In September of 2017, then-BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer was asked who would be the starting quarterback for the Cougars as they hosted No. 10 Wisconsin.
His response became an instant classic: “JJ Nwigwe,” Detmer said with a grin.
Nwigwe also had a grin Tuesday after practice when reminded of that unexpected response. The senior has played a variety of positions — offensive line, tight end and now defensive line — but he never took over as the signal-caller.
“I don’t know about that position,” Nwigwe said, laughing. “I can’t even play ‘Madden’ and have a good game.”
Nwigwe is one of many in the 2019 BYU senior class who have played a variety of positions during their time in Provo.
Here are some examples:
- Beau Tanner has been a wide receiver, safety and cornerback.
- Dayan Ghanwoloku has played safety, cornerback, running back and gunner on special teams.
- Austin Kafentzis has been a quarterback, running back, defensive back and now a linebacker.
- Moroni Laulu-Pututau has been a wide receiver and a tight end.
- Beau Hoge has been a quarterback and a running back.
“It’s a big credit to the coaches for recruiting athletes who can play every position,” Nwigwe said. “My man Dayan (Ghanwoloku), I feel like he could play every position on the field. He’s talented. We have a lot of smart guys here who can play multiple spots.”
Tanner said that the flexibility and versatility displayed by many of the seniors shows that they put the team’s needs over their own.
“It goes a long way in building team unity, having guys come together and buy in to something bigger than themselves,” Tanner said. “That’s the team. That’s what the coaches preach her but I know it from experience too. I’ve seen guys play all around and they never ask questions. They just put their head down and go to work. It’s had a big effect on me and hopefully it will affect all the guys if they are asked to do the same thing.”
BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said it means a lot to the coaches to have players who accept different responsibilities.
“It’s a tribute to them and their willingness,” Tuiaki said. “Sometimes the name of the game is moving people around and doing things that we thought were the best scheme to win the game. Their willingness to do that and learn a new position, learn new techniques, that has been huge.”
It’s not always been easy, though. Tanner said he learned valuable lessons as he worked through changes and the ups and downs.
“I think I grew up a lot here,” he said. “I really realized the importance of cherishing relationship. I’ve learned the hard way sometimes to really not take things for granted.”
Nwigwe said the biggest lesson he has learned from football is about controlling what you can control.
“In life there are things you can’t control but you can control how you respond to those things,” Nwigwe said. “That’s been the biggest thing from my career here at BYU. I definitely learned that lesson here and I will use that for the rest of my life.”
He said that he had good memories from his time on offense but was happy to “find a home” on the defensive line.
“I wouldn’t trade the journey for the world,” Nwigwe said. “There are great people in the room — and playing with Khyiris Tonga is nice. It’s really nice to play on the defense.”
This is a natural time for a little bit of reflection for the seniors as they prepare for their final home game at LaVell Edwards Stadium when the Cougars host Idaho State on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. MT, BYUtv/ESPN3).
“It’s crazy,” Tanner said. “It goes by fast. When you first get here, everyone always says that. No one really thinks much of it then when they tell you it is going to end soon, but it’s fun. We’ve had our highs and lows this year but having one last time to go out and play in that stadium is going to be fun.”