When BYU football has published highlight reels from each of the first few days of fall camp this week, there have always been clips of receivers making some great catches.
So which one was the best so far?
Cougar senior wide receiver Aleva Hifo said it was a play by senior Talon Shumway that got the loudest reaction in the wide receiver’s room when the guys were watching the film.
“The ball was way out of his range but he just stuck his hand out, palmed it, didn’t bobble it, tucked it in and secured it,” Hifo said Friday after practice. “Talon has the best one so far but everyone else is going to challenge him.”
BYU wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake selected Shumway’s catch as one of his top three in the first week of camp.
“The funnest one was on Day 1, the first play of fall camp,” Sitake said. “On that one Zach Wilson hit Aleva (Hifo) for a long touchdown. Talon Shumway had a catch during one-on-ones that was a catch that only Talon Shumway would make. Then on Day 1, Keanu Hill was able to make a diving catch on a post route that was just on his fingertips. It was awesome to see a young freshman come in and make such a play on his first day.”
The dramatic grabs are certainly the ones that get remembered but the Cougars need those players to show that they can consistently make plays whenever the ball is in the air.
Sitake said he has just four main expectations for his guys and the first three are know the plays, execute the plays and make plays.
“Going into Year 2 of our offense, we’ve got to know the plays and be able to execute them,” Sitake said. “The emphasis is making the plays that a typical receiver isn’t going to make. That’s been our focus and these guys have done a good job. Guys are constantly on the jug machine, interrupting each other and trying to make the contested catches. I think that will be a strong point for us.”
Hifo said the players know that they can’t rely on always having plenty of time and space to make a catch. They have to prepare now to be able to bring the ball down in traffic.
“With all the man coverage and press coverage that we are going to see, we have to be able to make catches with someone on us,” Hifo said. “We’re not always going to have three yards of separation. We need to be able to win our one-on-ones and make those catches. More that 60 percent will be contested, so that is something we have to work on.”
Sitake said success in that area will come down to winning by technique.
“When you really understand the wide receiver position down to its core, that builds confidence in the guys,” he said. “Even though they may face guys who are bigger, faster or stronger, they know they can beat them with technique.”
Every BYU wide receiver knows he has to raise his level of play to help the Cougar offense excel.
“We want to be a threat in this offense,” Hifo said. “In the last couple of years we have been viewed as the least productive group in our offense, so we need to be a threat. We need defenses to know we will throw over their heads and make a lot of yards after the catch. That’s definitely the next step is to establish our presence.”
That challenge got even harder when junior wide receiver Neil Pau’u ended up redshirting in 2019 to help overcome some off-field issues.
“I feel like a lot of younger guys have stepped up — and we need that with the absence of Neil right now,” Hifo said. “They’ve progressed a lot. They continue to play with confidence and will only get better from here on.”
But Hifo said it makes a big difference to have Pau’u still around the team.
“He knows that we still love him, he’s still our boy and we will never treat him any different,” Hifo said. “He is the same guy every day. People make mistakes. We’re all human. We love Neil to death and we will continue to love him. Not having him in hurts but I’m glad he is here and not shying away from the fact that he made a mistake and has to live with it.”
Sitake said having Pau’u still be part of the team and the wide receiving unit in particular has had a big impact for both the players and Pau’u himself.
“It shows to the group and really anyone on this team that anyone can fall short, anyone can make a mistake,” Sitake said. “Neil is an unbelievable young man and he has made so much progress in his time here — but one mistake can really knock you down. But on the flip side, it shows our guys what BYU stands for and that was to give people a chance. If things are done the right way, a lesson can be learned and someone can become better because of it. Neil has had to learn a really hard lesson but he can get back on his feet and become better because of this.”
Individual accountability and ownership of the team has been an area of emphasis this year and that is something Sitake said is driving improvement in all areas.
“I’m seeing them step into true leadership roles,” Sitake said. “Last year I wasn’t able to just sit back and let the players coach each other, let them have moments where they could learn for each other. When I’m now going to a guy to correct him and one of the receivers is able to beat me there and coach him up, to me that is a great sign. In the first three days, that’s the thing that I’ve been most pleased with.”