When BYU took on Mississippi State at LaVell Edwards Stadium last year, Cougar running back Squally Canada couldn’t get over at how big the Bulldog players were during warmups.

“I turned to Jamaal (Williams) and was like, ‘man those (SEC) guys are huge,'” Canada recalled.

Williams — who finished the year as BYU’s all-time leading rusher and who is now in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers — leaned over to Canada and told him it was nothing to worry about.

“That’s the thing with Jamaal is that he was so confident. I didn’t have a lot of confidence and it impacted my game,” Canada said. “In the season opener against Arizona last year, I was so nervous that I didn’t even eat breakfast.”

But with Williams gone, the biggest question mark for the Cougars is who is going to step up at running back. Canada rushed for 315 yards on 74 attempts for an average of 4.3 yards per carry and two touchdowns last year, but will be the first to admit that he was doing it all without pre-snap reads.

“Right now, I’m working on my vision and making my reads,” he said. “Last year I didn’t have any pre-snap reads. I just went in and played when Jamaal needed a break. This year is different. It’s a whole new approach. I’m the man this year and I’ve got to be able to carry the team.”

Along with Canada, the Cougars have a bunch of talented backs who will be vying for starting time in Ula Tolutau, KJ Hall, Riley Burt, Trey Dye and Kavika Fonua.

Reno Mahe, who oversees the running backs, said that while things can still change heading into fall camp, as of right now, the position will currently be shared by multiple backs who will all share the load. But for Canada, the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder is looking to not just share the load, but be the load as he puts the team on his back.

“We have great running backs, but my goal this year is to be the guy. I learned a lot last year and I’m ready to carry the load.

Canada Dedicates Season To Family

On March, 24, and with the spring game just a day away, players were anxious to put the pads on and play in front of a big crowd at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

But for Canada, it was a day he almost quit football.

With his mom in town for the spring game, Squally’s excitement quickly turned into tears as his mom got out of the rental car. Canada’s mother broke the news that Vinshay Bracy, Squally’s cousin was killed earlier that day. That moment almost turned out to be the breaking point for the young running back who also recently lost his grandmother and had another friend who was shot twice in the back.

“He was my brother,” Squally said. “He was very influential in my life and taught me how to fight through adversity.”

While the loss was devastating, Canada’s mother reminded Squally that Bracy wouldn’t want him lying in bed and moping about it.

“That’s how I get through it,” Squally said, with tears streaming down his face. “Everybody in my family, they don’t have outlets. They can’t wake up and go hit a gym and carry a ball. They’ve got to go to work and deal with it. For me, you’ve got to go to school and carry a ball.”

With football in his life, Squally has been able to sharpen his focus because of the tragedies that have recently occurred.

“It’s that extra motivation,” he said. “It made something click. When we’re out there pushing those (sleds) and stuff, I don’t care if I die out on that field. I’m giving it my all and that’s just how it is. That’s what it did for me. It’s just that extra boost and some people don’t have that extra boost. …  All of that has really lit a fire inside of me that I’ve never felt before. That’s what’s driving me.”

And that motivation and tireless work ethic may be the difference that puts him over the top to be the No. 1 guy for the Cougars when they open the season against Portland State in less than two months.

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