BYU football tight ends appear much more diverse and dangerous heading into 2018

August 12, 2018

With the ability to both block big strong defenders and make big receptions in the pass game, elite tight ends can have an enormous impact on a football game.

So if a tight end had a choice between a nice reception for a good gain or making the block to spring a teammate for the same gain, which would they choose?

“I would choose laying out the linebacker so someone else could get the yards,” BYU senior tight end JJ Nwigwe said Friday. “I’ll always take that.”

It’s easy to say his choice to make a big block isn’t a surprise since Nwigwe is a former offensive lineman.

Would Cougar junior tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau — a former wide receiver — see it the same way?

“I’m going to absolutely take laying out a linebacker,” Laulu-Pututau said. “For me, that’s not expected so I would love to get my teammate the yards.”

He explained that if you play the position, you have to have a physical mentality.

“Most of it is a mentality, having the toughness and desire knowing that you have to block,” Laulu-Pututau said. “That’s 90 percent of the game.”

The early prospectus on BYU’s 2018 tight end crew is that they are ready to step into bigger roles across the board.

“The tight ends have been consistently making plays in the pass game throughout fall camp,” Cougar tight end coach Steve Clark said Wednesday. “There haven’t been many drops and they are where they are supposed to be, so so far it’s been very positive.”

BYU could easily conjecture that 2017 might have been very different offensively if Laulu-Pututau hadn’t gotten hurt right before the season opener.

It was a tough time for him as he had to watch the struggles of his team while he tried to recover.

“It was life-changing,” Laulu-Pututau said. “An injury like that is always life-changing because it changes my lifestyle, it changes my plans, it changes the team as a whole when anyone goes down. It was hard but I think everything happens for a reason. I think it ended up being a good thing.”

Now back in camp again, he said he has one main goal.

“I’m just grateful,” Laulu-Pututau said. “I kind of see football in a different light now. As a player, you think you are invincible. When something like that happens, you appreciate your teammates more, you appreciate BYU for me and the time you get to play your sport. I just want to make it to the first game, be healthy, get on the field and play with my teammates.”

Nwigwe has been on his own mission, developing his abilities to be a weapon in the pass game.

“He made a great catch for us in traffic,” Clark said. “A lot of catching is confidence and he’s confident in his position.”

Nwigwe feels like he’s making good strides but he wants to keep getting better.

“I think my hands are a lot better than spring but there is always room for improvement,” he said. “A lot of guys on the team have been helping me out.”

The biggest name on the unit is sophomore Matt Bushman, who was the top Cougar pass-catcher last season and was made Freshman All-American.

“So far, he’s the same old Matt that I’ve always known and he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Clark said. “He’s gotten a little bit strong and put a little weight on, so he’s great.”

Both Bushman and Laulu-Pututau are known more for making plays with the ball in the air but they have also been improving their blocking.

“Blocking is as important or more important than catching or route-running,” Laulu-Pututau said. “Every player on this offense has to learn to block, especially our position group. It takes a little more time but for me personally it is going well. It’s a skill I’ve been developing since before the injury. It’s good to have guys like JJ who we can watch do it on film.”

While that trio has the most experience, BYU has some freshmen tight ends like Dallin Holker — who won the 5A title at Lehi last fall — and recently returned missionary Hank Tuipulotu who are pushing them hard and earning their own opportunities.

“Dallin Holker is right there with the others as far as making plays, making catches,” Clark said. “He needs to learn the offense. We are working with him on that but we are excited about him. Hank has shown flashes as well.”

The Cougars have always been at its best offensively with great tight ends and they hope they have that again going into this season.

“We can always get better in the pass and run game,” Nwigwe said. “We can be more consistent in our routes, in our blocking, in our catching. If we do that, I think we can have a pretty great unit.”

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