I think he's overcoming. He has kind of re-established himself as a quality football player in our program and someone that can be relied on. —Coach Bronco Mendenhall
PROVO — About an hour before BYU kicked off against New Mexico State last November at LaVell Edwards Stadium, Joseph Quezada, the 20-year-old brother of Cougar running back Joshua "Juice" Quezada, died in an automobile accident in California.
Months later, Josh Quezada is still dealing with that adversity, but he's doing so with patience and perspective.
"Of course, it's been hard. You don't know exactly how to react," said Quezada, who spoke publicly for the first time about his older brother on the Cougars' final day of spring practices.
"When a family member passes, it's overwhelming and you don't know how to react. It's something I had never been through. Of course, I've learned from it and I wish my brother was here. I pray for my brother. I know he's in a better place. I always look at it as in, he's always looking out for me, helping me out in decisions I make. He helps me out in those kinds of ways."
Quezada is looking to dedicate the upcoming 2012 season to his brother.
"I'm not going to get a tattoo or anything like that," he said. "He's always in my heart and I'll never forget him. I'm just taking each day at a time. Especially my family (he has six siblings). It can be really hard. I make sure to talk to my siblings and make sure they're doing OK, especially the younger ones. It can be hard for them. It's like a movie. You think it's not real, but this is the real thing. I call them every day and make sure they're doing OK. It's a process, just taking one step at a time."
Losing his brother last fall was the biggest blow in what was a trying season for Quezada, who was nursing ankle injuries throughout the campaign, beginning in fall camp. He rushed 86 times for 298 yards (3.5 yards per carry) a year ago.
"It set me back, definitely," he said of the injuries. "I'm not worried about last year now. I'm worried about this year and what I can do now."
During spring drills, Quezada was healthy and didn't miss a practice.
"That shows an example of what you're supposed to be doing," said Quezada, who was quicker, and more physical, than he had been in 2011. "My ankles feel good, my body feels good. A lot of coaches think I've lost weight but I've actually gained weight. That's what I'm trying to do this year, play heavier."
The Cougars are hoping that Quezada, a junior, plays a heavier role this season.
Quezada was so focused on performing well in spring ball that he refused to do interviews until the final day of practice.
"I didn't want to do any interviews. You know how there's fasting and you don't eat? Well, I felt like I needed to fast from the media," he explained. "I felt like I needed to humble myself. That's why I didn't want to do any interviews until the last day of spring ball. As a team, it's a lot different from last year. Last year I saw things from a different perspective."
"I think he's overcoming," coach Bronco Mendenhall said of the challenges Quezada has faced. "He has kind of re-established himself as a quality football player in our program and someone that can be relied on."
Mendenhall said often during the spring that he's excited about the prospect of Quezada and Michael Alisa lining up in the backfield together.
"The combination of having he and Mike Alisa in the backfield at the same time, that could be fun," Mendenhall said.
Having a consistent run game "is going to be necessary for us to have a fantastic season, not just a good season," Mendenhall added.
Quarterback Riley Nelson said Quezada has, out of necessity, grown up in recent months because of his family's tragedy.
"Juice is a very private person off the field. He's great, and open and fun to be around with the guys. We're all football players. When it happened, I gave him a hug and said, 'If there's anything you need, let me know.' Obviously, he didn't say anything. If something like that happened to me, I wouldn't say anything either. It's kind of tough dealing with emotions. I know he had a lot of support from players and coaching staff.
"He handled it well. If it was very hard for him, which I'm sure it was, he definitely didn't let it show. He's a grown-up man. That's a thing that men deal with. Not only has he matured through a couple of years of college and football, having gone through some serious life trials, he's a man now. He'll be great out on the football field."
On the field, Nelson is looking forward to playing with a healthy Quezada, who is expected to help bolster the Cougars' ground game.
"To have a guy who's in his third year of playing, especially at running back, is really good because he helps with (pass) protection," Nelson said. "I'm glad to have a guy who knows how to direct protection and things like that. Then from a consistency standpoint, he has been through a lot of ups and downs, but he's always been there. He's always been that same guy. You don't ever have to worry about where Juice is or if he's going to show up or give you a full effort. I'm really happy to have Juice with us."