If it takes five receivers to fill the void left by the departed Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney — so be it. BYU passing game coordinator and receivers coach Fesi Sitake believes he has the young men to meet the task.

Returners Keanu Hill, Kody Epps and Chase Roberts along with newcomers Darius Lassiter and Keelan Marion give Sitake a deep five-man rotation full of size, speed and experience. Add 6-foot-6 tight end Isaac Rex to the mix and BYU has a formidable force heading down the field.

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“I feel a lot better. You will always feel better as you add pieces to the (receivers) room that you think can have an impact,” Sitake said on the “Y’s Guys” podcast. “I felt great about our room before we added a couple transfers, but I feel even better now because depth is always going to make you feel better. I don’t know who fits where exactly, we still have fall camp ahead of us, but I love the make up of our room right now.”

Sitake said the team will report at the end of next month to begin fall camp leading into its first year in the Big 12. In addition to a supporting cast of receivers that includes Parker Kingston, Dom Henry, Hobbs Nyberg, Talmage Gunther, Devin Downing and others, the big five appear primed to carry the load.

BYU Cougars wide receiver Keanu Hill (1) runs after a catch in Provo on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Fesi Sitake on Keanu Hill

When Sitake recruited Hill to Provo he wasn’t sure what the future held for the 6-4, 215-pound under-the-radar Texas product. He just knew he was going to be good — and big.

“I didn’t put it out of the realm that he could be an outside linebacker for us,” Sitake said. “He’s got great genes. You could tell he was going to get big, and we have had to manage his weight a little bit.”

Hill’s father Lloyd was a receiver at Texas Tech and is in the Red Raiders Hall of Fame. BYU hosts Texas Tech on Oct. 21. His uncle Roy Williams caught passes at Texas and is enshrined in the Longhorns Hall of Honor. Hill and the Cougars play at Texas a week later on Oct. 28.

“He’s lucky to have those guys and he uses them,” Sitake said. “He doesn’t take it for granted. Keanu is an unbelievable young man. He is very selfless, and he’s earned the right to be where he is right now.”

Hill caught 36 passes for 572 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He will be called on to do much more in the Big 12.

“I think fans are going to see what they have already seen, but even at a higher level — making big plays, bringing a personality and a dynamic of toughness, blocking down field and making the big catches in the big moments,” Sitake said. “He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever coached.”

Fesi Sitake on Kody Epps

Epps provided high drama both on and off the field over the last nine months. As a freshman, the 5-10, 187-pound speedster lit up Notre Dame for 100 yards and two touchdowns on just four receptions. However, a shoulder injury at Liberty ended his season and kept him out during spring practice.

Hours before the transfer portal window closed on April 30, Epps shocked the team by submitting his name, only to withdraw it a few days later.

“Look no further than that to explain the portal and how it’s been,” Sitake said. “That hit home the message more than ever that the most important recruiting you have to do as coaches in this day and age is your own room.”

Life is good for Epps. The injury is behind him, and his future is taking shape with admittance last week into BYU’s prestigious MBA program. 

“He looks great. Some NCAA rule changes allow us to see these guys a little bit in the summer,” Sitake said. “He’s 100% and ready to roll. He looks like he never got hurt. He is a great leader and has such a high football IQ. Kody is a great ambassador for our program.”

BYU wide receiver Chase Roberts runs after a catch against Oregon at Autzen Stadium in Eugene on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
BYU Cougars wide receiver Chase Roberts (27) runs after a catch at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Fesi Sitake on Chase Roberts

At 6-4 and 210 pounds, sophomore Roberts brings the skills more commonly found in a smaller target, but in a big man’s frame.

“He has that rare combination of size and not just speed, but fluidity and wiggle,” Sitake said. “When he closes cushion and gives a little shake, he does it like a lot of your 5-9 or 5-10 guys. That’s a rare combination. So, he can play in the slot, you can give him a jet sweep and you can put him on the outside.”

Roberts caught 22 passes last season for 357 yards and three touchdowns. His biggest moment came against No. 9 Baylor where he wowed the crowd with eight receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown catch, as well as a touchdown pass to quarterback Jaren Hall.

“Chase has a really bright future and will have the chance to play football for a long time,” Sitake said. “He’s just a really good athlete.”

Fesi Sitake on Darius Lassiter

Lassiter, an Eastern Michigan transfer, may be new to BYU, but he is an old soul when it comes to football. His late father Kwamie played in the NFL for 10 years and he has older brothers playing for the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas Jayhawks.

“He’s got great length, huge hands, is super fluid and has big game experience,” Sitake said of the 6-3, 200-pound weapon that brings two years of eligibility to Provo. “I won’t dip into the transfer portal unless it is for someone that I think can have an impact and do some great things here. There are still some practices that must take place, but there is no question I have high hopes for Darius.”

It’s quite possible that Lassiter will line up opposite his brother Kwinton, a senior defensive back at Kansas, during BYU’s Big 12 opener in Lawrence, Kansas, on Sept. 23.

Fesi Sitake on Keelon Marion

Sitake loves when his receivers split time in high school playing basketball, and that’s why Marion, a transfer from UConn, is so high on his list.

“There is a higher understanding of spatial awareness, how to close the cushion and attack a guy,” Sitake said. “You can see (his basketball skills) in the way he plays (football). He’s very agile, fluid, natural, with a good burst and an understanding of the position and attacking leverage.”

Marion is 6-0 and weighs 200 pounds. He comes to Provo with three years of eligibility, and he reminds Sitake of the playmaker (Nacua) that he just sent to the Rams in the NFL draft.

“He has a little bit of what Puka has when you put the ball in his hands. He just has a natural ability to make people miss and he can make the big play, too,” he said. “It’s crazy, he’s 6-feet tall but plays like he’s 6-4 of 6-5. He goes up and gets it. I think he’s going to do a great job.”

BYU quarterback Kedon Solvis looks to make a pass during opening day of BYU spring football camp.
BYU quarterback Kedon Solvis looks to make a pass during opening day of BYU spring football camp at the BYU Indoor Practice Facility in Provo, on Monday, March 6, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Fesi Sitake on Kedon Slovis

Sitake’s job is to mold the receiver room into an outfit of pass catching phenoms. So, his interest in the quarterback position is obvious and he likes what he sees from Pittsburgh transfer Kedon Slovis.

“He’s a natural fit here. You would think he served a mission and grew up in Utah. He is so comfortable in his own skin,” Sitake said. “He has an elite arm. My expectations are that he is going to be a great leader. He is going to fight in every single game. We’ll see what that equates to, but I’m grateful he is our quarterback.”

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Slovis only has one year of eligibility, but Sitake believes his impact on the program will last for years to come.

“Add him to the list of guys who we can use as a reference point in recruiting for others who may question ‘How is it here if I’m from a different state? Or, if I’m not LDS?’” Sitake said. “He’s been other places and he’s seen a lot of coaches. He loves being here.”

Fesi Sitake and Aaron Roderick

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick recruited and signed Sitake out of Hillcrest High School in Sandy to catch passes at Southern Utah. Roderick left for the University of Utah after Sitake’s freshman season, but their shared ideology for offense never separated.

“We have the same offensive beliefs and styles,” Sitake said. “He’s been awesome. He has given me autonomy in the passing game and a lot of freedom.”

During a typical game week, Sitake and Roderick meet on Monday to identify the base game plan for the upcoming opponent and then build on it throughout the week. 

“I’ll present the passes and concepts that I like and what I see defensively from the opponent,” Sitake said. “He obviously has his ideas, and we collaborate and nail down what the passing game is going to look like.”

During the game, the two coaches keep an open dialogue with Roderick up in the coaches’ box and Sitake on the field. The two share an exclusive radio channel and discuss the plan of attack between drives and during timeouts. They meet face to face to discuss adjustments during halftime.

“I don’t remember a time when I’ve said, ‘Hey, this looks really good or how about this play’ where he hasn’t implemented it or called the play,” Sitake said. “He’s just super open-minded. It’s one of the joys of working with him.”

BYU passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake, talks with defensive coordinator Jay Hill and head coach Kalani Sitake during practice.
BYU passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake, left, talks with defensive coordinator Jay Hill, center, and head coach Kalani Sitake during practice on March 21, 2023. | Nate Edwards, BYU photo

Two Sitakes are better than one

Fesi and BYU head coach Kalani Sitake are cousins but grew up as brothers.  

“I didn’t know he wasn’t my actual blood brother until later. I just figured he was,” Fesi said. “When the news was broken to me, I was a mess. I thought, ‘No! I just have four sisters? I don’t have any brothers?’ Then Kalani said, ‘No, we are brothers.’”

A series of circumstances brought the boys under the same roof when Kalani’s parents divorced, and his mom left. Fesi’s parents, Manisela and Lynnette, offered a refuge for Kalani and his siblings and raised them as co-parents with Kalani’s father Tom.

Several years later, Fesi lost his mom to an illness, and it was a teenage Kalani who returned the same comfort that his aunt had provided him.

“I don’t remember a lot about the funeral. It was a blur to me,” Fesi said. “All I remember about the whole event was him (Kalani) having his arm around me and while standing there looking at my mom, he said, ‘I love you bro, everything is going to be OK.’”

Fesi joined Kalani’s staff in 2018 and the pair of brotherly cousins will march into their next challenge together this fall in the Big 12.