BYU football: Cougars have a deep, talented receiving corps

Of all the outstanding receivers on BYU’s 2022 football roster, only one is definitely moving on after the upcoming season.

That would be fifth-year senior Gunner Romney, the 6-foot-2 playmaker from Chandler, Arizona, who surprised a bunch of folks last winter when he decided to return to BYU for one more go-round. Romney is the only senior in passing game coordinator and receivers coach Fesi Sitake’s receivers room.

Brayden Cosper has also been in the program since 2018, but he’s listed as a redshirt junior because he missed all of last year with a fractured wrist.

“I couldn’t really tell you what the future holds. As much as I want to play pro football, I gotta get to the season first and go from there. Hopefully, I can make it through the season healthy and we win ball games. When your team does well, everybody looks good.” — BYU receiver Puka Nacua.

The group is about 15 strong, with the next most accomplished receiver being junior Puka Nacua, who said at BYU football media day in June that he is still undecided whether this will be his last season as a collegian.

“I couldn’t really tell you what the future holds,” Nacua said. “As much as I want to play pro football, I gotta get to the season first and go from there. Hopefully I can make it through the season healthy and we win ball games. When your team does well, everybody looks good.”

Nacua caught 43 passes for 805 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games last year after transferring from Washington. Hamstring issues and other health setbacks caused a slow start, but once the former four-star recruit got going, he was virtually unstoppable.

Romney logged only 10 games due to injury but still had 34 catches for 594 yards and three touchdowns.

He said in June that he came back to fine tune his game, but also to be a part of another successful season.

“One of the main things I have been working on this offseason is getting a more explosive first step, whether that is off the line (of scrimmage) or coming out of my breaks,” he said. “I think that is the No. 1 part of my game that needs improvement.”

After the first practice of preseason training camp last Thursday, Romney said he feels great and has done all he could do the past seven months to get healthy and stay that way.

He also raved about the group’s depth.

“I think we have one of the deepest rooms that we have had since I have been here,” Romney said. “I think you could go back seven or eight deep and any one of those guys could hop on the field and contribute, so that’s one of our strengths, for sure.”

Sitake, the head coach’s cousin, said at media day that redshirt sophomore Keanu Hill is the third starting receiver, having solidified that status with a strong spring camp last March.

The 6-foot-4 Hill caught 18 passes for 343 yards and two touchdowns last season, appearing in all 13 games.

“Keanu just has the most proven reps on the field,” Sitake said. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. As always, it is up for competition, but he has solidified the right to be that third guy headed into Game 1.”

Romney said Hill is dedicated to his craft and eager to live up to the billing that accompanied him out of Texas as the son and nephew of some former college and professional football greats, Lloyd and Roy Williams.

“Kebo is really coming into his own as a route runner,” Romney said. “I think before he was just kind of using his athleticism and his big body, but I think he is getting a little more fine-tuned with the craft of being a receiver.”

Romney said that means doing the little things to get separation at the line of scrimmage.

“He’s getting more confident. That is one thing with the experience he has under his belt now. He knows what it takes to be a successful receiver at this level, and I think he is working at that,” Romney said.

Nacua said that he and Romney are often called big receivers, but “Kebo is bigger than both of us, being 6-4 and over 200 pounds.”

A new NCAA rule allowed coaches to spend two hours a week with players in the offseason, so Sitake is a bit more familiar with his group than in previous years — especially the newcomers.

Former Roy High star Parker Kingston, Kyson Hall out of Maple Mountain High (Jaren Hall’s brother), Floridian Dom Henry and Preston Rex (tight end Isaac Rex’s brother) were the new faces in the receivers room over the summer.

However, Preston Rex was with the defensive backs Thursday and Henry, despite listed as a defensive back on the fall camp roster, has been a receiver in camp.

“We have a lot of young guys that are going to be pushing to play on a weekly basis, and playing,” Sitake said. “It is not just a competition between (Hill) and the rest of those guys.

“I want to play as many as deserve to play without disrupting the flow of any individual in the group.”

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