COUGAR TRACKS

BYU’s Bushman, Tonga Have Tough Decisions To Make After Hawaii Bowl

Dec 9, 2019, 10:55 PM | Updated: Dec 10, 2019, 8:17 am
Photos: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News...
Photos: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

PROVO, Utah – “No. They all want to play football.”

That was Kalani Sitake’s response when asked whether any of his players would sit out the Hawaii Bowl later this month. The growing trend in college football for players who could be selected in the NFL Draft these days is to sit out bowl games that have become glorified exhibitions.

The reason for a question like that is because BYU has two players who have the potential to be selected in next April’s NFL Draft in defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga and tight end Matt Bushman.

Both players are juniors, but they are older prospects with both having served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prior to enrolling at BYU.

Neither player has publicly announced their intentions on whether they’ll declare for the NFL Draft and forego their senior years in Provo. If they wish to do so it will come after BYU’s matchup with Hawaii in the SoFi Hawaii Bowl later this month.

“The decision-making process with the underclassmen will always be what’s best for the players and what gives them the most opportunity to have success,” said head coach Kalani Sitake. “If it’s going on to the league, then I’ll be happy for them. Happy for those that make that decision, but that will come towards the end of the year.”

Back in the spring after BYU’s annual blue & white spring game, Tonga stated his goal was to be in the NFL the following year. It’s a strong likelihood the 6-4 321-pound defensive lineman foregoes his senior season at BYU as his best years of football are still ahead of him.

“A lot of people don’t realize that Khyiris is still raw,” said Sitake. “You hear a lot of scouts talking about that but the ability that he has and the speed and the athleticism for a big guy, that’s unique to him. He’s really strong and powerful but I think he’s still got a lot more things to get better at. But the hard things (in football) he’s pretty natural at; being physical and being able to move and run. I love seeing his progression. This is really only his third year ever playing the defensive line. He’s got a high ceiling.”

With Bushman, he’s been one of the consistent playmakers for BYU’s offense the last three years. Anytime you watch a BYU football game, you’re likely going to hear Matt Bushman brought up as a future NFL tight end by broadcasters. His size and production could make him an attractive prospect for a league that loves receiving tight ends.

“The main thing is to help this team succeed as much as we can. It’s a dream that I think a lot of us want to do and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. But it’s hard to know when the right time is to choose to make the decision. So I’m just going to play it out. There’s no plans on me going early (right now), but it’s definitely just trying to figure out what’s best for me and my family and also for the team,” Bushman said to KSL Sports when asked about a potential jump to the NFL this year.

In Bushman’s three years at BYU, he’s sixth all-time among tight ends for receptions with 119 catches and seventh all-time in receiving yards with 1,628.

“He’s an NFL tight end, he really is. He’s developing as a blocker but he’s such a great route runner,” said ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay while working the sidelines for BYU’s game against Washington this past September.

Where would Bushman or Tonga be selected in the NFL Draft? I’ll leave those projections to guys like McShay or Mel Kiper Jr. But if both Bushman and Tonga receive positive feedback from scouts and a draftable grade, it would be hard to argue with someone seizing the opportunity to get paid doing what you love.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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