BYU Football To Give Proper Senior Day While Keeping Doors Open For 2022 Returns

Nov 2, 2021, 3:55 PM | Updated: 4:01 pm
BYU Football - Neil Pau'u...
PROVO, UT - OCTOBER 30: Neil Pau'u #2 of the BYU Cougars hop skips into the end zone scoring a touchdown against the Virginia Cavaliers during their game October 30, 2021 at the LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – This Saturday’s Senior Day for BYU football will be a unique one. Only three seniors are listed in this year’s senior class. But there are plenty of guys that are “COVID-19 Juniors” who could be playing in their final game at LaVell Edwards Stadium this weekend.

Last year, the NCAA granted student-athletes a free year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the unprecedented circumstances, BYU was able to play a full 12-game schedule. So it sets up an opportunity for players to have the chance at five full seasons of playing time.

Kalani Sitake is providing options

Playing football is not easy on the body. For some guys, they might be ready to move on to the next chapter of their lives. That was the case last year as all but two of the seniors last year 11-1 squad moved on. Regardless of what this year’s 2021 class chooses, they are going to have options.

“A lot of the guys graduate this December and want to move on, and then there’s some that are still deciding what to do. So for us, we’ll probably just give them all a good goodbye, just in case. Then hopefully, they will come back,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake.

The three players known to have no eligibility remaining after this season include defensive end Uriah “Lopa” Leiataua, wide receiver Samson Nacua, and defensive back Jared “‘Isi” Kapisi.

“There will be more than the three that are recognized [on Saturday]; everyone else other than the three is welcome to come back, obviously,” Sitake said. “We’ll be discussing what’s the best thing for them. What we don’t want to do is because the last game comes in week 10 for us; all of a sudden, they make a decision after week 11 that they are done and they want to move on, and then we never give them the proper sendoff.”

After the season is over, Sitake notes that he will try to recruit the players back for the chance to come back in 2022.

BYU football players who will have a decision to make

Some of the notable COVID-19 juniors include wide receivers Neil Pau’u and Gunner Romney. Before the season, Romney told KSL Sports that he looked at 2021 as his senior season. The standout wide receiver was named to the Senior Bowl watchlist heading into this year. He has dealt with injuries throughout this season.

Pau’u has recorded 1,436 receiving yards in his career and has been one of the most underappreciated players in the program. The Santa Ana, California native already earned his undergraduate degree at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.

Center James Empey has been a mainstay along BYU’s offensive line since 2018. However, he recently suffered an injury in the Cougars win over Washington State. BYU coach Kalani Sitake didn’t rule out the possibility that Empey could return for a bowl game, but his final game in Cougar blue could be behind him if he doesn’t play.

Empey participated in BYU’s “Rising Seniors” NFL day back in April, where league scouts could get measurements on potential 2022 draft prospects. The 6-foot-4, 303-pound Empey already earned his undergraduate degree coming into this season.

Like Empey, his fellow American Fork High teammate Lopini Katoa was also part of the Rising Seniors NFL day back in April. Katoa has been part of the BYU program since 2017, where Fred Warner once asked, ‘who’s he? He could probably help us on offense.”

BYU hosts Idaho State on Senior Day this Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. (MT) on BYUtv and KSL NewsRadio, with pregame coverage beginning at 9 a.m. on KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM).

BYU Football Class of 2021 Seniors

Jared Kapisi, DB

Uriah Leiataua, DE

Samson Nacua, WR

COVID-19 Juniors

Matthew Criddle, LB

Keenan Ellis, CB

James Empey, OL

Lorenzo Fauatea, DL

Chris Jackson, WR

Lopini Katoa, RB

D’Angelo Mandell, CB

Malik Moore, DB

Neil Pau’u, WR

Gunner Romney, WR

Pepe Tanuvasa, OLB/DE

Alden Tofa, DL

Earl Tuioti-Mariner, DL

Joe Tukuafu, OL

Shamon Willis, DB

Jacques Wilson, DB

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

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