PROVO — When first-year BYU passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick joined the staff last winter, he had some serious questions about what he might see out of the receivers.
A year ago, the Cougar receiving corps was young and inexperienced — and it showed. The receivers struggled to make plays and score touchdowns as the offense, in general, was punchless and ineffective.
During fall camp, Roderick has been impressed with the receivers.
“Pleasant surprise for me has been our receivers. I don’t want to say I had low expectations but this group is better and deeper than I expected, at least they’ve been in practice,” Roderick said. “I’ve been pretty hard on them. I ride those guys hard every day and so does (receivers coach) Fesi (Sitake). The message has been, ‘Hey, nobody thinks you guys are any good. That’s who we are until we prove it in a game.’ But I have a lot of confidence in them. Even though I ride them, I tell them every day that we have a good group and I can’t wait for them to show in a real game what I think they’re capable of. We have some good players there.”
After a season of hard lessons and growing pains, junior wideout Micah Simon is counting on marked improvement this fall from the receivers.
“We’ve gained a lot more confidence in ourselves. We have last season under our belt and we knew what we needed to do during the offseason to prepare ourselves for this year,” said Simon, who caught 27 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. “We’ve worked hard. We know that’s not enough. We have to show it on the field. We need to keep working throughout camp and be ready to show at the start of the season.”
Fesi Sitake has been pleased with what he's seen from the wideouts.
“The things that I’ve asked of them and demanded of them, they’ve given me — effort, energy, enthusiasm,” he said. “They brought it all. And there’s been some great playmaking by the guys. I’m super excited about this group. If they keep progressing on this track, they have a chance to be special.”
Simon said the receivers accepted the challenge given to them by Sitake “to do more than was asked of us from the strength staff — extra workouts, more film watching, running more routes. We all did things every day to get better.”
Besides Simon, other returning receivers include Aleva Hifo (37 catches, 437 yards, 2 touchdowns last season), Talon Shumway (24 catches, 257 yards) and Neil Pau’u (14 catches, 139 yards, 2 touchdowns). Akile Davis, who mostly played special teams last year, should also contribute.
Then there are the newcomers who are expected to make an immediate impact, starting with graduate transfer Dylan Collie.
“Dylan’s brought that experience, being a redshirt senior and having played at a high level for the past few years,” Simon said. “It’s been huge for us. When he made his (recruiting) visit here, I told him, ‘If you come here, you’ll elevate the play of this group because of your experience and knowledge.’ He’s our lone senior in this group. He’s somebody who understands the game and he’s passed his knowledge down to us.”
“Collie’s a stud. He came in here working hard from the first day — asking to throw, getting on the jugs, everything,” said freshman quarterback Zach Wilson. “I think he learned (the offense) faster than anybody I’ve ever seen. He was in there all day, learning the offense.”
Then there’s a group of freshmen that Sitake is excited about — Gunner Romney, Brayden Cosper and Dax Milne.
Romney, a highly touted recruit from Arizona, has been injured during fall camp but he’s expected to be ready for the season-opener Sept. 1.
“We haven’t been able to do a ton with him,” Sitake said of Romney. “Because of that, I push his mental limits in the meeting room and he responds. He knows the playbook. When he’s 100 percent, he’ll be able to transition smoothly. He’s been doing some drills but we don’t want to force it and have him have a major setback. We’re easing his way into it. I think he’ll be just fine. Gunner, Brayden and Dax, who is a walk-on, are doing a phenomenal job. All three of those guys have an opportunity to make an impact. I want to see guys go through adversity and see how they respond. There’s time I need to determine — not just the young guys — who really wants this.”
Certainly, there’s increased depth and competition at the receiver position.
“We feel like we have a strong group,” Simon said. “We need to be a deep group. We have to depend on each other at the end of the day. We’re leaning on each other and we’re still progressing.”
The receivers have a chance to be one of the strengths of this team, Simon said.16 comments on this story
“We have the potential to be. We’re not where we want to be yet. We want to be one of the strong positions on the team. We want to be a group of dependable guys. We want the coaches and our teammates to trust in us and believe in us to make plays when our number’s called.”
Quarterback Tanner Mangum has confidence in the receivers.
“They’ve been good. Every day, they’ve gotten better. There are some new guys in there and returners who are stepping up and becoming big-time players for us," he said. "It’s been good to see them take steps. They’re making our job as quarterback easy. But we still have a ways to go.”