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BYU coaches are ‘comfortable’ with their lineup of receivers in 2020, but still looking for a ‘game-changer’ in transfer portal

With three senior receivers from the 2019 team moving on, the Cougars’ offense has some holes to fill, and hope to accomplish that by bringing in some fleet wideouts from the high school and junior college ranks.

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Gunner Romney (18) hauls in a pass from quarterback Zach Wilson (1), not pictured, while defended by Utah Utes defensive back Jaylon Johnson (1) during the first half of an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.
Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Gunner Romney (18) hauls in a pass during the first half of an NCAA football game against Utah at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. Romney will be a junior in 2020 and is expected to have a big role on a team that lost three senior receivers to graduation.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

PROVO — With their team set to lose its three leading receivers after the 2013 season — Cody Hoffman, Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev — BYU football coaches searched far and wide for immediate pass-catching help in the weeks between their 31-16 loss to Washington in December’s Fight Hunger Bowl and national signing day in February 2014.

They were able to find some gems transferring out of fellow Football Bowl Subdivision schools and junior colleges who would go on to have short, but productive, careers at BYU, including UTEP’s Jordan Leslie and juco transfers Devon Blackmon and Nick Kurtz.

Will history repeat itself in 2020?

Micah Simon, Talon Shumway and Aleva Hifo, BYU’s top three receivers in 2019, have moved on, leaving a huge void for receivers coach Fesi Sitake to fill this season. There’s still time, and head coach Kalani Sitake said Wednesday he still has some scholarship space if a “difference-maker” or a “playmaker” emerges from the transfer portal. But it appears that an experienced receiver comparable to Leslie, Blackmon or Kurtz isn’t walking through that door between now and the Sept. 3 opener at Utah.

Clearly, the Cougars think they can make up for the departures with the somewhat unexpected return of star tight end Matt Bushman — who is fast and athletic enough to line up outside — and the receivers coming back, most notably juniors Gunner Romney, Dax Milne and Neil Pau’u and redshirt freshmen Keanu Hill, Tevita Ika, Luc Andrada and Brayden Cosper.

“Currently with the roster we have now, I am very comfortable,” receivers coach Fesi Sitake said, while acknowledging he’s got some holes to fill. “I am always aware of the things we need to have, but that doesn’t mean I am not comfortable with this group we have, because I really am.”

For instance, Fesi Sitake said there’s not a “big-body, big-target” receiver in the group, a guy like Hoffman, Kurtz or Mitch Mathews. Six-foot-5 players with decent speed and good hands are hard to find.

“Talon did that for us last year, but he didn’t have the size. He was just (skilled) at being able to go get the ball,” Fesi Sitake said.

The cousin of the head coach said he doesn’t currently have any openings for receivers, but “there is always that likelihood, just because of attrition, or injuries,” that a spot will open up.

“I will only take a guy if we have the spot and he is somebody we think is a game-changer,” he said.

Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said it isn’t like there is no talent returning. Romney made 31 catches for 377 yards and two touchdowns, while Milne had 21 catches for 285 yards and two TDs, including a scoring grab against USC that keyed the overtime win over the Trojans.

Also expected back is Pau’u, who had 32 receptions for 355 yards and three TDs his first two seasons before having to miss the season last year due to off-the-field legal and honor code issues.

Hill, one of the prizes of the 2019 signing class, had three catches for 40 yards in three games (so it can be called a redshirt season), while Ika, a returned missionary walk-on from Provo High, reminds coaches of Hifo and had three catches for 28 yards.

Among the other scholarship receivers on the roster, Cosper and Colorado speed demon Andrada will be looking to make an impact.

“We are challenging those guys … to come in and fill the void of the three seniors that we had who were very productive,” Grimes said.

BYU signed three receivers who are expected to play this fall during December’s early signing period — two high schoolers (Kody Epps and Terence Fall) and a junior college star (Chris Jackson) — and added a possible receiver on Wednesday, Las Vegas speedster Miles Davis, listed as a DB/WR on the school’s news release.

Fesi Sitake said he loved the 6-1, 193-pound Davis’ film so much that he didn’t want to miss out on him despite not having a scholarship available for a receiver. So he brought cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford along to evaluate Davis as a cornerback, and Gilford apparently gave up one of his spots for a guy who didn’t play a down of defense in high school.

“Once you see the kid’s size, his frame, his speed, that is something we gotta have,” Sitake said. “So that is why it is in limbo about where he is going to play.”

Kalani Sitake said it will all be sorted out by the time preseason camp arrives in late July.

“He is an athlete,” Kalani Sitake said. “He is a guy that was wanted (by several schools). He has tons of speed and he’s a big-time player. But I could say that about a lot of (receivers) who are going to join us right away. They have big-play capability and that’s what we need. It is going to be great competition for everyone and they will be joining a great group of players we have on our roster right now so we feel really good about the situation we are in. I think we are going to be pretty good.”

BYU’s top returning receivers

• Gunner Romney, Jr., 6-3, 188

• Dax Milne, Jr., 6-0, 187

• Neil Pau’u, Jr., 6-4, 223

• Keanu Hill, RS Fr., 6-4, 210

• Tevita Ika, RS Fr., 5-8, 186

• Luc Andrada, RS Fr., 5-10, 175

• Brayden Cosper, RS Fr., 6-3, 205

Top newcomers: Christopher Jackson, Kody Epps, Miles Davis. Terence Fall