Provo • Until a few days ago, JJ Nwigwe had never touched a football during a game, or even a simulated game, in his life.
But there was BYU’s No. 96, recruited to the school as an offensive lineman, catching a pass in practice from Tanner Mangum this week. Nwigwe’s catch thrilled tight ends coach Steve Clark so much, the coach sprinted onto the field to congratulate the big guy.
“First time for everything, I guess,” Nwigwe said. “Before that, I had never caught a football in a game in my entire life.”
Nwigwe was brought to BYU from Rockwall-Heath High School in Texas with the intention to make him its starting left tackle some day. He was listed as the backup to Thomas Shoaf at that spot coming out of spring camp. However, Nwigwe was asked by coaches to put a few more pounds on his frame, and when he didn’t, they asked him to make the move to tight end.
“There is a lot of competition going on [at left tackle or left guard],” he said Wednesday. “I was kinda still on the lighter side. I didn’t really make the weight I was supposed to make. I weigh about 265, 270.
So now he’s a bigger tight end, as opposed to a smaller left tackle.
“I probably didn’t take as many supplements as I needed to, but I tried to put on the weight. It just wouldn’t come up as fast as I wanted it to,” Nwigwe said. “It is starting to come up, so hopefully I can figure it out. Problem is, I don’t know if I should lose weight now, or gain weight.”
Nwigwe hopes his blocking skills will help him see the field at tight end. He thinks he can “get the job done,” but knows when it comes to catching passes the other tight ends — Matt Bushman, Moroni Laulu-Pututau, Tanner Balderree and even freshman Bentley Hanshaw — have more experience.
“I am always a positive guy, so I will stay happy,” he said. “I don’t see any reason to be all mopey and sad all the time, so I am just usually a pretty positive guy. I love it here. I love [coach Kalani] Sitake. He made it great. With Sitake, there is no reason to be sad. He is always so welcoming. He’s the greatest guy in the world. With Sitake it has made the transition [from coaching staffs] so much easier.”
Shoaf looks to shine again
Nwigwe wasn’t the only BYU player trying to gain weight in the offseason. Sophomore offensive lineman Thomas Shoaf fought that battle as well after a standout freshman season that saw him earn Freshman All-America honors from the FWAA.
“I still need to gain quite a bit of weight. It is a struggle for me,” Shoaf said Wednesday. “I am at about 275 [pounds] right now. I would like to be 285 this season and then obviously get up to 295, 300 for my junior and senior years. But I am just trying to put on weight, but make sure it is good weight at the same time.”
Shoaf, who served an LDS Church mission to Hawaii, became the starting right tackle last season when Ului Lapuaho was injured in the Utah game and never gave it up.
“I am eating everything but the kitchen sink,” Shoaf said of his efforts to pack on pounds. “It is quantity [eating], but the big thing for me is to make sure I get the rest, too. I want my body to be able to process and use what I’m eating.”
He was moved over to left tackle weeks after the Poinsettia Bowl.
“I was given the opportunity as the only returning tackle. It was kind of handed to me, and I am showing that I deserve it. It is a spot I think I can handle, to make sure Tanner [Mangum] can trust us.”
With Nwigwe moving to tight end, Shoaf’s primary backup is redshirt freshman Chandon Herring, who is also seeing some reps at guard.
“We are really excited about our depth,” Shoaf said. “Obviously, having four starters coming back helps a lot. We’ve got some great young guys who are stepping up and are going to do some great things for us.”