I love the guys I play with, and I really feel we're the best position group on the team, but I'm also very biased. —JJ Nwigwe
PROVO — While other tight ends within the program are working to become complete tight ends by improving their blocking skills, senior JJ Nwigwe is striving to become such with his pass-catching.
About eight months ago, the then offensive lineman didn't find himself on his position's depth chart the first day of fall practices. He wondered if it was an oversight, before coaches alerted him of a position change they felt would benefit both him and the team.
"They told me I was a tight end now, and I was like, 'Tight end? Um, OK, whatever you think is best,'" Nwigwe recalls.
Coming to BYU from Rockwall, Texas, just prior to the 2015 season, Nwigwe had his sights on rising to become a top offensive lineman, but coaches later determined his body type dictated a position switch. Sure, 270 pounds would seem to suffice for an offensive lineman to some, but Nwigwe found himself undersized relative to most of the offensive linemen within the program.
"I tried to get bigger, but I really couldn't gain the weight, even though I tried," Nwigwe said. "I'm now about 260, and that's a great weight for me to move around and work to become a better receiver."
His introduction to playing tight end didn't involve a lot of route-running, much less pass-catching, according to Nwigwe, but something he was much more used to.
"It was pretty much all about blocking that first year," Nwigwe said.
But that was last season, and a complete overhaul of the coaching staff, coupled with natural progressions of playing the position, have brought about more emphasis in catching the football.
And how hard can the process of catching a football be? Harder than most would assume, according to coaches and Nwigwe.
Depth of routes run, when to break off those routes and look for the football can be challenging, particularly for someone who didn't grow up playing a pass-catching position. Understandably, Nwigwe has seen his share of struggles running routes, although coaches affirmed his progress in doing as much throughout spring practices.
"It's a lot harder than it looks, that's for sure," Nwigwe said. "It's all about confidence and working to make it natural. Too many times I'm thinking too much, and that's not where you want to be. But it's coming, and I'm hoping to catch some passes this year for my final season. It's all about repetition, and I'm getting good reps this spring."
Since moving over to tight end, Nwigwe has found an instant brotherhood among his teammates.
"I love the guys I play with, and I really feel we're the best position group on the team, but I'm also very biased," he said.
Nwigwe's time at BYU has seen ups and downs, but he's generally enjoyed his time, coming to Provo as a non-LDS minority athlete. Although he still struggles with the cold, he's acclimated well to the school's unique culture and challenging academics.
"School isn't easy, not by any means, but I know I'm getting a great education, and that's one of the best things about being here. The education really is second to none," Nwigwe said. "Socially it's great. People are so nice, almost too nice. But everyone has been so willing to include me in social things and to help me out. I love it here and I'm excited for the opportunity to finish out strong this season."