Even though much of college sports are currently stuck waiting to see what the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, things are still happening for athletes.
That’s certainly the case in Provo, where players with BYU ties are being recognized on watch lists, making transfer decisions, working on pro deals and earning scholarships.
Here’s a look at some of the things going on for the Cougars right now:
Heading to Poland
Former BYU star guard TJ Haws has his first professional basketball contract in hand.
As was officially announced Wednesday, Haws is off to Sopot, Poland, where he will play for Trefl Sopot in the Polish Tauron Basket Liga.
Haws played 133 games at BYU, averaging 14.3 points and 4.5 assists per game.
Preseason college football watchlists have nothing to do with what happens when players actually take the field in the fall. If an athlete that wasn’t on the watchlist has a phenomenal year (especially if he plays for a big-name program), he’s going to have just a good a shot as someone who was on the list.
What the watchlists are is a way to recognize that a player has done well enough in the past that they are worth watching this year, which has to be a nice bonus for some Cougar stars.
The most recent recognition came on Tuesday when BYU defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga was named to both the Outland Trophy and Nagurski Trophy watch lists, while offensive lineman James Empey also earned a spot on the Outland Trophy list.
The Outland Trophy recognizes the best interior linemen in college football while the Bronko Nagurski Trophy honors the most outstanding defensive player.
BYU is one of 17 schools with two players on the Outland Trophy Watch List.
Empey, a junior from American Fork, started all 26 games at center in his first two seasons. Pro Football Focus rated him the No. 10 returning offensive lineman for 2020.
Tonga, a senior from West Valley, has played in 39 games in his career with 21 starts on the defensive line. In 2019, Tonga posted 45 tackles and four tackles for loss.
BYU has had two players win the Outland Trophy: defensive lineman Jason Buck in 1986 and offensive lineman Mohammed Elewonibi in 1989.
On Friday, Cougar senior tight end Matt Bushman was named to the 2020 John Mackay Award watch list, the award given annually to the most outstanding collegiate tight end.
Bushman caught 47 balls for 688 yards and four touchdowns in 2019. He ranks tied for No. 4 among BYU tight ends with 125 career receptions and No. 6 in receiving yards with 1,719.
BYU junior running back Lopini Katoa was the first to be recognized as he was named to the 2020 Doak Walker Award watch list on July 15, an award that goes to the best running back in the nation.
Katoa has 1,390 all-purpose yards and 14 total touchdowns over the past two seasons. In 2019, Katoa ran for 358 yards and four touchdowns, had 288 receiving yards and one score and added 207 kick return yards.
Changing his mind
BYU will apparently need Katoa to have a big year, since the Cougars likely won’t have Utah transfer Devonta’e Henry-Cole on the squad this fall.
Although he signed with the Cougars as a graduate transfer and participated in offseason workouts, reports indicate Henry-Cole has elected to request his release and go to Utah State instead.
Nothing has been officially announced by the school at this point but it appears to be just a matter of time before the transfer is finalized.
BYU track and field athletes Blake Ellis and Olivia Hoj were awarded NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships for their academic and athletic achievements.
The NCAA awards up to 126 postgraduate scholarships annually. The scholarships are awarded to student-athletes who excel academically and athletically and who are at least in their final year of intercollegiate athletics competition.
The one-time non-renewable NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships of $10,000 are awarded three times a year corresponding to each sport season (fall, winter and spring). Each sports season there are 21 scholarships available for men and 21 scholarships available for women for use in an accredited graduate program.
“I want to thank my parents and wife for their patience and allowing me to chase my dreams of becoming a Division I athlete,” Ellis said in a press release. “I especially want to thank Coach Kyle (Grossarth) for everything he did in helping me get here. He took a chance on me as a walk-on that I probably didn’t deserve and played a huge role in getting me to where I am today. He made my experience at BYU better than I could have ever hoped for. This scholarship will make a major difference for my family as we start medical school, and I owe it all to the people who have lifted me up along the way.”
Hoj said in a press release: “I’m grateful and humbled to be chosen as a recipient of the NCAA post graduate scholarship and am excited to continue at BYU and pursue my master’s degree in public administration. I’m so thankful for the support I have received throughout my time as an undergraduate student athlete from athletic administration, coaches, teammates, family, professors, and friends who helped push me to excel both athletically and academically. I know I owe my success in both areas to the many people who have gone out of their way to help mentor and support me. I can’t thank the NCAA and BYU enough for the incredible opportunities they have provided for me up until this point and for the support I will receive in graduate school and my future career.”
According to the release, Ellis graduated from BYU in Exercise Science in April 2020 and will begin medical school at the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine in Meridian, Idaho, this fall.
Hoj finished her undergraduate degree in Public Health in April 2020 and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Public Administration.