Bushman & Tonga Come Back To BYU Seeking More Wins, Higher Draft Stock
PROVO, Utah – If BYU football wants to improve from the 7-6 record they’ve had the past two seasons, seniors Matt Bushman and Khyiris Tonga will play a big role. Having Bushman and Tonga hold off on their NFL dreams is something that BYU can build on heading into the 2020 season.
Bushman and Tonga spoke with a handful of media members on Friday to discuss what went into their decisions to return for their senior year at BYU.
Matt Bushman: It was a back-and-forth decision
“There wasn’t a huge, one big reason why [I returned],” said Matt Bushman. “But it was just a lot of small things coming together. I mean, there were times where my wife and I every other day were like, I think we’re gonna go. Then the next day, I think we’re gonna stay now. It was really back-and-forth.
“Kind of after meeting with coaches, after praying about it, that just solidified more of the assurance that, okay, if I stay I can definitely improve on some things, hopefully. First of all, help our team have a better season. We’re not happy with the mediocre 7-6 seasons. We want to improve on that, but also, hopefully, if I can improve on some of my weaknesses and just get stronger this off-season and improve my stock.”
Bushman made the decision to return to BYU for the 2020 season prior to playing in the Hawaii Bowl. He received feedback from NFL personnel, but a lot of the opinions varied on where his draft stock was going to be if he declared. Had he declared for the Draft this year, Bushman said he thought the draft grade was from a 4th to 7th round grade.
Being a potential late-round pick was not enticing enough to sway Bushman from having another year in Provo. Bushman is one of three tight ends in BYU football history to have 500+ receiving yards in three consecutive years. The other two are College Football Hall of Fame inductee Gordon Hudson and future BYU Hall of Famer Dennis Pitta.
“Everyone says that the NFL turns into a business and sometimes the joy or love of the game starts to goes away a little bit,” Bushman on what he loves about college football.
“Being with the boys, being with your teammates, your brothers, I don’t know, just the atmosphere of it all. It’s been awesome just being able to give back to the community and get to know some people like our True Blue Heroes and things like that. It’s just really awesome being able to be on a platform where we can help out and learn from other people. It’s been a really cool experience to be at BYU.”
Khyiris Tonga was set on declaring before a change of heart
Tonga’s return to BYU for the 2020 season was the biggest surprise and the talented defensive lineman admitted he was set on leaving for the league.
“I kind of had my mind set on leaving way before the bowl game,” Tonga said. “It stayed like that even after the bowl game until I started talking to my dad, with my family, and I kind of just put more thought into it. I talked to Coach Kalani and Coach Ilaisa and I just made the decision to return and I’m just happy with the decision.”
Tonga didn’t receive much feedback from NFL personnel on where he would have landed in the Draft, but he was set on declaring regardless. Then around New Year’s, it was clear for Tonga that he was ready to come back and finish his degree in Mass Communications with an emphasis on Sports Media.
“I put a lot of thought into it, a lot of prayers and it was definitely the right thing for me to do … I’m just super happy and super excited.”
Bushman and Tonga are currently participating in Winter Conditioning that began earlier this week as they prepare for spring football which begins on Monday, March 2nd.
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.