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‘It is personal for me’: Why BYU receiver Gunner Romney desperately wants to play against ASU

Cougars star says there is a little rivalry between BYU and ASU fans in the Valley of the Sun because there are a lot of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the area

BYU tight end Isaac Rex celebrates his touchdown with BYU wide receiver Gunner Romney in Boca Raton, Florida.
BYU tight end Isaac Rex (83) celebrates his touchdown with Gunner Romney (18) against the UCF Knights during the Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Dozens of BYU football players had Sept. 11, 2021, circled on their calendars last week.

No surprise there. That’s when the Cougars played Utah, and because the Utes had won the last nine rivalry games before BYU broke through with a 26-17 victory, it is understandable it would have some extra juice for the Utes.

For junior receiver Gunner Romney, however, Saturday’s game against Arizona State at LaVell Edwards Stadium (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN) is the one that matters most.

Romney grew up in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, which is just 15 miles from ASU’s campus in Tempe. He basically chose BYU over ASU to end his recruitment, which included some of the top programs in the West.

“I am excited for them to come up here (to Provo) and compete against those dudes,” Romney said Wednesday night in a Zoom meeting with reporters. “It is personal for me. I lived 10 or 15 minutes away from ASU.”

Romney’s former coach at Chandler High, Shaun Aguano, is now ASU’s running backs coach, having signed on in January 2019.

“I am excited to play them,” Romney said. “It will be fun. … I got a couple old teammates, and a couple of guys I played against in high school that play for them.”

Romney committed to BYU in July 2017, but when the Cougars fired offensive coordinator Ty Detmer after a 4-9 season, he reopened his recruitment to consider ASU under coach Herm Edwards.

It appeared that BYU would lose the member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Sun Devils, but new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes stepped in and lured Romney back to Provo.

It helped BYU that Romney’s brother, Baylor, had returned from a church mission and walked on at BYU, and the brothers had a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing together. Since then, the Cougars have signed a third brother — linebacker Tate Romney — who is now on a mission.

Because of the heavy presence of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Valley of the Sun, Gunner Romney said a little bit of a rivalry exists between BYU and ASU fans there, even if Saturday’s meeting will be the first between the former WAC foes since 1998.

“So for sure there is a little bit of a conflict,” Romney said. “I wouldn’t say it is a rivalry, but there are a lot of people that are kind of torn about this game. There are a lot of families that might be split.”

Third-string BYU quarterback Jacob Conover and backup kicker Cash Peterman are also from Chandler. Cougars defensive back Dean Jones is from Queen Creek, Arizona, and tight end Lane Lunt is from Pima and played at Eastern Arizona College. Tight end Carter Wheat is from Mesa’s Red Mountain High.

BYU defensive back Micah Harper played at Basha High School in Chandler, but he suffered an ACL injury in spring camp and most likely won’t play this season.

As for Gunner Romney’s condition, he said he’s improving after tweaking his knee in the 24-16 win over Arizona on Sept. 4. Romney started against Utah, after being declared “doubtful” to play by head coach Kalani Sitake, and caught a touchdown pass in the breakthrough win.

“It is good,” Romney said of his left knee. “After I got my MRI last week, there was really no structural damage to it, so it is really about dealing with the pain. It gets better every single day. I felt good in the Utah game. Just a little pain this week but I am good. I will be even better this (Saturday).”