Uriah Leiataua has no regrets about coming back to BYU for another year.
Not only did it allow the 2020 spring graduate to close out his collegiate career on his own terms after sitting out last season with a broken leg, but he saw it as another opportunity to continue playing the sport he loves and allowed him to meet some new people.
Now, Leiataua will be one of at least three seniors who will be recognized before Saturday’s game against Idaho State at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“The lasting impact [of the senior class] is that we set, not just a trend, but a culture,” Leiataua said. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs. And those that have been here for a long time remember those really low downs. It’s been a blessing for me, especially having a long career here, seeing how much the team culture has changed.”
So, exactly how many seniors will honored?
That’s not exactly clear.
Because of the pandemic, which led the NCAA to place a blanket waiver on eligibility last season, it allowed all players an extra year to play.
Leiataua and Jared Kapisi were two of last year’s seniors who took advantage of the extra season and came back. Grad transfer Samson Nacua was able to come to BYU from Utah because of it as well.
Those are the only players who will for sure be moving on from the Cougars after the 2021 season, but there may be others who follow.
BYU didn’t change any returning players’ classification on the roster. So there are currently 21 juniors listed on the Cougars’ roster. All of those juniors have at least four years of college under their belts. More than half are actually fifth-year players.
Of those, some of the biggest names — and therefore seen as the most likely to decide to declare for the NFL draft — are Neil Pau’u, Chaz Ah You, Lopini Katoa, Gunner Romney, Pepe Tanuvasa, Lorenzo Fautea and James Empey.
However, Romney, Fautea, Ah You and Empey have all been dealing with injuries this season. Empey may even be out for the remainder of the season. So, that may persuade them to come back to Provo for another year to build up their resume some more.
“There’s some guys that are looking to just be done and move on with life, and then there’s other guys that are still figuring out,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “A lot of the guys graduate this December and want to move on, and there’s some that are still deciding. For us, we’ll probably just give them all a good goodbye just in case and then hopefully they come back.”
Then there are the guys who have been here for three or four years and are still listed as sophomores. They technically could choose to try their hand at the NFL draft as well.
There’s a chance Allgeier will leave BYU after this season. Others may wait to get draft grades before making decisions on their future.
Baylor Romney could benefit from his own season to truly shine, Pili suffered a season-ending injury early in the season and Oldroyd sat out multiple games early in the season due to a back injury. Since coming back, however, he hasn’t looked the same as previous seasons and has characteristically missed at least one field goal in each of the last three games.
Puka Nacua, Wilgar and Barrington have had breakout performances this season, but it may not be enough to get drafted.
If the Cougars could get the majority of those players to come back, they will be primed for another successful season.
When it comes to it, Sitake said the team will most likely recognize more than just the three seniors, but the staff didn’t know how many earlier this week.
“What we don’t want to do, because the last [home] game comes in Week 9 for us, we don’t want them to all of a sudden to make a decision after Week 11 that they’re done and they want to move on and then we never gave them the proper sendoff,” Sitake said. “We’ll probably give them a good sendoff just in case and then try to recruit them to come back again.”