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Matt Bushman’s injury a disappointment for BYU, but truly unfortunate for senior leader

Matt Bushman, BYU’s much-heralded tight end came back for his senior season, but it ended before it really began after he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in Monday’s practice.

20171022 BYU tight end Matt Bushman (89) rushes for additional yards after a catch.
20171022 BYU tight end Matt Bushman (89) rushes for additional yards after a catch.
Robert W. Grover

PROVO — Trainers carted Matt Bushman off BYU’s practice field Monday, the senior season he came back to play over before it began.

It’s proof 2020 is a haunting year and this is an unbelievable twist in the plot.

From COVID-19, shutdowns, postponements and cancellations, news that Bushman suddenly got canceled is a nightmare.

Somebody wake us up. Might as well have told us UFOs landed on the campus quad.

This is a dumb, senseless, bad-luck tragedy.

“Matt Bushman is an incredible football player and even better human being. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family,” said David Stroshine, Bushman’s personal off-campus trainer who watched the BYU senior transform his body this past spring and summer in anticipation of a banner season both personally and as a team leader.

“I really feel bad for Matt, he’s such a great guy,” said former BYU offensive coordinator and Heisman winner Ty Detmer. “This is not what anyone expected.”

Amid tears and prayers from teammates, Bushman left the practice field where just before he had joked with his fellow tight ends about the taste and smell of brownies during a break. The sound of his voice echos in that poignant moment.

BYU officially confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Bushman suffered a season-ending injury during Monday’s practice.

“I feel horrible for the kid,” said Stroshine, who just talked to Bushman about his training the night before.

Then this.

Bushman was set to be the centerpiece of BYU’s offense, a towering, fast, athletic pass catcher and admired leader with tremendous promise. His wife Emily is expecting their first child next week when Bushman was set to play in the Labor Day opener at Navy.

If anyone could console Bushman, it is Emily’s father, Chad Lewis, who suffered a Lisfranc foot injury during his career as a two-time NFL Pro Bowler.

The Bushman news is harrowing and he is surely crestfallen over this lamentable twist of fate.

It’s like somebody came in the door and told you someone just sold your beloved Old Yeller.

What now?

Bushman underwent an NFL assessment last winter and decided to return to BYU, put more plays on film and develop his skills and noted weaknesses. There will be no film of 2020 games. Now Bushman must decide if he takes the NCAA up on its new rule to regain his senior year and return, or try again with a review from NFL experts, which, frankly won’t change and now has added more questions because of the injury.

BYU will certainly miss Bushman this season.

But in my opinion, they’ve already missed him too much.

Bushman led BYU in 2017, 2018 and 2019 in receiving yards. He had 47 catches for 688 yards and four touchdowns in 2019.

But BYU could have targeted him so much more. He should have had 70 receptions, at least 800 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019.

He did join Gordon Hudson and Dennis Pitta as the only BYU tight ends with three consecutive 500-yard seasons.

But the Bushman impact could have been much more and 2020 would have been special after all the red-zone work he did with quarterback Zach Wilson in the offseason.

True, he was bracketed and drew the focus of every defensive coordinator he faced, but I really believe he was underutilized. He had more to give, even when playing with injuries and was, perhaps, being protected.

That’s how good he is and why Bushman in 2020 was such an anticipated act.

Not going against Utah, Arizona State, Stanford, Minnesota and Missouri, whose leagues postponed their seasons this fall, there is no question Bushman would have posted the best averages of his college life against Western Kentucky, North Alabama, Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and even Navy and Army in at least an eight-game season, if played.

If only.

On Monday, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said in his 28 years of coaching he’d never seen as many injuries snakebite a team like he’s seen the past year with the Cougars. Last week, transfer running back Hinckley Ropati went down with a reported season-ending knee injury.

Injuries happen. But that Bushman and Ropati never got to play in 2020 is a tragedy, coming a year after BYU lost senior grad transfer Ty’Son Williams to an ACL injury against Washington in Provo. Promising freshman Sione Finau went down with an ACL in November.

Maybe these injuries are unavoidable. Football is a rough game.

I remember promising offensive lineman Ben Archibald breaking his leg in preseason practice in 2002. It cracked like the sound of a busted tree branch and could be heard all over the field. Same thing happened to running back Mike Salido during the Detmer era.

In 2017, tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau suffered a Lisfranc injury before the first game. In 2007, Russell Tialavea tore an ACL in a scrimmage before the season kicked off. In 2018, cornerback Trevion Greene tore his ACL on the second day of fall camp. On the first play of the first scrimmage of fall camp in 2011, running back Iona Pritchard broke his leg and dislocated his ankle. In 2009’s fall game, offensive lineman Matt Reynolds broke his hand and Jason Speredon tore the rotator cuff in his shoulder.

“This is the second in two weeks” said Detmer. “I just talked to Rocky Biegel (former BYU teammate) and he said his son Vince tore his Achilles tendon in the Dolphins’ training camp and this was his contract year, the one where you make your money.

“Two guys I know, how’s that?”

Detmer reminds everyone that NFL cornerback Richard Sherman had the same injury as Bushman and came back just fine the next year.

Bushman will have decisions to make: Come back to BYU, or try his luck again with the NFL as the clock is ticking on his age.

Injuries. But for now, give him his moment.

This past year has made Grimes cross-eyed. It should have the always faithful, upbeat Kalani Sitake puzzled for sure.

For Bushman, the news is not only sad, it is just awful.

Just throw it on the top of the heap of 2020 stories.

The pile is getting higher.