In a world of “grab what you can as fast as you can,” BYU junior receiver Gunner Romney is pushing the pause button. His dreams of playing in the NFL are as vivid as ever, but reality screams that he’s not ready — and the economics major is smart enough to listen.
“I’m coming back to BYU for another year,” Romney told the Deseret News. “I felt it was the best decision for me overall. It’s not just a football decision, it’s a life decision. My dream to play in the NFL will still be there next year.”
Five key pieces of the Cougars’ offense will not return next fall. Backup quarterback Baylor Romney, running back Tyler Allgeier, center James Empey and receivers Neil Pau’u and Samson Nacua have all either declared for the draft or completed their eligibility.
Romney caught 34 passes for 594 yards and three touchdowns during the Cougars’ 10-3 season. Barring any additions from the transfer portal, he will return as the only senior in the receiving corps — a group that is robust with talent, including Puka Nacua, Keanu Hill, Chase Roberts and others.
“I love the ‘dog’ in that receiving group,” Romney said. “I feel like no one here is afraid of competition. No one is afraid to get their hands dirty. That’s something that stuck out from last year. Those guys won’t back down from anyone.”
Romney has three major objectives to accomplish at BYU this fall.
“My No. 1 goal is to play a full season healthy,” he said. “Last year I had a couple of unfortunate injuries. I want to get my body strong and as healthy as possible going into the season. That’s the biggest knock on me — I haven’t stayed healthy.”
A dose of bad luck was waiting for Romney during the season opener in Las Vegas. While blocking downfield for Allgeier, he suffered a sprained MCL when a defender rolled up against the back of his left knee.
For a moment, team doctors thought Romney’s season was over. But after further evaluation, the injury proved to be much less severe. In a display of grit and determination, Romney, who was on crutches for three days, suited up the following weekend and caught a touchdown pass in BYU’s 26-17 win over No. 18 Utah.
“That is probably the best feeling I’ve ever felt in football,” Romney said. “Winning that game, with the fans storming the field and enjoying it with everybody was an awesome experience.”
Later in the season, against Washington State, Romney was again blocking downfield for Allgeier when another defender hit him from behind on the same left knee, partially tearing his MCL. He sat out the Virginia, Idaho State and USC games but played through the injury at Georgia Southern and in the Independence Bowl.
Romney says he will be full-go for spring practice in early March but forgive him if he doesn’t miss blocking for the departed Allgeier.
“My No. 2 goal is to get more explosive and making bigger plays with my legs when the ball is in my hands,” he said. “Yards-after-catch is my focus in the offseason. I believe those two things can propel me to the next level.”
Romney averaged 17.47 yards per reception last season.
His third goal will be to graduate with a degree in economics in December before he and his wife Sadie leave Provo.
Brother to brother
When Baylor threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Gunner against Utah State in 2019, the two paired up to make history at BYU with the first brother-to-brother touchdown pass. They did it again last season against South Florida.
Baylor fired a perfect strike to Gunner for a 47-yard touchdown in the third quarter that brought LaVell Edwards Stadium fans to their feet and provided a family memory never to be forgotten.
Last week Baylor Romney announced he was moving on from the BYU program. The sophomore entered his name into the transfer portal, but also hinted that he just might be done playing.
“Me and Baylor have been talking a lot lately,” Gunner said. “It was kind of an emotional process as we reminisced over the last four years. But, at the same time, we both had to decide what was best for ourselves. We are brothers and support each other. It was best for him to move on and play somewhere else or be done with football and it was best for me to stay.”
BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake takes great pride in putting players into the NFL. It’s part of his recruiting pitch to a young man who carries that dream. Sitake and his staff also put NFL personnel in front of young players considering the draft. He empowers them with the best information to help facilitate the best decision.
“He gave me comfort,” Romney said. “We talked about it a lot. In fact, I talked with the entire staff. They were all very confident in me. They said ‘It’s your decision. We’ll support you, but we really want you back to be a part of this offense.’”
Romney will return as a top target for junior-to-be quarterback Jaren Hall.
“I think everyone saw what Jaren can do. He is a great athlete who can throw and run. I think he’s going to have a huge breakout season next year,” Romney said. “I believe this team and this offense can be really special. I want to be a part of that next year.”
Dax Milne is among Gunner Romney’s best friends. He left BYU after his breakout junior season in 2020 where he feasted on Zach Wilson’s arm for 70 receptions for 1,118 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Washington Football Team drafted him in the seventh round. Milne not only made the team, but he has held his roster spot throughout the season.
“Seeing him go through that process gave me confidence about playing at the next level,” Romney said. “I know I can do it.”
Milne speaks freely with Romney about the stiff competition and the constant fight to keep his job. He has nine receptions for 83 yards, while WFT starter Terry McLaurin has 73 catches for 960 yards and five touchdowns.
Returning to Vegas
Romney and the Cougars, who are 21-4 over the last two seasons, will face an aggressive fall schedule during the program’s final year as an independent. Power Five opponents Baylor, Oregon, Notre Dame, Arkansas and Stanford highlight a 12-game schedule.
Playing the Irish in Las Vegas on Oct. 8 is a game Romney is most looking forward to. With last year’s date at Allegiant Stadium cut short due to his knee injury, he plans on making up for it with four full quarters against the Notre Dame secondary.
“That game at Allegiant is one I can hardly wait for,” he said.