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Beau Tanner left BYU’s football program twice, but he will start at strong safety on Saturday against South Florida

Former receiver says Cougar coaches welcomed him back on the team after he went into the transfer portal not once, but twice

BYU’s Beau Tanner between plays during game against Washington on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
BYU Photo

PROVO — Not many college football players are welcomed back to their teams once they enter the transfer portal or tell coaches they are on their way out. Even fewer are welcomed back twice.

But that’s what has happened to BYU’s Beau Tanner, a senior who will make the start at strong safety — only the second start of a college football career that has spanned seven years — when the Cougars play at South Florida (1:30 p.m. MDT, CBSSN) on Saturday.

“I just can’t stay away from this place,” Tanner said with a laugh a few weeks ago after making several big defensive plays in the 30-27 overtime win over USC.

Tanner was listed as a co-starter at strong safety with Sawyer Powell before the Toledo game in late September, but got the start and made two tackles in the 28-21 loss. He’s listed as the sole starter on this week’s depth chart for South Florida (2-3).

“He’s got great speed and athleticism and he’s picking it up quickly,” said safeties coach Preston Hadley. “He’s got the ability to make plays.”

Not bad for a guy who thought his playing days at BYU were over — twice.

Tanner was a receiver his first two years in Provo, 2016 and 2017, and made a 40-yard touchdown grab against Utah State his junior season that seemed to portend great things to come from the Phoenix, Arizona, product who originally signed with Kentucky out of high school but ended up at a junior college due to an NCAA paperwork snafu.

But BYU’s offensive staff was released after the 2017 season, and Tanner was moved to defensive back in spring camp of 2018 when defensive coaches seemed to value his abilities more than the new offensive coaches. So he decided to transfer and made that known via entry into the NCAA’s transfer portal.

But there wasn’t much interest in a receiver who had made only 12 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown in two seasons, and then-safeties coach Ed Lamb persuaded him to return, knowing Tanner’s 4.38 speed would be an asset on special teams, if not in the backfield.

“I had it all set up, but it was hard for me to leave, and I didn’t want to sit out a season,” Tanner said. “My whole life was here. My girlfriend, my best friends, my family is all here. Those were the reasons I came back — not so much for football reasons.”

Tanner went through fall camp of 2018 as a defensive back, but the itch to play receiver remained, and he said his “mind wasn’t really in it and I continued to have second thoughts.”

So after a few games last season in which he didn’t see any playing time, he decided to leave again. Defensive backs coach Jernaro Gilford said at the time that Tanner’s heart just wasn’t in it, but expressed hope that the talented athlete with sprinter’s speed would reconsider.

He did.

Tanner didn’t participate in spring practices last March, but when August rolled around, there he was, wearing No. 27 and working out with the safeties and cornerbacks. Last season will be considered his redshirt season.

“I realized being away that this was the place I wanted to be,” he said. “Coaches have been really good to me and allowed me to come back multiple times. I realized that this is where my heart has been the whole time, whether I denied it or not. But it feels right now and I would rather be here than anywhere else.”

Tanner said head coach Kalani Sitake, in particular, helped him through the process to return a second time.

“He is a really loving coach,” Tanner said. “He genuinely cares about his players. He knew what I was going through at the time. Talking with him made me realize I had made some poor decisions, but it wasn’t too late. He played the biggest role in me coming back.”

Fellow starting safety Austin Lee said Tanner’s journey back has been “pretty inspiring” to all the players on the team.

“Obviously his career here hasn’t ended up the way he thought it would end up, but he has made the most of his opportunities and his skillset. He has great speed. He has great strength, and is a great asset as far as his knowledge and his athletic ability,” Lee said. “The guy has stepped up for us, and he has come in at critical parts of the game and has done a phenomenal job for us.”

Sitake said he’s always going to do what’s best for the student-athlete, even if it means allowing a player to return from the transfer portal. There are other coaches, including Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, who have said that once a player is in the portal, he’s finished in their program.

“So I don’t think you completely slam the door shut on them,” Sitake said. “My job is to help these young men find their path. There is a way of doing it where you can be included in the decision-making, but also support them. … I think the portal provides more opportunities to discuss and communicate rather than just slam the door shut.”

Cougars on the air

BYU (2-3) at South Florida (2-3)

At Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

Saturday, 1:30 p.m. (MDT)

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM