PROVO — Several of BYU’s offensive football coaches have said the past few months that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has kept them off the recruiting trail has been a blessing in disguise, of sorts, because it has enabled them to get a head start on game-planning and formation installations for the 2020 season.

“I actually feel like we are farther along than normal,” tight ends coach Steve Clark told the Deseret News last week. “We have had more time, because we didn’t recruit, to actually be better prepared. I have had a lot of days with not a lot to do, so we got our installation in through this time, probably more meticulously and with greater detail than we would have otherwise.”

What, exactly, does that install include?

Clark won’t divulge that, but does acknowledge there will be a heavy emphasis on getting tight ends more touches. And why not? All-America candidate Matt Bushman returns for his senior season as one of the top pass-catching tight ends in the country.

Brigham Young University tight end Matt Bushman (89) runs after a catch against the Washington Huskies in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“We are going to wear him out, I can tell you that,” Clark said. “He’s not going to come off the field unless he asks to come off the field.”

Bushman, speaking almost as cautiously as Clark, has said in several interviews since he decided to return last December that one of those offensive changes will be the use of more two tight end sets, or “12 personnel,” as most teams call them.

“Yeah, we want to not just put in a system and focus on it, and put players into a system, but be player-focused and fit the players around our system so that we can switch it up,” Bushman said in January. “I just think that if we can play to our strengths, we can be a lot better.”

Offseason adjustment: BYU going all-in on a 4-3 defensive front in effort to create more havoc
BYU to begin reopening selected training facilities for football, men’s and women’s basketball players on June 1

Bushman’s contributions are a given. Which other tight ends will see the field in 2020, assuming there is a season?

Clark said if he had to put out a depth chart today, redshirt freshmen Carter Wheat and Isaac Rex would be listed as co-backups to Bushman. Both played in three games last year, so they were able to preserve their four seasons of eligibility. 

“I’m very excited about our group,” Clark said. “Having Matt coming back is really huge. So we are deep, but we are young and inexperienced, other than Matt. I hope we get to showcase what they can do this season.”

“I actually feel like we are farther along than normal. We have had more time, because we didn’t recruit, to actually be better prepared. I have had a lot of days with not a lot to do, so we got our installation in through this time, probably more meticulously and with greater detail than we would have otherwise.” — BYU tight ends coach Steve Clark

Asked during a Zoom meeting with fans what returning offensive player he is most excited about, BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes chose instead to focus on a position group.

“I am excited about the youth at tight end,” Grimes said. “Matt has done a great job being a leader in that group, but we’ve got some young guys coming in that I think have phenomenal talent. You look at Isaac Rex, Carter Wheat, (hybrid fullback) Masen Wake, just to name a few.”

Grimes said the depth “will enable us to play a little bit more 12 personnel than we did last year and give us an opportunity to move guys around even more. When we have the potential to put two tight ends on the field, it forces the defense to have to cover a lot of different things.”

Clark said the 6-foot-4, 236-pound Wheat and 6-6, 247-pound Rex are different players.

Tight end Isaac Rex moves the ball past linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi during a Brigham Young University football practice in Provo on Friday, March 6, 2020. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“Isaac is bigger, more physical. I say that, and he will get mad at me, because usually when you say a guy is big and physical that means he can’t run routes, and that’s not true. He can run, for a big dude,” Clark said.

The tight ends coach said Wheat is more in the mold of former BYU all-American Chris Smith.

“Carter is a really great route runner,” Clark said. “For his size, he is really quick, too.”

Clark and Grimes said redshirt sophomore Hank Tuipulotu, 6-3, 235, is sort of a cross between Wheat and Rex. 

“I don’t know how much Hank can give us yet,” Clark said. “We are going to be real cautious with him, coming off two (ACL injuries) on the same knee. What we get from Hank is kind of a bonus.”

In the six spring practices BYU held in March before everything was shut down by the virus, preferred walk-on Lane Lunt, a 6-4 junior from Scottsdale, Arizona, looked good. Lunt caught three passes for 118 yards and a couple touchdowns last season at Butler (Kansas) College.

Clark said sophomore Nate Heaps is retiring from football after missing the entire 2019 season with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman returned missionary Bentley Hanshaw, 6-6, 225, joined the program before spring ball, while another would-be tight end, Ben Tuipulotu (Hank’s brother), is back from a mission and is a probably one of those guys who will be limited to four games or fewer so he can preserve his freshman year of eligibility.

Lehi’s Dallin Holker, who caught 19 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown in 2018 before opting to depart on a church mission in the spring of 2019, is back, but only temporarily. Holker was in Chile, but returned home due to the pandemic and has been reassigned to Yakima, Washington. He leaves July 14.

“I am very proud of Dallin. It is almost emotional for me to talk about,” Clark said. “He easily could have said, ‘I am coming back, I want to play football.’ But he committed to this and he is seeing it through, and it shows a lot of character. … When you have the future that Dallin has, and you see how much he loves the game, it shows you a lot about him.”

Clark said everyone’s situation is different and he doesn’t mean to imply that those who choose to not go back lack character.

“I’m just talking about Dallin, and what a special guy he is,” he said.

BYU’s tight end depth in 2020

Returning from 2019 season

• Matt Bushman, Sr., 6-5, 240

• Lane Lunt, Jr., 6-4, 230

• Hank Tuipulotu, So., 6-3, 235

• Carter Wheat, Fr., 6-4, 236

• Isaac Rex, Fr., 6-6, 247

Joining team in fall

• Bentley Hanshaw, Fr., 6-6, 225

• Ben Tuipulotu, Fr., 6-4, 200