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Steve Griffin, Deseret News
BYU tight end JJ Nwigwe talks with the media at the BYU football media day in the BYU Broadcasting Building no the BYU campus in Provo on Friday, June 22, 2018.

PROVO — JJ Nwigwe’s transition from offensive lineman to tight end is a journey from pancake artist to combo blocker and finesse pass catcher in BYU’s offense. But it has become a little more than that.

Nwigwe’s work has become kind of symbolic of this 2018 squad: a guy trying to do something better and finding teammates flocking to his aid. It’s a familiar tutelage at the QB position, safety corps, cornerbacks, receivers and other groups.

Yes, it is kind of cheesy, this mass helpfest. But unlike the cutthroat act of sabotaging teammates as a rite of passage in the NFL, this team has taken to rescue one another in drills like a line of firemen.

You go 4-9, the clarion call is all hands on deck, and backs get covered.

" The new coaching staff has brought in a new motto, ‘Built not Born,’ and we are all working hard to be the best we can at doing our jobs. "
BYU tight end JJ Nwigwe

Nwigwe’s got support all over the place. He’s got QBs pulling for him. He’s got freshman All-American teammate Matt Bushman at his side. He’s got receivers giving him tips. He takes on the JUGS machine and he’s got an audience to help sharpen his hand-eye coordination. He’s got all kinds of technique talkers, coaches and drillmasters ready to help. Nwigwe had just one catch for 12 yards last season. Nobody wants defenses to disrespect him as a catching tight end and see him as a “run block only” tight end in formations.

“We all know what happened last season and we want to leave that behind,” said Nwigwe.

“The new coaching staff has brought in a new motto, ‘Built not Born,’ and we are all working hard to be the best we can at doing our jobs.”

Nwigwe says he feels more like a tight end now than he did a year ago in fall camp. “It’s been a lot of help from a lot of guys like Akile Davis, Micah Simon. I’ve been catching a lot of passes this summer every day. They’ve been saying ‘Let’s go catch right now’ all the time. They’ve helped me with my routes and making the break on the ball.

“Everyone has put their arm around me knowing I’m making this transition and are making it easier.”

Nwigwe said it means everything to him, knowing that others want to see him succeed. “I just know they have my back and I have their back. That is what you need to depend on coming off a hard season like we had.”

He’s tried to throw and catch with as many quarterbacks as he could all summer long. “I’ve concentrated on bringing the ball in, tucking it in, finishing the play.”

Nwigwe and Bushman are joined by healed-up Moroni Laulu-Pututau (foot injury in 2017), freshman Hank Tuipulotu, Dallin Holker and Ben Ward on the roster for tight end coach Steve Clark.

It is a unit offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes needs to perform at a high level, from blocking to scheme mastery to attacking defenses with the pass threat.

18 comments on this story

Nwigwe may be the best blocker of the bunch because at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds and a former O-lineman, he’s played a blocker’s role his whole life. He just needs to perfect the art of grabbing a ball out of the air and taking on safeties, corners and linebackers rather than defensive ends and defensive tackles in the trenches.

His development is key. So is the example he’s enjoyed from teammates who have stepped up and lent a helping hand to make him better.

A new senior transfer from Hawaii from the legacy Collie clan explained how it should work.

“If you’re not dealing with 110 guys in the locker room, then you’re a little bit lost,” said receiver Dylan Collie.

“The opportunities to work with every single person and get to know them personally is what builds an actual culture and not just a team.”