Hobbs Nyberg wants a chance to do big things.

He’d like to keep up his trajectory as an up-and-coming punt returner for BYU. But he would also like to move into the regular rotation or see more playing time in Fesi Sitake’s receiving corps. He can play all the positions, although he’s more suited to play the slot. With Kody Epps, the Cougars’ leading receiver from last year, sidelined for spring ball while recovering from a shoulder injury, Nyberg is getting a good opportunity to show what he can do.

Nyberg has 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash and has the quick moves needed to flip the field on punt returns. Last season he didn’t qualify for enough attempts to rank in the NCAA punt return statistics with just nine, but if he’d had the minimum of 11 and kept his average return yardages, he would have ranked No. 6 in the nation at 12.7 yards per attempt. Oregon State’s Anthony Gould ranked No. 1 with 14 attempts and an average of 18.3.

“Dang, I didn’t know that. I wish I’d had a few more,” said Nyberg last Friday after practice.

Nyberg is a legacy player for the Cougars. His father Brent was a wide receiver who played with Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer in the late ’80s. “Brent was a fast, take-the-top-off receiver,” said Detmer. “He was a tough, physical receiver as well.”

Nyberg is pushing for time with veterans Chase Roberts and Keanu Hill this spring. He is in a group that includes freshman Utah high school sprint champion Parker Kingston, and Dom Henry, an impressive freshman from St. Augustine, Florida.

Others looking to bust out include Kyson Hall, brother of former quarterback Jaren Hall, Alex Anderson, Gunther Talmage, Tanner Holden, Koa Eldredge, Devin Downing and Kade Moore.

With all these bodies, Sitake and offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick are looking close and hard to see who rises up. If they believe a group will be Big 12-ready, they’ll stick with the roster. If not, they are not afraid to bring in a transfer portal player or two and have let the receivers room know it.

Another key is if Epps is ready to play this fall. He is expected to be recovered by fall camp in August.

Nyberg is kind of an adrenalin junkie. You have to be to return punts.

Focusing on the ball in the air with tacklers running full speed toward you, trying to time a collision within a split second of when it’s legal to play smash the little guy. That’s the life of a returner.

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“Oh, I love it. Just the adrenaline, the pressure, a close game, hearing the crowd in a close game and feeling the pressure, having the chance to do something exciting and get momentum for the offense to go down and score.” 

That’s the appeal, he explained.

Nyberg said he’s been with the second team for two years and he’s working hard to make it up to the first. “I just want to climb up the depth chart and get more reps.”

Nyberg said his work is cut out for him because he sees plenty of talent in the receivers room. “Just like last year we showed we had more depth than just the starters.”

Indeed, if you look back at last year, an eight-win season, two of the best receivers were injured for a good chunk of the season. Gunner Romney missed most of the season and Puka Nacua missed significant playing time due to an ankle injury. At the end, Epps went down.

Depth is a real thing and Nyberg knows it. Everyone has to be prepared when their number is called.

The new QB1 is USC/Pitt transfer Kedon Slovis. After the first day of spring drills last week, Slovis told reporters that BYU’s receivers knew the offense better than any other group he’d played with in his career.

Nyberg returns the compliment.

“I love him so far. Catching his ball is really nice. Having Jaren last year, he fit the ball in there all the time. Now, having Slovis, you can tell he has a lot of experience playing quarterback and is a veteran and is a good leader. 

“He’s picked up the offense really quickly. He and Jake (Retzlaff) — I thought it would take more time to pick things up coming from the outside, but they have come in and picked it up really fast. I’m very impressed with Slovis.”

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Epps and Nyberg could end up being the main guys playing slot. It remains to be seen who will be running the jet sweep utilized so effectively the past few years under Roderick. He utilized Aleva Hifo and Nacua as well as Romney with that play. It takes speed and toughness, both of which Nyberg has proven he has plenty of over the years.

Regardless of how it shakes out as far as who starts and who doesn’t, history shows BYU goes through receivers because of their physical play.

Nyberg says he will be ready if the call comes.

Pass the adrenaline rush.

BYU’s Hobbs Nyberg fields a punt during game against Wyoming Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Provo, Utah. Nyberg likes the thrill of returning punts but would like to play a bigger role on the offense as the Cougars prepare for life in the Big 12. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
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