PROVO — BYU receivers coach Fesi Sitake is approaching this year's spring practice in a much different way than last season, and that's a good thing.
Arriving as a new coach on staff just prior to the spring practice session last season, Sitake knew relatively nothing about the group of players he was inheriting and was mindful to go into the practice session with no preconceived notions in determining his rotation. This year, it's all but impossible to do as much given Sitake's group returns basically intact from last season save for Dylan Collie, who played one season at BYU after transferring from Hawaii.
"I know everyone's skill sets now — their strengths and weaknesses they bring to the offense and those preconceived notions are there now," Sitake said. "But that's a good thing. You love having the experience back and my experience with them."
Sitake came off the practice field after Monday's first spring session generally pleased with what he saw from his group.
"I like the effort and, man, it's so much nicer this year not having to start from scratch," Sitake said. "I mean, every spot is still open, and they know that, but I feel really good about the five or six guys that are proven performers who I'm very familiar with. That's going to help us take the next step, I feel."
Sitake's group of six experienced players includes three seniors in Aleva Hifo, Talon Shumway and Micah Simon, along with junior Neil Pau'u and sophomores Dax Milne and Gunner Romney.
The leading receiver returning based on catches made last season is Hifo, although the 5-foot-10 speedster will be limited in what he can do this spring due to recovering from offseason surgery.
With regards to Romney, he may be the returning receiver to put forth the most upward mobility as far as etching out a big role for himself within the offense. Romney is a 6-foot-3 prized recruit who joined the program with a lot of expectations but was unable to meet many expectations due to injury.
"He's healthy now. He's strong, and he's confident," Sitake said. "He has a fire burning within him to take off (with) this year. He struggled mentally last year because he wanted it so bad, but this year I think he's due for an enormous year. I really like what I'm seeing from him so far."
Both Shumway (6-3) and Simon (6-1) represent the two most experienced players returning, and Sitake is grateful for the leadership both bring in addition to their respective abilities.
"Talon is so consistent with his approach, and you love that as a coach. You know you're going to get a great effort from him every single day and you saw last year that he has a great ability to make plays for us," Sitake said. "And then Micah is also a great leader, but I really think he can make great strides to become an even bigger part of this offense."
Sitake showed a lot of optimism toward Milne (6-0), who was a surprise contributor last season as a walk-on freshman who is now on scholarship, along with Pau'u (6-4), who has made a lot of strides in the offseason.49 comments on this story
"Neil has added a lot of good strength and really finished the year strong for us," he said. "He has really big upside and I think he has a new level of confidence this year. He set some high expectations for himself and I think he can definitely meet them."
With six proven commodities, Sitake is confident with what he has returning but knows a lot still has to play out with regards to forming his final rotation heading into fall camp and then into the 2019 season.
"I have six or seven other guys behind the six guys I know, and I'll definitely be watching everyone and working with them so we can put out the best rotation possible this season," Sitake said. "But I like where we're at and I love the potential."