Quick, name one really good BYU football team in the past 45 years that didn’t have a well-known tight end.
It’s pretty much impossible, since during much of the last five decades, the tight end has played a huge role in the success of the Cougars on the gridiron.
BYU athletes like Clay Brown, Gordon Hudson, David Mills, Chris Smith, Chad Lewis, Itula Mili, Doug Jolley, Jonny Harline, Dennis Pitta, Andrew George and, most recently, Matt Bushman, have left a tremendous legacy at the position.
Now the pressure is on the 2021 Cougar tight end group to continue that tradition — and they say bring it on.
BYU had a pair of tight ends in freshman Isaac Rex and sophomore Dallin Holker represent the group at Media Day in June, both of which expressed their confidence that this group is up to the challenge.
“It’s awesome,” Holker said at Media Day. “It’s great to be surrounded by so many great players because you can learn from everybody. You can pick up on what they are doing and what is working. It brings competitiveness and helps you become a better player.”
Rex comes from a Cougar tight end heritage since his dad, Byron Rex, played the position in Provo in 1986 and 1989-92 (86 receptions, 1,223 yards and seven touchdowns in his career).
Isaac Rex burst onto the scene in 2020, becoming a favorite target of then-BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, especially near the end zone. Isaac Rex had 37 receptions for 429 yards with 12 TDs last fall.
Now he’s looking to maintain that level of performance with a new quarterback tossing the ball around.
“I’m just going to go out there and do the same thing, just play my game and help out the team as much as possible,” Isaac Rex said. “I’m not going to put too much stress on it. There is obviously more pressure than there was last year, since I was thrown into kind of a weird spot with Matt (Bushman) getting hurt. It’s going to be different having a year under my belt and honestly I feel like I will be more confident with the playbook and playing my game. I’m excited.”
He feels like he won’t have to shoulder all of the load himself, given the guys that are around him.
“We have so many weapons and we’ve got a million tight ends,” Isaac Rex said. “It’s going to be hard to cover us all or focus specifically on one person. I’m really glad I have a great supporting cast around me and a great team overall.”
Holker has been through quite a bit during the past couple of years, although most of his experiences had nothing to do with football.
“I was Chile on my mission (for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints),” Holker said. “Then I came home for a little bit because of the pandemic, then I went to Yakima, Washington. At first they were saying we would be back in two weeks and then it was going back and forth. It was crazy and I had no idea what was going to happen. You have to live in the moment and be present. It was nice to be with my family.”
He said it is “weird” to think about everything that happened since he tallied 19 receptions for 235 yards and a touchdown in 13 games in 2018.
“It’s cool to see some of the guys that I’ve known but then there are also so many different faces,” Holker said.
Cougar tight ends coach Steve Clark said he knows Holker is going to be pushing himself now that he is back with the team.
“We have to be so careful with returned missionaries,” Clark said. “We did a study and most of those who came back in recent history have gotten injured. How much of that came from just playing football and how much was the coming back? It’s probably some of each but guys are different. Dallin is the type of kid you have to pull the reins back on. He will go but we have to think of his overall health.”
Holker laughed when asked about finding the right balance.
“It’s pretty tough because you want to work so hard but your legs are saying something different,” Holker said. “You don’t want to get hurt, so you have to listen to your body as much as you can and just be smart with it.”
Clark said his big-picture goal for his group is to see them take the next step.
“At first last year, they were adequate,” Clark said. “Then they were good. I want to see them be great. I want to see them be consistently great and I want to see them to it against elite opponents. I want that test.”
The unit plans to be a part of building off of what the team accomplished in 2020.
“It’s fun,” Isaac Rex said. “People are invested in BYU football now. It is on the rise. We are doing some many great activities. People want to be around BYU football and want to watch us. We are a team that wants to stay relevant. We want to be a good overall team.”