Position: Tight End
From: Kaneohe, Hawaii
Weight: 250 lbs
Kaneakua Friel turned in a modest 7 receptions for 55 yards and 1 touchdown in all of 2011, so his breakout performance in the 2012 opener against Washington State was a surprise for most of us. In that single game, Friel accounted for 6 receptions, 101 receiving yards, and 2 touchdowns (that was two touchdowns more than the entire WSU offense accounted for). Highlights of Friel's game vs. WSU are here. Friel ended 2012 with 30 receptions, 308 receiving yards, and 5 touchdowns. The touchdowns put him second on the team to Cody Hoffman's 11, and his other stats keep him in what seems to be a four-way tie for second.
Since the departure of Dennis Pitta and Andrew George in 2010, the tight end position at BYU has remained a bit of a vacuum; a vacuum that has not yet been filled. The last few seasons have produced something of a mediocre log-jam at the tight end position for the Cougars, and while Friel will still have some continued competition from Devin Mahina and Richard Wilson, this may just be the year that Friel steps up and breaks that log-jam.
What to watch for
Friel has the size and strength requisite to be a great tight end. He has good hands, and though he could be a touch faster at turning back up-field, once he gets going, he becomes a fair representation of a battering ram that usually takes two or more defenders to bring down. Friel also does well with pressure. He and Taysom Hill connected for an 18 yard touchdown pass on 4th and 1 against Washington State (incidentally, that was Hill's first collegiate pass, and I, for one, hope that is something we'll see much more of in the coming season), and Riley Nelson was able to connect with Friel for late touchdown in the Utah game, to bring the Cougars within 3 points of the Utes.
Friel has a lot of potential, and he can provide a valuable target for when defenses are keying on Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo. Hopefully the senior tight end will rise up to that potential, develop his chemistry with Taysom Hill, and continue to be a go-to player in critical scenarios. If he does, maybe we'll all start thinking about someone besides just Dennis Pitta and Jonny Harline when we think about BYU tight ends.
If you'd like to get to know Friel a bit better, check out this video from True Blue that aired during the 2012 season.
*All stats retrieved from BYUcougars.com and cfbstats.com.