Late cousin inspires BYU running back Squally Canada
PROVO, Utah (AP) Squally Canada was ready to quit the BYU football team this spring after violence shook up his life.
The junior running back couldn't hold off tears at Friday's media day as he spoke about a cousin who was killed and a friend who was shot during a two-week stretch in California.
''My cousin got murdered, he was shot twice in the head,'' Canada said. ''His little brother was in jail when it happened and ... he didn't get to go to the funeral. ... My grandma died. My boy got shot twice in his back, but he pulled through. I feel like I've got a lot of weight on my shoulders because everybody comes back to me like, `You've got to do good for us this year. You've got to do it for us.'''
Vinshay Bracy was killed in Fairfield, California, on March 24, the day before BYU's spring game. The aspiring rapper was 24-years-old and Canada said Bracy ''practically raised me.'' After his death, Canada didn't want to leave the house or talk to anyone.
Bracy moved in with Canada's family in Milpitas, California, when they were young. The two would box and play video games and play basketball until the sun went down.
''He was my brother,'' Canada said. ''He was very influential in my life. He didn't have a lot of positive things to share with me because of his background, but he taught me how to fight through adversity.''
Canada's mother broke the news of Bracy's death after traveling to Provo for the spring game. She was also the one who reminded Canada that Bracy wouldn't want him lying in the bed and moping around after he quit working out and was ready to walk away from the game.
''That's how I get through it,'' Canada said. ''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.''
Canada is the most experienced running back on the roster and has a slight advantage in the race to replace Jamaal Williams as the starter.
Williams is now with the Green Bay Packers after setting the school's all-time rushing record. Canada's 315 rushing yards in 2016 were the third-most on the team behind Williams and quarterback Taysom Hill.
The competition is open, but coach Kalani Sitake said he isn't concerned with losing Williams because he believes in the raw talent of the group. Highly touted freshman Ula Tolutau, KJ Hall, Trey Dye, Riley Burt and Kavika Fonua are all in the mix for the job.
''We'll use all those guys in different combinations,'' offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said. ''(The offense) doesn't have to have a dominant No. 1 guy. It's nice to have that guy, but all the guys can play or they wouldn't be here.''
Canada's focus is on improving his vision, pre-snap reads, hitting the hole, making people miss and his jump-cuts. As much as anything, Canada wants to mimic Williams' confidence.
His focus has sharpened after his emotionally draining offseason.
''It's that extra motivation,'' Canada said. ''It made something click. When we're out there pushing those (sleds) and stuff, I don't care. If I die on that field working out, I die. 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. Some people don't have that extra boost.''
Sitake has emphasized a family atmosphere since he took over the program and coaches and teammates tried to give support.
''You don't just rehearse this,'' Sitake said. ''You just let it naturally happen and there's so many different ways of dealing with adversity. ... It takes time to heal, time to get over some things. It's great that he's able to turn something that could be a negative and hurtful into something that can be positive for him and honor his family the right way.''
Canada walked into the BYU Broadcasting Building on Friday wearing a black shirt with Bracy's image on the front. He also has a tattoo across his stomach, with Bracy's rap moniker, that reads ''RIP ShadyBo.''
The junior has NFL aspirations, but also wants to be an inspiration for his family.
''Instead of copying them, I try to be the light to them,'' Canada said. ''Murder brings out anger in you. It lights a fire inside of you that you never felt before. That's what's driving me.''