When former Utah State quarterback McCae Hillstead announced back on April 26 that he was transferring to BYU, a lot of BYU fans, and media members who cover the Cougars, scratched their heads in disbelief.

The prevailing notion was that BYU’s quarterback room was already bursting at the seams, with coaches saying when spring camp ended in late March that four-game starter Jake Retzlaff and two-time transfer Gerry Bohanon were locked in a “neck-and-neck” duel to be the starter and Western Michigan transfer Treyson Bourguet seemed to have the best chance of winning the third-stringer role.

Since the 2023 season ended last November, walk-on Nick Billoups (UCLA) and redshirt freshman Ryder Burton (West Virginia) have entered the transfer portal and found new schools. The Cougars added Noah Lugo of Haslet, Texas, from the high school ranks as an early enrollee, and have retained redshirt junior Cade Fennegan and walk-on Cole Hagen.

Why did they need the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Hillstead, a rising sophomore?

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said at Monday’s BYU Media Appreciation Golf Tournament that coaches weren’t necessarily looking for another quarterback, but believed that Hillstead is too good to pass up, especially after the product of Utah County’s Skyridge High School expressed interested in BYU.

Taking stock of Cougars’ big recruiting weekend

“But in McCae’s situation, because we passed on him in high school, and he went to Utah State and did a really good job (he garnered BYU’s attention),” Roderick said. “Everybody (in the Power Five ranks) passed on him. It wasn’t just us. … And he just did such a great job at Utah State, we felt like, ‘we can’t pass on him again.’”

Roderick explained that Hillstead — who will have four seasons to play three — will take the place of BYU’s class of 2025 quarterback, previously having said that he would like to sign one QB per year from the high school ranks.

“So we probably won’t sign a quarterback in this class. We will probably slide McCae into that slot,” he said.

Reminded that a high school quarterback from Oregon (Nolan Keeney) committed to BYU on June 6, Roderick said the staff has “missions” and “contingency plans” to consider, without naming anyone specifically.

Keeney, 6-4, 215, is considered to be the best quarterback in the 2025 class who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, per Casey Lundquist of Cougs Daily.

“You are always prepared for things to change,” Roderick said. “Guys leave. That’s one of the things (to consider). … There is always a chance that quarterbacks will leave. You always have to be prepared for that.”

Hillstead played in eight games for USU last fall and completed nearly 60% of his passes for 1,062 yards. He threw for 11 touchdowns and was intercepted eight times as a true freshman.

What happened at BYU football media day — on the golf course?

“He didn’t reach out to us (before he went into the portal),” Roderick said. “As soon as his name was in the portal, I called him, yeah. It was the same day. As soon as he was in, we called him and he came down and spent a day with us.”

Retzlaff said he and his fellow returning quarterbacks are taking a “the more the merrier” approach to the arrival of Hillstead.

“McCae is an awesome dude. Everybody loves him since he came in. He’s a chill guy, which we love in the quarterbacks room. We are all pretty chill dudes. Nobody is too hectic, except for the freshman (Lugo),” Retzlaff said. “He will chill out. I am just messing with him right now. … I like McCae a lot. He has a good arm on him, too. It is just fun to have another guy in the room who can sling it around.”

Is it possible to have too many quarterbacks?

“No way,” Roderick said. “That is a myth. You can never have too many quarterbacks. And we are going to keep trying to stack that room every year with the best guys we can get. Competition brings out the best in everyone.”

BYU Cougars quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick watches from he sidelines with Nick Billoups (15) and Cole Hagen (16) as Jake Retzlaff works with the offense as BYU’s football team practices in Provo on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Roderick said only 15-20 teams make it through a season annually with just one quarterback. Last year, of course, starter Kedon Slovis sustained what turned out to be a season-ending injury against Texas and Retzlaff started the final four games, all losses.


Roderick said he likes how the quarterback room is spaced out now. Bohanon has one year of eligibility remaining, while Retzlaff has two. Bourguet has three years and Hillstead has three years and a redshirt year.

“You never know how it is going to play out, but there is hope for everyone, that they can play (eventually),” he said.

Speaking of the 6-2, 210-pound Bourguet, a redshirt sophomore, Roderick said the Arizona native was one of the biggest surprises of spring camp. Bourguet turned down other opportunities to walk on at BYU.

“He got himself into school at BYU, on his own, and just wanted a chance. … We recruited him in high school, and liked him. It just didn’t quite work out. The timing wasn’t right,” Roderick said. “But he is a very intelligent, very competitive guy who is self-motivated, wanted to be here. He’s a good player.”

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