Provo • Trailing Western Michigan 10-7 heading into the third quarter of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl last December, BYU desperately needed its offense to awaken after a punchless 115-yard performance in the first half.
Freshman quarterback Zach Wilson zipped a short pass over the middle to Neil Pau’u the first play of the second half, and the sophomore walk-on from Anaheim, Calif., made a couple defenders miss and gained 48 yards. The big play opened the floodgates, boosted Wilson’s confidence, and the Cougars rolled to 375 yards in the final two quarters and a 49-18 victory.
Pau’u finished the day with 57 receiving yards and the season with 216 yards to service notice that he was capable of even bigger things in 2019.
But that is unlikely to happen now, after Pau’u was arrested just after midnight on June 8 on suspicion of driving drunk on BYU’s campus. The up-and-coming receiver was charged with a class B misdemeanor DUI last week, according to documents filed in Provo City Justice Court. He was also charged with a Class C misdemeanor for driving through road construction cones and barriers.
Pau’u entered not guilty pleas to both charges through his attorney, Michael J. Petro, who has not returned calls seeking comment.
As of midday Tuesday, BYU officials had not responded to a request for more information on Pau’u’s status with the school, the Honor Code Office, and the football program.
Football spokesperson Brett Pyne said last Thursday when news of the arrest and subsequent charges broke that officials were aware of the charges and “looking into” the situation.
According to another court document filed Friday, Pau’u summoned teammate Aleva Hifo, also a BYU receiver, to bail him out of the Utah County jail. Hifo, a senior and longtime family friend, signed a form ensuring that Pau’u would be “kept from public places and from operating any moving vehicle” and would have no access to dangerous weapons while intoxicated.
Bail was set at $1,780 for the DUI charge and Pau’u was released on his own recognizance.
Assuming that Pau’u is suspended for a good chunk, or all, of the 2019 season, his absence will be felt on a BYU receiving corps that was short on bonafide playmakers even before the rising junior’s legal troubles.
Basically, the Cougars have two proven, experienced receivers — the aforementioned Hifo and fellow senior Talon Shumway. They were BYU’s second- and fourth-leading receivers last season, combining for 50 catches, 695 yards and five touchdowns.
BYU’S PROJECTED RECEIVER DEPTH CHART
WRX • Gunner Romney, Soph.; Micah Simon, Sr.
WRZ • Talon Shumway, Sr.; Brayden Cosper, Fr.
SLOT • Aleva Hifo, Sr.; Dax Milne, Soph.
Other receivers on current roster • Luc Andrada, Javelle Brown, Hayden Griffits, Talmage Gunther, Koy Harris, Keanu Hill, Tevita Ika, Rhett Reilly, Spencer Romney, Jacob Talbot, Austin Whetzel
Hifo is coming off his second shoulder surgery for a torn labrum that caused him to miss spring practices. He was scheduled to get full clearance to return to contact drills the day after BYU’s Football Media Day last week, he said, and expects to be 100 percent by the time preseason training camp opens in late July.
“I’m expecting a big season from myself and all our receivers,” Hifo said.
Also on BYU’s two-deep chart for its three receiver positions released last week in its media guide are senior Micah Simon and sophomores Dax Milne and Gunner Romney. Another scholarship receiver, junior Inoke Lotulelei of Cottonwood High, did some good things in spring practices but is not listed on the roster recently published on BYU’s website.
Fans and some media members clamored for the Cougars to add a junior college or graduate transfer receiver to the mix, like they did last year with Hawaii transfer Dylan Collie, but that apparently won’t happen.
“I am optimistic and hopeful that our receivers will respond to that challenge,” receivers coach Fesi Sitake said. “I think the bowl game was a great indication of what they can do. When the ball comes your way, you have got to make a play.”
Sitake said the Cougars “completely switched offenses” midway through the season, and it took some time for receivers to catch up mentally.
“Now we need to make the plays people don’t think we are going to make,” he said. “That’s kind of the expectation for our group this year.”
Sitake also said that the highly recruited Romney is finally healthy after battling injuries all last season and in spring practices, and has “that dynamic ability” to be a “game-breaker, a take-the-top-off guy who can stretch the field.”
Romney, who caught 13 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns in 2018, has added 10 pounds of muscle to his frame and will be counted on to make a big impact. The Cougars are also excited about a couple of freshmen receiver who recently arrived in Provo — Colorado speedster Luc Andrada, Texas playmaker Keanu Hill and San Diego area athlete Javelle Brown.
Milne, the former walk-on from Bingham High, was recently put on scholarship and “just has a knack for playing receiver, getting open, and making plays,” Sitake said. Milne caught 10 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown last year.