The tight end position at BYU has been a focal point throughout its history.
Former NFL and Super Bowl-winning head coach Brian Billick was a standout at BYU along with Clay Brown who caught the famous Hail Mary against SMU in the Holiday Bowl to give BYU its first bowl victory and complete one of the greatest comebacks in NCAA football history.
Fans still love saying “Harline is still open” in reference to Jonny Harline’s game-winning touchdown catch against Utah in 2006. In 2009, it was Andrew George’s turn as he too caught the game-winning touchdown to help BYU take down the rival Utes in overtime.
And who could forget the other great stars to come through the program in Chad Lewis, Dennis Pitta, Itula Mili and Doug Jolley, just to name a few.
But over the past several years, the tight end position has become non-existent. Last year, BYU’s leading receiver at the position was Tanner Balderee who had a “whopping” 13 catches for 156 yards. Sadly for Cougar fans, that was the most by a tight end since Kaneakua Friel hauled in 30 catches for 308 yards and five touchdowns in 2012.
But for BYU offensive Coordinator Ty Detmer, the Cougars are looking to bring those All-Conference tight ends back into the fold.
“During my playing days at BYU the tight ends played a big part in the passing game,” said Detmer. “Those guys are a quarterback’s best friend and I believe with the depth and the playmakers that we have this year, fans are going to notice a big difference than in past years.”
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“Everyone remembers guys like Andrew George and Dennis Pitta,” added BYU tight ends coach Steve Clark. “But there is another side of it: blocking. Jamaal (Williams) had a lot of success because of how the guys blocked the edge and Balderee was one of those guys.”
The coaches noted that they want each of the tight ends to be ready to play both ways in the pass and the run game.
“If we are subbing guys off to pass and then subbing guys off just to run, teams will catch onto that,” said Clark. “We want it so that no matter what play we call, whoever is it there can execute it and we believe we have those guys.”
The top players at the position include former receiver Moroni Laulu-Pututau, Matt Bushman, Hunter Marshall and Balderee.
“Matt and Moroni gives us a lot of depth and talent. So we’ll mix and match those guys and find out the right combination. Maybe we’ll have all four tight ends out there,” Detmer said half-jokingly.
Pututau hauled in 27 catches for 277 yards and two touchdowns and should see a lot more throws his way with Tanner Mangum under center this year. Pututau has become a fan favorite after several one-handed grabs last year landed him on SportsCenter with some of the top plays of the day.
“The quarterbacks have a lot of confidence in Moroni because of the plays that he made last year,” said Clark. “They know he is going to come down with the ball and that’s why he’s going to be one of the go-to guys this year.”
Speaking of highlights, Bushman, a 6-foot-5 230-pound freshman should have a big year this year. With great route running skills, a big frame and great hands, Bushman gives the Cougars a dangerous 1-2 punch at the tight end position.
“He (Matt) reminds me a lot of Dennis Pitta,” added Clark. “He has great hands and is really good at recognizing defenses. It all just comes naturally to him and he’s a real special talent.”
The Cougars appear to have their guys at the tight end spots as BYU looks to get back to the tradition of lining up with All-American playmakers.
And how the tight ends go, is how the Cougars go. After the last big star (Dennis Pitta) departed in 2009, the Cougars haven’t beaten the Utes since, and have not finished the season ranked either. But when they are ranked, it’s hard not to see that it’s because of the talent the Cougars have at the tight end position.
Will this year finally be the year Cougar fans?