PROVO — BYU's Daniel Sorensen wore a 100-watt smile after Thursday's practice.
What's not to smile about?
For starters, fall camp is over, and the Cougars' starting kat safety is a little more than a week away from playing in his first game since 2008, having returned home from a mission to Costa Rica last December. And he's facing a team from the Southeastern Conference — Ole Miss — that recruited him in high school and gave him his first scholarship offer.
During an interview with reporters Thursday, Sorensen shared his unbridled enthusiasm about BYU competing as an independent and playing on national television on a regular basis.
"The purpose of BYU, why we're here and why we're playing and where we're trying to go with this program — it kind of fires you up," he said. "It gets you excited to go out there and play for a specific purpose of showing people that we're playing for more than football. This is a faith-based university and we're trying to represent that as the players and flag-bearers. What if we go out there and dominate and people start seeing us and we put us on the map? We're on ESPN. And people wonder who these kids are and what they're doing with their lives and why they're so good.
"A big, physical team like that and we go in there and dominate? What does that say?" Sorensen continued. "It starts raising questions and curiosity and it starts making things interesting. It gets the pot stirred and what not. Shoot, that's fun. That's what we're out here to do, to turn heads. We're out here to change the norm of BYU and what people think of us. I would like to see people start to fearing us, looking at BYU as a dominant team. Especially the defense. Nobody's going to want to run against us. Start setting that respect. This is exciting. I can't wait to go to Ole Miss."
Though just a sophomore, Sorensen has emerged as one of the leaders of the defense, and the entire team.
In past years, coach Bronco Mendenhall had his players elect team captains during fall camp. This year, however, Mendenhall decided to have his players vote on team captains in the spring.
"This team is anxious to lead and anxious to keep going, so I thought it was best to put that leadership in place a little earlier," Mendenhall explained after the annual spring game in April.
Offensive tackle Matt Reynolds and Bryan Kariya were voted by their teammates as offensive captains, with linebacker Jameson Frazier and free safety Travis Uale serving as captains for the defense. All four are seniors.
The team also picked other players to serve on the Cougars' leadership council — senior offensive lineman Terence Brown; senior tight end Matt Edwards; senior wide receivers McKay Jacobson and Spencer Hafoka; junior defensive linemen Romney Fuga and Eathyn Manumaleuna; and junior linebacker Brandon Ogletree.
How has the leadership come together?
"We've competed against each other for so long but they've held together pretty well," Mendenhall said this week. "I think there are multiple leaders on the team besides the captains. We have leaders of the special teams as well. Really, that core group of six players are the ones that most of our guys look to. Then you have the leadership council in addition to that. The number of seniors we have, with as much time as they've been in the program, there's a different stability this season than there was a year ago. Maybe similar to years before that in terms of having more veteran players."
The Cougars have focused on unity and leadership during fall camp, Sorensen said.
"In 2008, when I was a freshman, we had Max Hall, Austin Collie, Dennis Pitta, and Harvey Unga," he said. "They were the leaders. This year, the younger guys are stepping up and the seniors will continue to lead."
Depth and athleticism in the program has improved significantly at BYU since 2008, Sorensen said.
"The standard's been raised and everyone can meet that. There's more athleticism, hands-down. In years past we had a few superstars and everyone else kind of filled in. This year, everyone's been competing for a starting spot. It's really fun. Everyone's at that same level and it makes everyone better. Even the incoming freshmen have fit right in. You get a lot of confidence when you see guys working hard and making plays."