PROVO — During his mission in Costa Rica, sophomore Daniel Sorensen fully expected to play outside linebacker at BYU when he returned.
But secondary coach Nick Howell had other ideas.
Sorensen came home last December, and Howell immediately informed him he was being changed to kat safety — a keystone of the Cougars' defense, and the position previously manned by first-team All-Mountain West Conference performer Andrew Rich.
"Coach Howell told me as soon as I walked through the doors. He didn't even ask me," Sorensen said of the switch. "Before that, my mindset was that I was going to have to put on 40 pounds and get back to where I was to play outside linebacker. But I couldn't be happier with the move."
Sorensen began acclimating to kat safety during spring ball, but, really, he's no stranger to the safety position. The 6-foot-2, 206-pound sophomore arrived at BYU three years ago as a safety before being moved to outside linebacker.
"We recruited him as a safety. He played outside 'backer, really a nickel, which is similar to our kat," Howell said. "It's nothing different. We knew he'd be a safety. It was a need in 2008 to play him in nickel packages because he was really good. We've always known he was a safety. He came back (from a mission) in really good shape. He knows what he's doing. He's doing really good."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall, who is also the defensive coordinator, said Sorensen is the leading candidate to start at kat safety, just ahead of sophomore Jray Galea'i. Mendenhall said that Sorensen appears to be Rich's heir apparent, and that Sorensen is capable of filling the void left by Rich, who led the team in tackles (110), tackles-for-loss (7.5), interceptions (5), and pass breakups (8) last season.
"I like his size, I like his speed, and I like his mindset," Mendenhall said. "That combination is kind of what you hope for at safety. He runs well and likes to tackle. That's a really nice combination there. Then you add good ball skills with it. I think it's a really nice replacement right now for Andrew Rich. It will take time for him to be as consistent as Andrew, but I'm confident he can play."
Playing kat safety carries with it plenty of responsibility, and Sorensen said he's up for the challenge.
"You have to be able to come up hard on the run and play the pass and in years past, it's where the leaders on defense have played, like Andrew Rich," he said. "We run the same defense as the (Pittsburgh) Steelers do with Troy Polamalu. You see what he's able to do in that defense. The scheme is based all around the kat position. "I'm fortunate to play that position. It's humbling to know all the guys have played before you and the shoes you have to fill.
"It's my favorite position to play because you have a lot of responsibility and a lot of people counting on you. Really, it's a lot of fun. The kat position is set up to make a lot of plays on run and on pass plays. You're in on almost every play, so it stays exciting. It gives you an opportunity for big hits and some picks."
Though he's only been home from his mission for several months, Sorensen said that physically he feels "just like I did before my mission."
He explained that he walked 8-10 miles a day and I went through six pairs of shoes. "I didn't notice much of a difference when I got back, physically. More than the physical part, it was the mental aspect, getting back the football mindset."
As a true freshman, Sorensen was moved to outside linebacker near the end of fall camp, and he admitted that he struggled at times with the new position.
"When they moved me, I weighed 195 pounds, running up against 310-pound linemen and tackles and they were tossing me around," Sorensen recalled. "In the UCLA game, it happened three or four times. That's on my highlight film — I don't know why. It was an adjustment, a physical adjustment. You have to get in the trenches and be physical."
Sorensen ended up totaling 17 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, a sack and an interception as a freshman. Now, he's happy to be back at safety.
"Kat safety is more open space, and you have to see everything," Sorensen said. "I realized this is where I'm supposed to be. I'm a lot more comfortable. At first it was awkward. It's a different perspective, and there are different reads. But it's a lot more fun. I'm glad where I'm at. I hope they don't move me anytime soon."
BYU camp report
DAY 4: BYU held a morning practice in helmets and shoulder pads.
STANDOUTS: Running back JJ Di Luigi caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from Jake Heaps. Later, Di Luigi skirted outside for a 14-yard touchdown run. Heaps completed 5-of-6 passes for 98 yards. Wide receiver Dallin Cutler had one catch for 36 yards.
INJURIES: Freshman tight end Colby Jorgensen suffered a dislocated shoulder on a hit by defensive back Preston Hadley. Linebacker Jordan Pendleton and wide receiver Ross Apo were held out of live drills. Running back Joshua Quezada (ankle) participated in live drills for the first time.
NEXT UP: The Cougars will hold another morning practice session today, then participate in a team photo session in the afternoon.