Playing at BYU was Houston Heimuli’s dream. Why the former Stanford captain’s season has been frustrating and ‘embarrassing.’

The fifth-year transfer was billed as having a big role when he came to BYU this offseason

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) "It's surreal," Houston Heimuli said of being given the chance to play for Brigham Young University, Jan. 18, 2022 in BYU's Legacy Hall. Heimuli is the son of BYU record-setting running back Lakei Heimulu who played for BYU in the early 80's. Heimuli is walking on at BYU from Stanford University under the COVID-19 extra year of eligibility.

Provo • When Stanford transfer Houston Heimuli arrived on campus last spring, the praise from the coaching staff was nearly immediate.

Head coach Kalani Sitake said Heimuli learned the playbook faster than some players who’d been in the program for years. Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said he was working on ways to get him on the field. The former Stanford captain was billed a potential game changer for the offense.

Yet, as the final regular season game approaches this week, Heimuli barely played this season. A total of eight offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. The grad transfer’s tenure at BYU has been a confusing one.

“Oh yeah, I’m going to keep it a buck, I was frustrated,” Heimuli said this week. “At the same time, they have to play the 11 best men on the field. I didn’t achieve the goals that they wanted from me. So, you got to play somebody that will. I completely respect that. I know that is how football is done.”

There have been several points this season when Heimuli’s lack of usage came under fire. The most obvious was in short-yardage situations where BYU never used a fullback.

For example, there was the fourth down-and-1 with time winding down against Notre Dame. BYU ran the ball with Lopini Katoa without a fullback on the field. It was stuffed out and BYU lost. Many people questioned whether Heimuli, who specialized in run-blocking at Stanford, could have made a difference.

There were also plays against East Carolina late in the game, similar short-yardage runs, where BYU didn’t convert. On the season, BYU is just 5-of-21 on fourth-down conversions. Yet, Heimuli was never used.

“I think in some of the situations we have had, I think it is valid for people to question the lack of the presence of the fullback,” Sitake said. “That is something that our offensive coaches have to answer. As the head coach, that falls on me too. Being a former fullback, that is embarrassing.”

In fall camp, it became clear Heimuli was working more as a tight end than as a traditional fullback. Heimuli had little experience at that position.

“It is 180, it is crazy how it is,” Heimuli said of his different usage. “What I have enjoyed is learning the role of being kind of an H-back, having to catch, use my hands and having to run. I think that just made me grow and I loved it.”

When Heimuli first came to BYU, he told The Tribune he wanted to get more offensive touches to boost his draft stock for the NFL. At Stanford, his role had declined each season following his offensive coordinator’s departure after his freshman year.

However, at BYU, he has not touched the ball once.

“Maybe on the field, it didn’t go as much as he planned on or even I anticipated,” Sitake admitted.

It leaves the real question of whether Heilmuli is an NFL player after this season is over. He said in January he planned to enter the NFL Draft after this year. Although, this week, he hesitated about what his future had in store.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “The next two weeks there is going to be a lot of deliberating of what I want to do, for sure.”

That said, this weekend Heilmuli will return to California to play Stanford. Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said Heimuli’s role could increase in the last two games of the season. He played a season-high four snaps against Utah Tech last week and “played well,” per Roderick.

But regardless of what happens, it has still been a frustrating and head-scratching year for the fifth-year transfer. He will leave with more questions than answers.

“Everybody wants to play more plays,” he said. “Not everything is up to our expectations, you know. However, it is about what kind of role can you find and how can you benefit the team. It is not a sport where you want to bring other people down. Whatever role I could play, I tried my best at. 100%.”