Throughout preseason training camp, BYU coaches have hinted that a few freshmen who were playing high school football a year ago at this time could see some meaningful snaps for the Cougars in 2023.

That is really rare at BYU, especially in the skill positions.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if (Jackson Bowers) is a factor this season. Just how quickly we can bring him along, we will see. But talent-wise, he has a lot of ability and I expect him to have a great career here.” — BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick

But high-profile offensive recruits such as running back LJ Martin, receiver JoJo Phillips, quarterback Ryder Burton and tight end Jackson Bowers have turned some heads the past three weeks, and could see the field if top-line players falter or are injured. Linebacker Siale Esera is a true freshman on the defensive side of the ball, who could also make an immediate impact.

That Bowers is on the list might come as a surprise, to some, considering the depth of a tight ends group headed by 6-foot-6 junior Isaac Rex of San Clemente, California. 

But Bowers himself isn’t shocked. The four-star recruit from Mesa, Arizona, told the Deseret News at photo day that he believes he can contribute his first year in the program.

“My goals for this season are to get out there and make a difference and get my name out there,” he said. “I know there is a lot I can do. I just want to be able to see that happen.”

Last Tuesday, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick outlined the tight end depth chart heading into the opener Sept. 2 against Sam Houston, and Bowers wasn’t exactly near the top. Roderick said SUU transfer Mata’ava Ta’ase — who also played at Mountain View High in Mesa, like Bowers — is TE2 right now.

“You will also see a lot of Ray Paulo and Mason Fakahua. Those guys are both doing a lot of good things,” Roderick said. “And Jackson Bowers is coming on, too. We have Jackson, and Ethan (Erickson) who has played a little bit in the past, and Jackson has a really high ceiling.”

Roderick said Bowers isn’t game-ready yet, but will get there.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he is a factor this season,” Roderick said of the No. 22 tight end prospect in the nation (247sports.com) last year. “Just how quickly we can bring him along, we will see. But talent-wise, he has a lot of ability and I expect him to have a great career here.”

After last Saturday’s scrimmage in which Bowers made a big catch during the media viewing portion of the day, Rex provided a rundown of the tight ends room and mentioned “up-and-coming young guys” such as Bowers and Bentley Redden as players to keep an eye on.

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“There are a lot of guys that are stepping up and doing great,” Rex said.

He also mentioned that Phillips “is going to be a total stud” in the future.

“JoJo is going to be really, really good. Super athletic kid, and he runs great routes. We have a very bright future with these young kids that are coming in,” Rex said.

‘The reason I came here’

Bowers, 6-5, 245, had dozens of offers from Power Five schools before choosing BYU after catching 110 passes for 1,540 yards and 12 touchdowns in high school. He was the AZ Preps Central Region Offensive Player of the Year in 2021.

BYU tight ends coach Steve Clark “is the reason I came here,” he said. “And the love BYU showed me from the beginning was big. Then the NFL — I want to be an NFL tight end, and BYU helps me do that.”

Another highly recruited prep tight end who recently committed to BYU — rising senior Ryner Swanson of Laguna Beach (California) High — told the Deseret News in June that Clark played a big role in his decision as well.

BYU tight ends coach Steve Clark instructs during spring camp in Provo.
BYU tight ends coach Steve Clark instructs during spring camp in Provo. A pair of highly regarded tight ends committed to BYU, in large part, due to the popular coach. | Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

“He’s like one of the greatest guys around here. He’s genuine. You know that he loves you so much. He has passion for everything that he does,” Bowers said. “And then he can make you laugh when he is doing it. He is not like a coach that you hate to show up because he’s there. You are eager to go see him the next day.”

Making mom proud

Bowers arrived in Provo on June 1, and is currently living alone at Timp Towers Apartments in Provo. He had class during the first few practices of fall camp, which set his progress back a bit, he believes.

“Right now I don’t know where I stand (on the depth chart) but I know I have been running with everyone, the ones, the twos, the threes,” he said.

Bowers says he’s handled the physical part of the game fairly well — there haven’t been any “wakeup moments,” in that regard — but the mental side of the game is coming along more slowly.

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“Just intelligence-wise, I need to become smarter in just acquiring the plays,” he said.

He also wants to make his mother, Cyndi Bowers, proud of him.

He was named Jackson Clay Boyd when he was born, but when the stepfather (Mark Bowers) who raised him since he was 5 or 6 adopted him when he was 12, he changed his last name to Bowers so he and his mother could have the same last name.

“She is another big reason I am here,” he said.

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