Provo • BYU football coach Kalani Sitake wants more big plays out of his receivers this season, and he’s turning to a famous Saturday Night Live skit to get his point across.
“It is like Will Farrell’s cowbell, only I don’t want more cowbell,” Sitake said. “I can never have enough explosiveness.”
Sitake won’t be able to ring up one of the most promising playmakers from last season, junior receiver Neil Pau’u, who is redshirting in 2019 after pleading guilty to an impaired driving charge last month. But the head coach’s cousin, receivers coach Fesi Sitake, says the receiving corps can “absorb” the loss of Pau’u adequately because he’s got six talented receivers waiting to either break out or continue their upward trajectories.
“Each one of them has an attribute that can be in that category of explosiveness or deep threat or big-play maker,” Fesi Sitake said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t miss [Pau’u], or wish we had him.”
Senior slotback Aleva Hifo is most likely in line to be the Cougars’ leading receiver, after he amassed 632 all-purpose yards last year. Hifo tore his labrum in the 35-27 loss to Utah and underwent shoulder surgery last December.
“I hope to be used more than just in the jet sweep this year,” Hifo said Tuesday after pronouncing himself fully healthy. “Hopefully I can stretch the field this year. That’s the plan for me, to try to make more plays in general.”
Kalani Sitake said Hifo will also return kicks and punts.
“There are a lot of things he can do on the football field that can help us,” Sitake said. “Hopefully we are able to utilize all his weapons.”
Fesi Sitake said fellow senior Talon Shumway is “definitely worthy of being labeled a deep threat” because of the 6-foot-3 athlete’s leaping ability. Another senior wideout, Micah Simon, is “versatile and speedy” and can also stretch defenses, according to the receivers coach.
“We have 5-6 guys who have experience and have playmaking ability,” said offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. “As I said after the spring, those guys had the best performance out of any position group out there. They continue to come in and make plays, and now we got a couple other guys added to the mix.”
One of those “other guys” is freshman Keanu Hill, a 6-4 athlete who “definitely has a chance to play this year,” Sitake said. Hill, from Euless, Texas, made several big plays in last Saturday’s scrimmage but has struggled with minor injuries in preseason camp, and has also missed a few practices due to his summer class schedule.
“We are throwing a lot at him,” Fesi Sitake said. “Once he latches onto the playbook, and can prove to be consistently healthy, he’s got a great shot to make an impact this year, but also in the future. So we are really excited about him.”
Asked about Hill after the scrimmage, sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson said the newcomer has a lot of potential.
“Keanu is a stud,” Wilson said. “I am excited for him in these coming years as long as he is willing to put his head down and grind for it.”
Grimes said Hill’s upbringing in a high school football hotbed has served him well.
“It looks to me that he’s that kind of guy,” Grimes said. “He’s not overly nervous, and he has played in some big games in his high school program. I don’t think the moment will ever be too big for him.”
Hopes are also high for two of last year’s top freshmen, sophomores Gunner Romney and Dax Milne. Romney is finally healthy after being plagued by nagging hamstring injury last fall.
“Dax Milne has an element of explosiveness just because of how elusive and shifty he is,” Fesi Sitake said. “I hear from the [defensive backs] all the time how he is arguably one of the hardest guys to guard when we go one on one.”
Sitake said freshman speedster Luc Andrada and former Bingham High star Brayden Cosper — still recovering from a devastating knee injury a year ago — are on the cusp of pushing the aforementioned six for playing time.
“When we send Luc deep, he is hard to guard,” Sitake said. “He just runs by people. We have been able to give him some jet sweeps as well, and he’s done a great job with that.”
BYU’s Top Six Receivers
• Aleva Hifo, Sr., 5-10, 187
• Dax Milne, So., 6-0, 187
• Gunner Romney, So., 6-3, 188
• Talon Shumway, Sr., 6-3, 210
• Micah Simon, Sr., 6-1, 195
• Keanu Hill, Fr., 6-4, 210