Provo • Matt Bushman got his fair share of hype after signing to play college football for BYU out of Sabino High in Tucson, Ariz., a few years ago.
But the three-star recruit seemingly was forgotten when he went on a two-year church mission to Santiago, Chile, and the Cougars changed coaching staffs.
Then spring camp happened.
Bushman, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound tight end, quickly became the star of the March camp. He was especially effective in the rain at LaVell Edwards Stadium, catching four passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns in the scrimmage and two other passes for 22 yards and a TD in the skeleton portion of the practice.
He has continued that play in preseason training camp, so much so that when his name is mentioned to coaches Kalani Sitake, Ty Detmer and Steve Clark, they smile.
“You can tell there is something special about him,” Sitake said Monday.
• Signed with BYU out of Sabino High in Tucson, Ariz., then went on church mission to Santiago, Chile
• Returned to Provo last September standing 6 foot 5 and weighing 230 pounds
• Played outfield on BYU’s baseball team last spring after spring football camp ended
• Was the unofficial MVP of the spring scrimmage with four catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns
The hype is back, although Bushman says he is doing his best to ignore it.
“I am not thinking about expectations and all that,” he said. “I am just trying to execute on each play and not mess up. I am still trying to learn the offense 100 percent so I can be prepared for the season and do the best I can.”
Bushman, who was more of a receiver in high school, grew a few inches and added a few pounds on his mission before returning last September. He has soared up the depth chart along with another receiver-turned-tight end, Moroni Laulu-Pututau, according to Clark, the tight ends coach.
“They have always been good at pass-catching, running routes,” Clark said. “They have improved their blocking. … And when we grade them, they are grading high, and they have a lot more production. So that’s why they are where they are [on the two-deep]. They are good players.”
Asked to name his favorite targets after a couple weeks of training camp, quarterback Tanner Mangum mentioned Bushman and Laulu-Pututau.
“They just have good feel, are good at finding holes, good at getting open,” he said. “They are big targets. … It is nice having two guys like that who can really stretch the field and make it hard on the defense.”
Bushman appears poised to make the biggest impact on offense for a freshman at BYU since Mangum two years ago. The quarterback said he spent a lot of time working with Bushman in the offseason to develop chemistry and understanding.
“He uses his speed well to create separation against linebackers and safeties, and then he also has a good feel,” Mangum said. “He is good at finding the soft spots in the defense, finding holes, finding ways to flatten off a route here or keep it high there. He just kinda knows where he needs to be.”
Bushman, also an all-state baseball player in high school, joined the BYU baseball team after spring camp and backed up Brock Hale, Keaton Kringlen and Kyle Dean in the outfield.
“The baseball coaches told me to focus on the football season in the fall, so that’s what I am doing right now,” he said. “But as of now, baseball is still in the plan.”
Bushman said he grew up wanting to play for BYU, and so far it has exceeded expectations. It remains to be seen whether he will reach expectations the coaches have for him.
“It has been an awesome experience so far,” he said. “I am learning from the older guys, and all the coaches. I’ve got a long, long way to go. I haven’t done anything yet.”