Provo • Dylan Collie’s first order of business when he arrived at BYU in early June as an immediately eligible graduate transfer from Hawaii was to get a copy of the playbook and start to learn the offense.
The second was getting to know the talent level of the other receivers, the guys he would compete against in preseason training camp for a spot on the two-deep chart and work with when the real games begin in September.
“Better than some of you guys [in the media] have made it sound,” he said. “A lot better.”
That was new receivers coach and former Weber State offensive coordinator Fesi Sitake’s take as well, roughly, after a few days on the job in Provo.
“There is no question that we have enough good receivers to win games with and accomplish what we want to do as an offense,” Sitake said. “Every year we are going to try and improve our skillset and get better, but for right now I am happy with the guys we have, the effort they have given. They’ve done all the things I have demanded of them. They have been nothing but willing.”
Words such as disappointing, underachieving, underutilized and inadequate were used to describe the 2017 crop of receivers, and for good reason. Consider that Collie’s numbers in his third season at Hawaii — 56 catches for 636 yards and four touchdowns — would have led all of BYU’s pass-catchers in 2017, including freshman All-American tight end Matt Bushman (49 catches, 520 yards, three TDs).
In one of those good news/bad news scenarios, most of BYU’s most productive receivers are back in 2018, most notably Aleva Hifo, Micah Simon, Talon Shumway and Neil Pau’u. Gone from the receivers room are Jonah Trinnaman, who graduated and is currently trying to make the New York Jets roster as an undrafted free agent, and Beau Tanner, who switched to cornerback in the spring, left the squad for awhile, then returned for preseason training camp as a cornerback again.
Rickey Shumway and Tariq Buchanan left the program.
“I would describe us as angry and motivated,” Hifo said. “We all have a chip on our shoulder because we all know that we were [disrespected] a lot last year, and
some of that criticism was legit. We have a lot to prove this year and I think that is going to help us get better.”
Receivers struggled to get off the ball against man press defense, couldn’t get open, and dropped a lot of passes when one of the four ineffective quarterbacks the Cougars used in 2017 managed to avoid a sack and get the ball in their vicinity.
Simon, who Sitake said has emerged as the leader of the receiving corps, echoed Hifo’s comments that the receivers are determined to prove the naysayers wrong.
“We have worked hard to get better individually and as a group, but we know that’s not enough,” Simon said. “It’s time to show it in the games. Until then, it’s just talk.”
Along with Collie, who made the two-deep chart at slot receiver before camp even started, the Cougars are counting on highly recruited freshman Gunner Romney to make an immediate impact. However, Romney tweaked a hamstring in player-run practices in late July and hasn’t been able to show what he can do quite yet.
“He is just easing in,” Sitake said. “We have been real selective on the reps he is taking because we don’t want any major setbacks. … We could have gone full speed with him, but we want to make sure we don’t wear his legs out. By the time the season comes, he will be full go, and I am sure here within camp he will be an every down guy in the rotation.”
Sitake said Akile Davis, a redshirt junior from DeSoto, Texas, who has caught just one pass (for 9 yards) in his career to date, is ready to become more of a contributor. A pair of freshmen from Bingham High — walk-on Dax Milne and Brayden Cosper — and junior Inoke Lotulelei could also see some playing time.
BYU’s TOP RETURNING RECEIVERS
Matt Bushman • 49 catches, 520 yards, three touchdowns
Aleva Hifo • 37 catches, 437 yards, two touchdowns
Micah Simon • 27 catches, 386 yards, three touchdowns
Talon Shumway • 25 catches, 257 yards, no touchdowns
Neil Pau’u • 14 catches, 139 yards, two touchdowns
Note: Graduate transfer Dylan Collie caught 56 passes for 636 yards and four touchdowns at Hawaii last season