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BYU football running back coach AJ Steward welcoming familiar face in RB grad transfer Emmanuel Esukpa

March 29, 2019

Running back has been an area of concern for the BYU football team, so an announcement from the program on Wednesday about the commitment of Emmanuel Esukpa, a graduate transfer from Rice, was a welcome addition.

According to the release, Esukpa is a 5-foot-11, 232-pound graduate transfer who will be eligible for the 2019 season and have one year to play with the Cougars as a redshirt senior.

“We are excited to have Emmanuel come to BYU,” Sitake said in the press release. “He has good size, speed and experience and is a great fit as a person and a player for our program. He knows Coach Steward well from their time together at Rice, and he really wants to be here. We’re looking forward to welcoming Emmanuel to our team.”

No one knows what Esukpa is capable of better than Cougar running backs coach AJ Steward, who recruited the running back at Mansfield High School in Grand Prairie, Texas, and then coached him from 2015-17 at Rice.

“He definitely brings a veteran presence in our room that I think is needed right now,” Steward said after BYU wrapped up spring camp on Thursday. “He has a good understanding of the game. He’s physically a really good running back. He has tools that fit into our system and our scheme. I think he is going to be a tremendous asset to us.”

Steward believes Esukpa is going to have an immediate impact.

“Obviously he’s got to come in here and put in the work, but with the type of kid he is, he’ll be ready to go to work as soon as he sets foot on campus,” Steward said. “He’ll challenge these guys daily to be at their best — not necessarily verbally but with how he approaches the game on a daily basis.”

With his 232-pound frame, the newcomer will be the biggest of the running backs (non-fullback) on the BYU roster.

“I think that is always an asset to have as a running back group,” Steward said. “I wasn’t something we were pinpointing, though. We were looking at his overall skill set. I think he has shown flashes throughout his career that he can be a dominant running back.”

Steward pointed to the experience the Cougars have on the offensive line as an advantage for Esukpa.

“He’s going to have the opportunity here to be behind a really good offensive line and a really good scheme with a good supporting cast as well,” Steward said. “I think the opportunity is going to be really good for him.”

According to the press release, Esukpa played in 29 games for the Owls, totaling 196 carries, 778 yards and six touchdowns. His single-game career high was 173 yards. Last season, Esukpa had 122 rushes, 461 yards and three scores. In 2017 under Steward, Esukpa played in 10 games in the running back rotation, averaging 4.6 yards per carry with 57 carries, 261 yards and one touchdown.

Esukpa is scheduled to graduate from Rice this spring with a bachelor’s degree in sport management.

Steward said the biggest factor in getting the former Owl to Provo was the relationship he had with Esukpa.

“I recruited him when he was 17-years-old in high school,” Steward said. “I got to be with him in the trenches early in his career when he was learning how to play the position. There were some adverse situations but those can either bring you closer or make you go apart. Those brought us close and there is a mutual respect that we’ve always had for one another.”

But even though the player and coach have a past, Steward said Esukpa won’t expect anything additional because of it in the present.

“It’s a unique situation where you are wearing a different logo but you are still coaching the same guy,” Steward said. “I am excited — but I’m no more excited for him than for any of the other running backs in our room. He’s just another running back who is going to help us. He’s not going to come in here and have anything handed to him. He knows me well enough to know that that’s not how I roll anyhow.”

Steward added that Esukpa should anticipate being pushed hard when he joins BYU.

“I’ll probably be tougher on him than anyone else because I know what he is capable of,” Steward said. “He’ll be a senior, so his standards and expectations are going to be set high as soon as he gets here.”