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BYU’s departing senior receivers finished their Cougar careers strong. Who will replace them?

Pass-catchers Aleva Hifo, Micah Simon and Talon Shumway will suit up for the Cougars for the last time Tuesday in the Hawaii Bowl. Coaches say returnees such as Gunner Romney, Dax Milne and Keanu Hill will fill the void, bolstered by some new recruits

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Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Aleva Hifo (15) trots through the end zone after scoring during the second half of an NCAA football game at The Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

Colter Peterson, Deseret News

HONOLULU — Talon Shumway graduates from BYU this month with a degree in exercise science and plans to apply to medical school, while Aleva Hifo and Micah Simon will train for pro day in March with the hopes of catching the eye of an NFL team.

If pro football isn’t in his future, Simon says he might return to BYU to get his master’s degree and become a graduate assistant football coach, having graduated last April. Hifo will try to remain in the sport at some level as long as he can.

“They will leave big shoes to fill.” — BYU receivers coach Fesi Sitake, on the senior receivers

Although the futures of BYU’s dynamic trio of senior receivers aren’t crystal clear, what is certain is that all three will be playing their final games in a Cougars uniform on Tuesday when BYU (7-5) meets Hawaii (9-5) in the SoFi Hawaii Bowl (6 p.m. MST, ESPN) at Aloha Stadium.

This also in: They will be sorely missed next season.

“That’s the core of our group,” receivers coach Fesi Sitake said. “They are the leaders. They lead vocally and they lead by example with their work ethic and their production. They lead in every single way. They will leave big shoes to fill.”

Simon, Shumway and Hifo have accounted for nearly 45 percent of BYU’s receiving yards this season, 1,538, and 46 percent of its receptions. 

“The receivers room is fully aware of the production we are going to lose and the leadership we are going to miss,” Sitake said. “But I think it is that much more motivation for the guys who are staying with us, and the guys we are bringing in, to step up and fill those roles.”

If junior tight end Matt Bushman decides to forgo his senior season and enter April’s NFL draft, as many expect he will do, BYU will lose its top four pass-catchers. Simon leads the team in receptions, with 46, while Bushman has the most receiving yards, 597.

“Losing those guys is going to hurt, no question,” said sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson, speaking of the senior receivers. “They have all made huge impacts on this program.”

BYU’s senior receivers

Career numbers of BYU’s departing senior receivers

• Aleva Hifo — 113 receptions, 1,291 yards, seven TDs

• Talon Shumway — 90 receptions, 1,182 yards, seven TDs

• Micah Simon — 85 receptions, 1,053 yards, five TDs

Hifo, from Menifee, California, has had the most consistent career and has also excelled as a punt returner. The 2016 signee enters the bowl game with 113 catches for 1,291 yards and seven TDs. He’s tied for 28th with McKay Jacobson on the school’s all-time receptions list and is 38th in career receiving yards.

“He is so versatile in what he does,” Sitake said. “He has the skills to do everything, including running plays. He is an unsung hero in that regard. We are going to miss that versatility that Aleva brings.”

Simon and Shumway also saved the best for last — both are having the best seasons of their careers. Shumway has caught 40 passes for 539 yards and four touchdowns, after getting 50 grabs for 643 yards his first three seasons. Simon’s 46 catches surpasses the 39 he had his sophomore and junior seasons combined. He entered the season with just 493 career receiving yards, but has 560 this season.

“Micah Simon has probably made the most improvement of any receiver I’ve ever seen,” Wilson said.

A standout basketball player at Lone Peak High, before a church mission to McAllen, Texas, Shumway has made dozens of leaping and acrobatic catches in his career.

“Senior year is typically your best year, and it has been with me,” Shumway said in typical low-key fashion.

So who’s going to replace these guys?

Sitake said fourth-leading receiver Gunner Romney (31 catches, 377 yards), fellow sophomore Dax Milne (18 catches, 231 yards) and promising freshmen Keanu Hill and Tevita Ika are the obvious candidates, followed by junior Neil Pau’u, who is redshirting this season after pleading guilty to impaired driving last July.

Wednesday, BYU announced the signings of three receivers, including three-star recruit Kody Epps of Los Angeles, junior college transfer Chris Jackson of Mt. San Antonio (California) College and Terence Fall, who is originally from France.

Head coach Kalani Sitake said Epps and Jackson can contribute immediately, while Fall is considered a bit raw.

“We love the guys we are bringing in,” Fesi Sitake said. “They will be able to help us quickly. Thinking about what those guys can do gets me really excited.”

As for replacing Bushman and oft-injured fellow tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau, tight ends coach Steve Clark said plenty of freshman and sophomore tight ends have talent, but none are experienced. 

Wilson said to keep an eye on Isaac Rex, a 6-6, 240-pound freshman from San Clemente, California, who has shined in practice.

“He’s got really good hands and his development over the last couple of months at the end of the season has been impressive,” Wilson said.

Cougars on the air

SoFi Hawaii Bowl

BYU (7-5) vs. Hawaii (9-5)

At Aloha Stadium, Honolulu

Tuesday, 6 p.m. MST


Radio: KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM