No one is more eager to run onto the field Saturday night at Allegiant Stadium against Notre Dame than BYU’s Gunner Romney. The senior receiver returns to Las Vegas happy and healthy, which is a far cry from where he has been lately, or where he was an unlucky 13 months ago.
“It’s fun to go out there and play on this stage against them,” Romney said. “It’s something I see as a get-back game after what happened to me last year in Allegiant Stadium.”
“It’s fun to go out there and play on this stage against them. It’s something I see as a get-back game after what happened to me last year in Allegiant Stadium.” — BYU receiver Gunner Romney
BYU opened the 2021 season with a win against Arizona, but on the Cougars’ second possession Romney went down with a knee injury. He walked off the field on crutches wondering what was ahead as team doctors feared for the worst.
The thing with Romney is nothing seems to keep him down, at least not permanently. After further examination, his knee was hurt, but it wasn’t so serious that he couldn’t play.
One week later, Romney stood in the end zone with his hands in the air after catching a touchdown pass against rival Utah. While the bum knee gave him problems throughout the season, and kept him out of three games, it did not stop him from catching 34 passes for 594 yards and three touchdowns.
Watching his friend and former teammate Dax Milne succeed in the NFL was tempting for Romney to forego his senior year and declare for the draft. But on Jan. 5, he told the Deseret News that he was coming back with three specific goals in mind: play a full season healthy, become more explosive after the catch, and graduate with his economics degree.
Everything was going as planned until the second day of fall camp on Aug. 6 when he stretched out to make a difficult catch.
“I caught the ball, pulled it in and landed on my kidney,” Romney said. “It kind of knocked the wind out of me a little bit, but nothing felt out of the ordinary.”
Things dramatically changed two hours later.
“I was in excruciating pain on my right side and started bleeding,” he said. “I went to my trainers and went and did some blood tests. When the results came back, they sent me to the emergency room at Utah Valley Hospital.”
Expecting to stay an hour or two, Romney was checked into a room where he was treated for a lacerated kidney.
“I had no idea what that meant or what the consequences were going to be” he said. “Neither did they (medical staff). Everything was up in the air.”
With his wife Sadie glued to his side and sleeping each night on the small couch next to his bed, the young couple spent the next eight days in the hospital praying for the bleeding to stop.
It did. His urine finally cleared and surgery was avoided. But the slow healing process remained taxing. Not only did his body need to mend, but it also had to recover from a week of being fed intravenously. The player who so proudly wears the No. 18 jersey lost 18 pounds in the process.
“This was an especially frustrating injury because after a week or two, I had no more pain in my kidney, but I had to wait,” Romney said. “You can’t push it because it’s a serious life-threatening injury.”
On Monday, Sept. 24, eight weeks after the injury, Romney received the green light to return to football and it didn’t take offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick long to get him into the game plan.
“Coach Roderick came up to me and said we are going to take a shot on the first play of the game,” Romney said. “As soon as we started that play I saw the safety roll down with (Brayden) Cosper going on a middle reader, so it was one-on-one out there and I knew the ball was coming to me.”
Romney stretched out and pulled in Jaren Hall’s pass for 34 yards before tumbling to the ground for the first time since the play in practice that sent him to the hospital.
Getting a boost from the crowd’s thunderous roar, Romney leaped to his feet and screamed the kind of scream a healed-up kidney could be proud of — and withstand.
“It was a lot of pent-up emotion,” he said. “It’s been a super emotional couple of weeks. Sitting on the sidelines is one of the most frustrating things for me. Finally, to be able to go in and play, with all those emotions coming back, it was awesome. I was also frustrated for not breaking the tackle at the end of the catch.”
Romney’s goals for his final season at BYU remain intact, with a couple of minor adjustments. Instead of a full season, he has nine games (including Utah State and a bowl game) to show NFL scouts that he can play and stay healthy. Along the way, he will have plenty of chances to be explosive and extend plays with his legs, and he graduates in December.
In addition, if there was ever a game that could make up for his absence from the first four — it is this one against Notre Dame and the moment is not lost on the young man who just weeks ago wondered if he would play again. Could there possibly be a bigger moment?
“I don’t think so,” Romney said. “Being able to come back on this stage and play against such a fabled Notre Dame team, I see this as a huge opportunity and probably the biggest one of my career so far.”
More on Gunner
You can see Dave McCann’s interview with Gunner Romney Saturday at 3:30 p.m. MDT on “BYU Sports Nation GameDay” on BYUtv.
Romney is due for some good luck and every so often, Las Vegas rewards an out-of-towner with a jackpot. Forgive him if he seems to be in a hurry to take the field, as he told the Deseret News back on Jan. 5, “That one at Allegiant is one I can hardly wait for.”
The wait, that included a long road back to good health, both in his knee and in his kidney, is just about over. Somebody ring that opening bell, Romney is ready to rumble.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.
Cougars on the air
No. 16 BYU (4-1)
vs. Notre Dame (2-2)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MDT
Las Vegas, Nevada
Radio: KSL NewsRadio 102.7 FM/1160 AM