Healthy vs. ready: Will BYU’s Isaac Rex be on a pitch count to start fall camp?

Rex is slated to be an opening day starter, but is still coming off a gruesome leg injury last November

BYU tight end Isaac Rex (83) celebrates his touchdown against Troy during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, Pool)

Provo • BYU tight ends coach Steve Clark knows this much about dealing with Isaac Rex: It’s a losing game to tell the fourth-year tight end he will be on a firm pitch count to start training camp this fall.

So instead, Clark’s strategy is to convince Rex to see the benefits of listening to his body and easing into fall camp. When need be, Clark is prepared to be the soft guiding hand pulling Rex back whenever he inevitably does too much in practice.

“He will tell you he is 100%. There is nothing structurally wrong with his leg,” Clark said. “But it is my job to watch over [him] and see how his body reacts to practice. If it were up to him, he would be full go.”

The way BYU handles Rex this fall camp will be tricky. After shattering his tibia bone near his ankle last November, Rex is fully cleared to resume football activities eight months later. Yet, his body hasn’t gone through the rigors of a practice schedule that could risk early re-injury.

At the same time, though, BYU does need Rex to push himself enough to be ready for the season. He is on the preseason John Mackey Award watch list and slated as an opening day starter for the Cougars. So the plan, for now, is for the coaching staff to balance getting him ready for Week One and keeping him healthy. It will often hinge on Rex being honest about how his body feels.

“I think it will be up to me, on how I’m feeling,” Rex said of how much he will do in fall camp. “Most likely I’ll ease into it. Maybe one week I go 50%. The next 75%. Then the final two weeks [before the season] 100%.”

Rex suffered a gruesome leg injury against USC in late November; so bad he was bed ridden for the entire month of December.

Doctors drilled rods into the tibia to stabilize the area and waited for the swelling to go down before surgery. It wasn’t until around the second week of January when he started to move around again without external rods.

Rex did not participate in spring practice. But he has been slowly building when it comes to running sprints, lifting and eventually running routes.

Almost every day that Clark was on the recruiting trail this offseason, Rex would text him a video of his technique in running routes and a progression of health.

“He is ahead of schedule,” Clark said. “I think we will have a rep count for him and see how he does. We have the luxury to do that because [he knows the offense so well by now].”

Rex will be an important cog on an offense that is expected to be high-powered and mature. During his freshman season, Rex was tied for the national lead in touchdowns for a tight end, with 12. But last year, his production was nearly cut in half.

This season, with a healthy offensive line and Jaren Hall returning for his second year at the helm, Rex is expected to return to his freshman form. And nationally, people are projecting Rex to be a potential NFL caliber player by the end of the year.

There is an urgency, then, for Rex to get back on the field by early September. And BYU could use Rex as it opens up with a tougher than expected game against USF, then back-to-back games against nationally ranked opponents.

“Football is a bit different than just training,” Rex said of how he feels about being ready. “I’m doing everything I need to do to get ready for the [first week] of the season. I feel like I’m kind of the dictator of that, along with the trainers.”

The backup plan is for BYU to roll with Dallin Holker as the starting tight end if Rex is not ready. The two will likely play on the field together anyway, and Holker is listed as a second option on the depth chart.

He finished with 200 yards receiving and one touchdown last year, his first off of a mission.

“I finally feel great now, and I am ready for whatever,” Holker said of his role back in spring camp.

But, for now, BYU will wait and see about Rex. As most weeks, it will be about letting the tight end feel it out.