Isaac Rex is returning for BYU’s entry to the Big 12 Conference. 

The BYU tight end is one loyal warrior amid the whirlwind that is the transfer portal and NIL dough.

Rex announced recently that he plans on returning for his senior season and play in Aaron Roderick’s offense for position coach Steve Clark. He made the announcement not knowing who his quarterback would be.

Rex decided to return despite a meager 22 catches for 320 yards and six touchdowns this season. In his career, he’s had 78 catches for 963 yards. He really should have that many catches and yards in one season. Perhaps BYU can reward him with just that in 2023.

He decided he still had work to do, that there was fun to be had, that playing in the Big 12 was a challenge worth facing. He has tremendous hands, decent speed, elite size and is an effective blocker. 

Now, of course, Rex may have had few choices after a year of rehab and his numbers weren’t lofty, but Rex is Rex and he’s a valuable asset for Roderick and company.

Rex is my hero of the month right now because he’s been through war. 

“In a world that is so quick to move on to the next thing, it is great to see someone finish what they started,” said former BYU quarterback Riley Nelson, now a KSL NewsRadio color commentator for football game coverage.

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“Especially,” said Nelson, “where circumstances will be noticeably more challenging. The example this sets for the rest of the roster and culture of the program is exactly what is needed. I can’t see how a move like this doesn’t significantly improve his prospects at the next level.” 

Ever since Rex broke his ankle trying to haul down a touchdown pass at USC in 2021 he’s been a rehab regular. His subsequent surgery resulted in plates and screws inserted into his leg. It hurt. It made it stiff. It hindered his ability to run, to jump, to make moves. In the New Mexico Bowl’s sub-freezing temperatures, the hardware in his leg had to have felt uncomfortable, flaring up pain and extra stiffness.

Yet he made big plays in that win over Southern Methodist.

And he’s going to return for more in 2023.

What is that more all about?

Well, if you take a look at the career touchdown list at BYU by tight ends, it is a list of myriad All-Americans, iconic players whose names have been attached to some of the biggest seasons and games in school history. Many have had storied NFL careers.

Rex can surpass them all in career touchdowns.

If he does that, a task he can accomplish with two touchdown catches in 2023, he will surpass tight ends targeted by some of college football’s quarterback legends, QBs who have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. 

BYU’s TDs leader among tight ends is the late All-American Gordon Hudson (22), who made a career of running a button hook route for Hall of Famer and Super Bowl MVP Steve Young.

Here are the career TD totals of some of the best BYU tight ends in history, beginning with that double threat of the 1996 Cotton Bowl team, Chad Lewis (10) and Itula Mili (11). Both had long NFL careers.

Rex is currently tied with former Baltimore Ravens player Dennis Pitta (21), a tight end who made a career catching passes from his brother-in-law Max Hall.

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Clay Brown, the hero of the 1980 Holiday Bowl win over SMU with his game-winning Hail Mary catch of a pass from Jim McMahon, had 17 career touchdowns. McMahon loved hitting Brown through his career.

Jonny Harline, who caught the game-winning TD pass from John Beck to beat Utah with no time left in 2006 in Rice-Eccles Stadium, had 17 career TDs.

Tod Thompson, a tight end who played with Gifford Nielsen, McMahon and Marc Wilson in the late-’70s, caught 15 touchdowns in the Doug Scovil offense.

Andrew George and Doug Jolley, both athletic targets, each had 11 career TDs. Matt Bushman and David Miles each finished with nine. Chris Smith, an All-American playing at BYU, set an NCAA record for yards by a tight end and had eight career touchdowns as a target by Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer.

BYU Cougars tight end Isaac Rex (83) dives for a touchdown during the game against the Utah Tech Trailblazers at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.
BYU tight end Isaac Rex dives for a touchdown during the game against the Utah Tech Trailblazers at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
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