BYU football’s Khyiris Tonga and Matt Bushman staying for their senior years

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young tight end Matt Bushman (89), scores a Cougar touchdown, in football action between Brigham Young Cougars and Liberty Flames at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.

Provo • For more than a year, defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga talked about entering the NFL draft after his junior season. But when it came down to it, Tonga changed his mind and instead decided to stay at BYU.

And he's not the only one.

Junior tight end Matt Bushman was also considering turning pro, but decided to play as a Cougar one more season.

Bushman said he and his wife Emily talked about the tight end’s options all the time, usually alternating between staying at BYU and taking his chances at the NFL on a nearly daily basis. Bushman even consulted with his father-in-law, former Cougar and Philadelphia Eagles tight end Chad Lewis, about the decision.

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Bushman racked up 688 yards and four touchdowns on 47 receptions his junior season and has accumulated 1,719 receiving yards throughout his BYU career. Bushman is just the third Cougar to tally more than 500 yards as a starter in three seasons.

After also consulting with coaches and praying about his decision, Bushman also got feedback from NFL personnel about his chances at the draft. Best case scenario, they believed Bushman could be a lower third or fourth round pick, but most realistically would be picked anywhere in the fourth through seventh rounds.

That wasn't good enough for him.

“I wouldn't want to leave and get picked in the later rounds or go undrafted, so I think it was smart for me to stay, kind of better myself and know that if I improve on some things I can hopefully solidify the future and also just have a better BYU season,” Bushman said.

For Tonga, who tallied 45 tackles, two pass breakups and four tackles for a loss of 18 yards, including one sack, the decision to stay came down more to education.

Tonga was still adamant about forgoing his senior season by the time the Cougars played in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve, until he started talking to his family and coaches some more.

All throughout the 2019 season, Tonga consulted with his father. Anytime he had a break in classes or his dad had the opportunity to visit Provo, the pair would talk. While his father always expressed support for whatever decision the 6-foot-4, 321-pound defensive tackle were to make, he always made a case for BYU.

Those talks paid off for the Cougars.

“He just basically helped me understand the bigger picture of past football — education and how I can get my degree and career,” Tonga said. “He was right and I was just being stubborn at the time. So, it was good.”

With the return of Tonga and Bushman, both the tight end and defensive linemen groups look to be strong next season.

The defensive line group is only losing out on seniors JJ Nwigwe and Trajan Pili, but otherwise still has plenty of talent coming back. Tonga recommends keeping an eye out for Lorenzo Fauatea, Atunaisa Mahe and Zac Dawe.

“They're all coming back super excited,” Tonga said. “I think it's going to be an exciting year for them and their potential.”

As far as the tight end group, freshmen Isaac Rex and Masen Wake got to play in the Hawaii Bowl. Carter Wheat has battled a few injuries, but is making progress. Kyle Griffits, who will be a senior next season, is also a team leader and helps the younger guys, Bushman said.

Then there's also Alema Pilimai and Hank Tuipulotu, amongst others.

“There’s a ton of guys that can be solid,” Bushman said. “We have a pretty full tight end room. It’s probably the most full it’s ever been in my career, but we’re excited for the competition.”