and also a special teams ace on the kickoff coverage team known for his bone-jarring collisions.
“I am still grinding, but the currency of football is playing time, and I am getting that,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going.”
That, and scoring touchdowns.
El-Bakri has found pay dirt twice — rushing for a touchdown in last year’s season opener against Arizona and catching a 26-yard TD pass at Utah State last month. Beau Tanner, Trey Dye and Neil Pau’u are the only other Cougars who have caught TD passes this season.
“For a big guy, he catches everything, and then he makes the move there at the end of the trick play to score,” said running backs coach Reno Mahe, also a former Brighton running back. “Brayden has some good hands, but he is also an excellent blocker. He has the ability to do everything we ask him to do. … He is one of Brighton’s finest. I have a soft spot in my heart for him.”
• Played at Brighton High then walked on at BYU as a 210-pound tailback before a church mission to Uruguay.
• Was a second-team all-state linebacker and running back at Brighton and also played baseball and lacrosse.
• Rushed for a touchdown last year against Arizona and caught a 26-yard touchdown pass against Utah State this year.
Mahe heard about El-Bakri from some of his coaching friends at Brighton, so he was eager to get a first-hand look when he joined Kalani Sitake’s new staff.
“He just showed out in practice,” Mahe said. “Every rep he took, he was just one of those guys who could do everything.”
Due to his rare last name, El-Bakri often is asked about his ethnicity. His grandfather immigrated to the United States from Baghdad, Iraq, and married an American woman who already had a son, Brayden’s father.
They took on the last name of El-Bakri, although they have no biological link to Iraq. Brayden’s brother, Bracken, also is on the BYU roster as a defensive lineman.
As for the touchdown against the Aggies, “It was pretty exciting,” Brayden El-Bakri said. “We practiced it a lot, and it worked.”
Having gained about 30 pounds on his mission to Uruguay, El-Bakri was made a fullback as a redshirt freshman in 2015 and has flourished in that role as a blocker who rarely gets a chance to carry or catch the football.
But he’s a football junkie, so he’s excited to travel to SEC country this weekend to take on Mississippi State (Saturday, 10 a.m. MDT, SEC Network). He says it is just a matter of time before the Cougars’ lackluster offense starts clicking.
“The big thing is we‘ve just got to believe in ourselves and keep working hard,” he said, adding that the formula has always worked for him.