PROVO — Really, you couldn’t blame college football players these days if they headed to a cool mountain lake, or started daydreaming about catching the perfect wave in the dog days of July, with the 2020 season so very much in doubt due to the coronavirus pandemic that is obviously going to be with us for a long time.
Promising new BYU tight end Isaac Rex will have none of that thinking — even if surfing near his hometown of San Clemente, California, hardly ever leaves his mind.
“Everyone is still on full-go right now, including me,” Rex said last week. “We’re going at it 100%, as hard as we can, because we want to have a special season.”
Rex, the redshirt freshman son of former BYU All-American tight end Byron Rex, was especially sad to see the BYU-Utah game scheduled for Sept. 3 canceled, and not just because the Cougars want some revenge for nine consecutive losses to their rivals up north. Isaac Rex’s best friend is Utah tight end Cole Fotheringham, also a product of San Clemente High.
“Yeah, me and Cole are boys. We can’t wait for that game,” Isaac Rex said before the Pac-12 announced it would only play conference games this season. “When we get together, we talk about surfing and old high school days and hanging out. We are not too focused on the rivalry. But once the pads get on, we will be talking smack to each other. We will be yelling at each other. It’s gonna be a blast.”
Alas, the BYU-Utah game that so many in the state look forward to was one of the first casualties of the coronavirus pandemic.
Fotheringham caught 16 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown in 2019, his sophomore season; playing behind All-America candidate Matt Bushman and Moroni Laulu-Pututau last season, Rex caught one pass for 23 yards and preserved his year of eligibility because he only appeared in three games.
“Cole is the coolest. He’s a super down-to-earth guy,” Rex said, perhaps the first time a Cougar has spoken so fondly of a Ute. “I have known him forever. We text each other all the time and call occasionally. He will come down to Provo sometimes and I will go up to Salt Lake and we will just hang out with whoever. I love hanging out with him.”
Which is why Rex was so looking forward to that since-canceled get-together the Thursday before Labor Day weekend.
“Our admittedly optimistic expectation right now is that there will be fans there when we play,” Rex said. “Fans make the game a lot more energetic and exciting. But playing football is playing football. When you are on the big stage it can even be cool without fans sometimes. But if we don’t, we still want to play. We will still be on TV. We will still compete.”
As offensive line coach Eric Mateos is fond of saying, “BYU is a loud place, from a media standpoint,” and the 6-foot-6, 247-pound Rex is a prime example of that. He’s getting all kinds of preseason hype for a guy with just one career catch.
He’s not bothered by it, however.
“I like that people believe in me, that people see potential in me and that people think I can be really good one day,” he said. “I see the compliments, but I don’t really tend to put too much emphasis on them, or try to overthink it. I just use it as motivation to prove them right.”
That’s the reason, teammates say, that Rex has put in so much time this offseason — despite all the uncertainty — in the weight room and on the practice field — either at home in California for a couple of months when the pandemic hit, or since BYU began allowing voluntary workouts on campus on June 1.
“Quarantine was very productive and I got a lot of things done,” Rex said. “I feel like I got stronger and faster. Me and Cole got after it every day, training in my garage. … A lot of guys came down from Provo. Zach (Wilson) stayed at our house several times. Carter Wheat, Gunner Romney came down as well. We would throw together and try to stay sharp.”
Tight ends coach Steve Clark said Wheat and Rex would be listed as co-backups to Bushman if the season started today. Wheat caught one pass for 8 yards last season.
“They are different players,” Clark said. “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. But he is a big dude and Carter is more of the old, traditional BYU tight ends like Chris Smith that were really great route runners.”
When spring camp abruptly ended on March 12, Rex was one of the players head coach Kalani Sitake praised for having an outstanding camp.
“Isaac made a lot of plays out there,” Sitake said. “That whole group, we can incorporate a lot of different schemes around their strengths. Isaac is a big-body guy. He will make a lot of plays for us. He has a bright future ahead of him.”