Why this BYU receiver gave up a baseball scholarship to walk on to the Cougars’ football team
Hobbs Nyberg was born, and named, to play baseball, but he switched sports and is now BYU’s primary punt returner heading into the 2021 football season
When your family loves baseball so much that they name you after a fictional character from the beloved movie “The Natural,” leaving the sport for football isn’t easy.
In fact, it could be harder than hitting a 90 mile-per-hour fastball.
When the football team releases its 2021 depth chart on Monday to kick off game week against Arizona (Sept. 4, Las Vegas), Nyberg probably won’t be listed among the top 4-6 receivers, but he performed so well in the recently completed preseason training camp that offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said he “is in the mix.”
Nyberg almost certainly will be listed as the primary punt returner, having taken over the job midway through last season — his first in the program — and returned 10 punts for 58 yards.
“I have been super grateful for the opportunity that football coaches even gave me to be on the team. I am trying to have as much fun as I possibly can and work my hardest and have a fun football career. At the end of the day, I have made really good friends and have a football brotherhood that will last forever.” — Hobbs Nyberg
“He is proving to be a good offensive player. Last year, I didn’t even know who the guy was, and all of a sudden he was in a game catching a punt. And literally, he became our full-time punt returner and did a good job,” Roderick said after last Saturday’s scrimmage.
“And then this spring he started proving to us that he could play receiver and then he had a good scrimmage today. … I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we see him playing in games this year as well as being our punt returner.”
How did it happen?
Nyberg’s father, Brent, was a receiver for BYU in 1989 and 1990 and his brother, Chunner, pitched for the Cougars from 2010-14. Growing up in St. George, where Brent Nyberg is a Realtor and owns an interior design center, Hobbs starred in football and baseball for Dixie High.
“I loved both sports, but I just had a really good (partial scholarship) offer for baseball from BYU, so I couldn’t pass it up,” he said.
An outfielder, Nyberg appeared in 24 games his freshman season (2019) and 10 his sophomore season before COVID-19 cut short that season. He had a .219 batting average his first season and was hitting .227 with a triple and two doubles in 2020 before the pandemic ended everything.
Having attended football games his freshman year, Nyberg says he often found himself in the stands at LaVell Edwards Stadium, wishing he was out there playing football again.
“I wasn’t enjoying baseball as much as I thought I would love it, just from being up here in Provo,” he said. “I loved the baseball team and coaches, but my love for the sport was gone.”
He talked it over with his family, and “knew that I would only get one chance at playing college sports, so I just decided to walk on the football team, and that’s where I am at,” he said.
Nyberg said BYU baseball coaches “seemed a little surprised” when he told them he was moving on, mostly because he had never mentioned the possibility to them before.
Coach Mike Littlewood “took it nicely,” Nyberg said.
“He was really supportive and understanding and said that if that is where my heart was, then he was going to support it,” Nyberg said. “He wished me the best and said he would help me out any way he could.”
Nyberg contacted the football coaches, and they told him they were familiar with his football prowess in high school and invited him to walk on. Nyberg scored 52 touchdowns during his prep career as a receiver and running back. He was the Region 9 MVP in 2017.
At BYU’s football media day in June, receivers Gunner Romney and Neil Pau’u said Nyberg was a player to watch in 2021. And then the scrimmage happened. Nyberg doesn’t know his exact stats, but acknowledges he caught a TD pass from newly named starting quarterback Jaren Hall.
“Yeah, that was super fun,” he said. “I was glad I was able to get in the end zone.”
Of course, games are much different than scrimmages, and Nyberg will have a hard time seeing the field as a receiver with the aforementioned veterans and the Nacua brothers — Samson and Puka — also in the receivers room.
Starting BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar also played for Dixie High and was a childhood friend of Nyberg’s. Wilgar was also once a walk on, so he has made the transition easier.
“He’s one of my best buds,” Nyberg said.
As for his unique first name, that’s not changing just because he’s playing a different sport, Nyberg said, adding that “my parents think it is a cool name and like it too much.”
So Hobbs Nyberg it is — No. 23 on the Cougars’ football roster.
Special teams coach Ed Lamb has said he was a great find as a punt returner.
“I have been super grateful for the opportunity that football coaches even gave me to be on the team,” Nyberg said. “I am trying to have as much fun as I possibly can and work my hardest and have a fun football career. At the end of the day, I have made really good friends and have a football brotherhood that will last forever. But right now I am just living a dream. I feel blessed just to be on the team.”
And there’s nothing fictional about that.