To say BYU tight end Dallin Holker suffered through a sophomore slump last season is a bit harsh, especially when one considers that the Lehi High product hadn’t played competitive football since his freshman season in 2018.

In reality, it was “Freshman Year, Part II,” for Holker.

“I had to kind of start over again,” he said.

That happens all the time for returned missionaries, who say it takes a good year before they totally regain their legs and playing form after taking two years off from not only football, but good nutritional habits, conditioning, supervised weight lifting and the like.

“Just coming back from a mission, it is just weird getting your body back into it. So really, it just comes with time, just learning little things and getting your body used to it. I finally feel great now, and I am ready for whatever.” — BYU tight end Dallin Holker

Playing behind freshman All-America tight end Isaac Rex in 2021, Holker still caught 14 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown. It is just that expectations were high — probably too high — because he caught 19 passes for 235 yards and a TD in 2018 when he was Matt Bushman’s backup and a true freshman.

“Just coming back from a mission, it is just weird getting your body back into it,” Holker said last week. “So really, it just comes with time, just learning little things and getting your body used to it. I finally feel great now, and I am ready for whatever.”

“Whatever” could be a much bigger role, especially if Rex can’t return from a pilon fracture — a break of the shinbone (tibia) near the ankle, as was reported by the Deseret News last week. Columnist Dick Harmon reported that Rex fully expects to be 100% ready when fall camp opens in August.

We will see. But Holker is a pretty good insurance policy.

Holker made a last-minute decision after his standout freshman season to go on a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was called to serve in Viña del Mar, Chile, and served there until the pandemic hit. He came home for awhile, as most missionaries from the United States did who were serving in foreign countries.

When the pandemic subsided a bit, officials gave missionaries such as Holker the opportunity to remain home and end their missions early, or return to a different location. 

Holker was reassigned to Yakima, Washington, and he decided to complete his service there.

“It was a pretty tough decision,” he told the Deseret News last June. “But I thought about it a lot and prayed and talked to my parents, and I just knew it was the most important thing that I needed to do, to go back and finish.”

Holker showed the Cougars they’d be OK in Rex’s absence when he caught three passes for 56 yards in the 35-31 win over USC after Rex suffered the devastating injury against the Trojans on Nov. 28. It was a breakout game after he had caught only three passes in the previous five games. 

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said a few weeks ago that Holker “knows what he is doing now” after having been thrust into action quickly last fall.

“He doesn’t have to think about it. He is just playing ball (in spring camp),” Roderick said. “Last year, we probably put too much on his plate earlier in the year. He made some huge plays in the Utah game, and the Arizona State game, but I think about midseason it kinda piled up on him. We gave him a little too much.”

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In the first week of spring camp, it was evident that Holker is a different man, and not just because he changed his jersey number from No. 32 to No. 5, which is what he wore in high school and because “three plus two equals five,” he said.

“This year, physically and mentally, he is ready for it,” Roderick said. “He has been home long enough now. He is one of our best players. You are going to see a lot of him this year.”

With or without Rex in there. 

“Dallin Holker looks really good out there,” head coach Kalani Sitake said after the fourth spring practice.

Holker, who is listed at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds on BYU’s current spring roster, says he gained 15 pounds since last season ended and is bigger than that.

“I eat as much food as I can,” he said. “I ate so much that I would feel like I was going to throw up, but I had to keep pounding another plate of food.”

Holker said he is constantly calculating his body fat to ensure that he’s putting on “good weight and not bad weight.” He said coaches want him to get heavier, but not at the expense of speed and agility.

“It is hard to come back from a mission and put on all that weight at once,” he said. “It is not always the healthiest thing to do.”

Holker figures he has two more seasons of eligibility remaining (three if he wants to take the “extra year” due to COVID disrupting the 2020 season) and but will pursue the NFL “whenever that opportunity presents itself.”

“With my age and all that, there is a lot to think about,” said the physical education major who wants to be a PE teacher or a coach, “something like that,” if professional football doesn’t work out.

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Holker said fellow tight ends Ethan Erickson and Lane Lunt have shown well in camp as Rex and Carter Wheat have been sidelined, along with fullback/tight end Masen Wake. He said Stanford transfer Houston Heimuli “is really impressive and will be good for us, too.”

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“It is a really deep tight ends room,” Holker said. “We are young, but we are out here learning and working hard. So it is nice.”

Coincidentally, Holker is dating BYU track star Taye Raymond, a long jumper from Orem who is the sister of former Utah State tight end Dax Raymond, who was most recently with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“Life is good right now,” he said. The year after his mission is in the books.

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