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BYU tight end Matt Bushman says he will decide after Hawaii Bowl if he will forgo senior season for the NFL draft

Cougars’ three-year starter is undecided as BYU prepares to face Hawaii on Christmas Eve, says he’s leaning on the advice of coaches and his father-in-law, former BYU and NFL star Chad Lewis

BYU tight end Matt Bushman heads up the field after making a catch during the game against Fresno State in Fresno, California, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017.
BYU tight end Matt Bushman heads up the field after making a catch during the game against Fresno State in Fresno, California, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017.
Courtesy BYU Photo

PROVO — As one of two underclassmen on BYU’s 2019 football team with a decent chance of being selected if he declares for the 2020 NFL draft next April, tight end Matt Bushman has a valuable resource that many in his position don’t have.

The 24-year-old junior’s father-in-law is former BYU and Philadelphia Eagles star tight end Chad Lewis, who has been there, done that.

“He knows the process of college football and the NFL, so it is always good to throw questions at him and get feedback, just to have everything possible in mind when that decision is necessary,” said Bushman, who in 2018 married Lewis’ daughter, Emily, a BYU volleyball player and also daughter of former BYU All-American volleyball player Michele Fellows Lewis.

The deadline to make the decision he called “difficult” is approaching quickly, but Bushman said Wednesday he won’t make it until after BYU’s meeting with Hawaii (9-5) in the SoFi Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve (6 p.m. MST, ESPN) at Aloha Stadium. He said he’s not leaning in any direction.

“I am still being pretty neutral about everything,” said Bushman, who leads BYU in receiving yards, with 597. “Health is the biggest factor, and you just never know with that. Anything could happen in a practice, or a game. That’s probably the biggest thing. I am just praying with my family, with my wife, making sure everything is right. Whatever is right is right. … But nothing is definite; I don’t have anything set in stone.”

Collegiate underclassmen who have been out of high school for at three years are draft-eligible and have until Jan. 17 to announce their intentions. Having served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Santiago, Chile, and having starred for the Cougars the past three seasons, Bushman is obviously a prime candidate to turn pro early if there ever was one.

“I just feel blessed for the situation I am in,” he said.

BYU’s other possible early-entry into the draft is junior defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga, who also served a mission, to Wichita, Kansas. Tonga has said he almost certainly will forgo his senior season and enter the draft, which is April 23-25 in Las Vegas.

Bushman acknowledged his age, 24, will have to be considered.

“I mean, some people say (age) is a factor,” he said “Other people say it is not. You see a guy like Taysom (Hill), with season-ending injuries, and he was 26 (when he left BYU), and he is doing great right now. Yeah, it is hard to know if it is a factor or not.”

Brigham Young Cougars tight end Matt Bushman (89) avoids the tackle by Liberty Flames safety Isaac Steele (13) and scores a touchdown as BYU and Liberty play an NCAA football game in Provo, Utah on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.
Brigham Young Cougars tight end Matt Bushman (89) avoids the tackle by Liberty Flames safety Isaac Steele (13) and scores a touchdown as BYU and Liberty play an NCAA football game in Provo, Utah on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Head coach Kalani Sitake said last summer that early-entry decisions “will always be based on what’s best for the players and what gives them the most opportunity to have success.”

Tight ends coach Steve Clark said he’s had several discussions with Bushman about leaving early or returning, but mostly just acts as a sounding board for the former freshman All-American.

“I am kind of in a difficult spot,” Clark said. “Because if I say ‘hey, you need to go’ it makes it look like I don’t want him back. If I say ‘you need to stay’ it makes me look selfish. He knows that I love him like a son, and whatever he decides is good. I will support him 100 percent.”

The draft-based website Walterfootball.com lists Bushman as the fourth-best tight end prospect in the draft, projecting him to go in rounds 3-5. Tony Pauline of the website Profootballnetwork.com wrote in October that Bushman was “leaning towards entering the NFL draft … with a few people telling me they are confident he will be playing in the NFL in 2020.”

Bushman was one of eight finalists for the John Mackey Award (most outstanding tight end), but did not make the final three. Florida Atlantic senior Harrison Bryant won the award, while sophomores Hunter Bryant of Washington and Brevin Jordan of Miami were the other semifinalists.

Washington’s Bryant has already said he’s coming out, along with fellow underclassmen TEs Kyle Markway of South Carolina and Albert Okwuegbunam of Missouri. Two other top tight ends — Penn State sophomore Pat Freiermuth and Notre Dame junior Cole Kmet, have said they are returning to school in 2020.

Brigham Young Cougars tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau (17) celebrates a touchdown as BYU and Liberty play an NCAA football game in Provo, Utah on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. BYU won 31-24.
Brigham Young Cougars tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau (17) celebrates a touchdown as BYU and Liberty play an NCAA football game in Provo, Utah on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. BYU won 31-24.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

BYU will surely lose its other main tight end in 2019, senior Moroni Laulu-Pututau, whom Clark says hasn’t been completely healthy all season while trying to return from an ACL injury sustained in September of 2018 against Washington.

“He hasn’t been even 70 percent,” Clark said. “We have used him as much as we could, but he can’t go back-to-back days or even back-to-back weeks taking the pounding on it. It is too bad — if he had a redshirt year left we would redshirt him. But we don’t, so we are just careful.”

Clark said the tight ends who will return next year are talented, but lack experience as Bushman has caught 119 passes for 1,628 yards and nine touchdowns in his three-year career to date.

Candidates to replace him, if he leaves, include freshmen Isaac Rex, Carter Wheat, Hank Tuipulotu (injured in 2019) and sophomores Alema Pilimai and Nate Heaps. Another freshman, walk-on Masen Wake, is listed as a tight end but has earned valuable playing time in the hybrid fullback/h-back position in coordinator Jeff Grimes’ offense.

Cougars on the air

SoFi Hawaii Bowl

BYU (7-5)

vs. Hawaii (9-5)

At Aloha Stadium, Honolulu

Dec. 24, 6 p.m. MST

TV: ESPN

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM