Still together: Utah Valley high schools well represented on 2022 BYU football team
BYU offensive linemen Connor Pay and Blake Freeland talk during the BYU football game at Navy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020.
Lone Peak's Connor Pay, center, and other players react after their loss to Herriman in the 5A high school football finals on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015 at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Lone Peak lost to Herriman, 17-14. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald
Orem wide receiver Puka Nacua poses for a portrait Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, at Orem High School. A senior, Nacua scored 26 touchdowns this year and broke Utah's state record for the most touchdowns in a single high school season. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald
Orem senior lineman Kingsley Suamataia (right) blocks a defender during the game between the Tigers and Skyridge in Lehi on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020.
Lone Peak senior Masen Wake runs the ball during the 34-6 Knight win over Davis in Highland on Nov. 2, 2018.
In just a few short hours, thousands of high school football players around the state will charge onto the field under the lights to kick off the 2022 Utah gridiron season.
There will be wins and losses, triumphs and disappointments, exhilaration and pain.
BYU sophomore offensive lineman Connor Pay understands what those moments are like.
He has a host of memories from his days at Lone Peak High and he shares them with a number of other current Cougars who also played for the Knights, guys like fullback Masen Wake, wide receiver Talmage Gunther, defensive back Ammon Hannemann, running back Jackson McChesney and linebacker Michael Daley.
“It’s fun because many of those guys were my high school teammates,” Pay said at photo day on Wednesday. “It’s fun to see these guys play different positions some of them than they did in high school. Talmage Gunther was my quarterback and now seeing him play receiver and do those things is cool. It’s fun to see from where we were as teammates to where we are now, becoming men and at different phases of our lives.”
Lone Peak has the most former players on the Cougar roster of any Utah Valley high school (seven) but right behind is Orem, which has six.
Half of those transferred after beginning at other schools, but Cougar freshman offensive lineman Kingsley Suamataia said Monday it’s great having those familiar faces around him again.
“It’s been great,” Suamataia said. “Having my Orem boys, it just feels like high school practice all over. Well, not really but having Puka (Nacua), having Josh Singh, having Jacob Robinson and Ethan Slade, we’re on both sides of the ball. That’s like our entire offense and defense right there.”
There is an advantage to developing years of connections on and off the field before getting to work at the college level.
Few people in the BYU locker room, for example, understand Suamataia like Nacua does.
“He is one of the most fierce competitors I know out there,” Nacua said on Monday. “He will very, very quickly get angry if he’s not winning, which is one of the best things I love about him obviously. He’s always been younger than I am so it’s kind of been that brother view of a little big brother that I never had. the Little Big Brother that I’d never had.”
Nacua remembered so many great memories from their time as Tigers and now looks forward to making more of those memories as Cougar.
“He’s always been offense too, so we win it’s us winning together,” Nacua said. “But then I’ve seen him lose in basketball or even just in the one-on-ones out here, and you see he is extremely competitive. I’ve seen what he’s had to go through, coming here with a veteran offensive line and the guys that he’s going to go against. It’s not easy.”
But Nacua also knows the other side of Suamataia, the one that makes him a great friend and teammate.
“He’s super funny,” Nacua said. “If he’s not losing, he’s going to have a good time. He’s going to smile. He’s like a big little kid, although he can be one of the scariest big little kids you will ever see. But when he’s having fun, you’ll see that great big smile on his face and he’s so friendly. But when it is in between those lines, you’re for sure going to feel his pain and his wrath.”
Suamataia, Nacua, Pay and many other local athletes get the benefit of being able to be close to home and even it make it back to the high school games as alumni, when their schedules permit.
“It’s cool because we are 20 minutes from home,” Pay said. “We get to back to the high school games and interact with the team. They get to see us and we get to talk to them. It’s a cool relationship, a unique one. We also have that with the community. People I didn’t know I knew I know now because of BYU and the connections we have to Lone Peak. It brings the community together in some aspects and it is a lot of fun.”
Here’s a list of the 28 football players currently on the BYU roster who are from Utah Valley high schools:
Jakob Robinson, So, DB (Orem)
Jaren Hall, Jr. QB (Maple Mountain)
Lopini Katoa, Jr. RB (American Fork)
Dallin Holker, Jr. TE (Lehi)
Puka Nacua, Jr. WR (Orem)
Masen Wake, Jr. FB (Lone Peak)
Matt Criddle, Sr. DB (Lone Peak)
Jackson McChesney, So. RB (Lone Peak)
Ammon Hannemann, So. DB (Lone Peak)
Ethan Slade, Fr. DB (Orem)
Chase Roberts, Fr. WR (American Fork)
Kyson Hall, Fr. WR (Maple Mountain)
Talmage Gunther, So. WR (Lone Peak)
Keenan Pili, Jr. LB (Timpview)
Michael Daley, Fr. LB (Lone Peak)
Logan Pili, Fr. LB (Timpview)
Bodie Schoonover, Fr. LB (American Fork)
Sonny Makasini, Fr. OL (Timpview)
Connor Pay, So. OL (Lone Peak)
Vae Soifua, Fr. OL (Orem)
Sam Dawe, Fr. OL (Spanish Fork)
Kingsley Suamataia, Fr. OL (Orem)
Kade Moore, Fr. WR (Lehi)
Joshua Singh, Fr. DL (Orem)
Tyler Batty, So. DL (Payson)
Blake Mangelson, So. DL (Juab)
John Nelson, So. DL (Salem Hills)
Hunter Greer, Fr. DL (Timpanogos)
Gabe Summers, Jr. DL (Westlake)