Provo • Fears that BYU will lack a group of talented tight ends in 2018 are unfounded, tight ends coach Steve Clark said Wednesday.
Actually, it is just the opposite.
“We have an outstanding group,” Clark said. “It should be a position of strength again.”
Optimism abounds because freshman All-American Matt Bushman is back for his sophomore season. Bushman led all freshmen tight ends in the country with 49 receptions for 520 yards and three touchdowns last year.
“Matt has done everything we have asked him to do in the offseason,” Clark said. “He got a little bit bigger, but he is just as fast. He is confident, but he can’t relax, because people know him now, know what he can do. Last year nobody knew who he was.”
Bushman recently married BYU women’s volleyball opposite hitter Emily Lewis, daughter of former BYU tight end Chad Lewis.
Having made the transition from receiver to tight end a year ago, Moroni Laulu-Pututau sustained a Lisfranc foot injury three days before the 2017 opener and missed all of last season. He’s back, and has looked good in camp although his reps have been limited.
“Moroni is not learning the position anymore,” Clark said. “He knows it. He has a good feel for it. We just have to be careful with him because of his injuries, so we are monitoring his reps.”
Clark said the other returning tight end — former offensive lineman JJ Nwigwe — has progressed nicely with his pass-catching skills.
“Catching passes won’t be JJ’s primary role,” Clark said. “His role is to be an anchor on the end of the line and move people. But he will have to catch some passes to keep defenses honest. He has gotten a lot better with his hands. He is confident in them now.”
This is the latest in an occasional series during preseason camp previewing BYU’s position groups. Today: the tight ends.
Concerns sprang up after Utah State transfer Joe Tukuafu left the program for undisclosed reasons and promising walk-on Nate Heaps of American Fork High sustained a knee injury that will keep him sidelined for all or most of the season.
But Clark said a pair of freshmen newcomers, returned missionary Hank Tuipolotu and Lehi High product Dallin Holker, have filled the void. Tuipolotu has missed some practices due to a concussion, but the son of former BYU great Peter Tuipolotu should return to action soon.
“Dallin Holker has been great,” Clark said. “He has the second-most catches of the tight ends in camp. He’s a good player. I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on him because he hasn’t played in a game yet in college, but he’s running around making plays already. As far as athletically, he’s a good player.”
After watching unsigned freshman Ben Ward of Pennsylvania perform well at a camp in June, coaches invited him to preseason training camp as a preferred walk-on.
“We really like him, too,” Clark said.