COUGAR TRACKS

Five BYU Football Returned Missionaries To Watch For In 2023

Jan 21, 2023, 9:00 AM
BYU Football, Raider Damuni, Timpview High...
Former Timpview High star Raider Damuni is a returned missionary to watch for BYU football in 2023. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)
(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – One of the unique aspects of roster construction for BYU football is returning missionaries.

When assembling a recruiting class, it can be easy to forget prospects that have been gone for two years serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. BYU’s coaching staff, however, hasn’t forgotten these players.

Most returned missionaries in Kalani Sitake’s program either greyshirt or redshirt in their first year back from serving. Primarily due to the fact that these players who choose to serve missionaries don’t participate in football or training at all during their missions.

However, now that the Big 12 is here and there are so many new faces on the roster and coaching staff, there are more opportunities for RM’s to make an impact in 2023.

Who could be those players that make a difference this season? Here are five that you should watch for.

Raider Damuni, Safety

The importance of Raider Damuni to BYU in the future was on display at Salt Lake City International Airport last month. Damuni arrived home from his Latter-day Saint mission in San Francisco. Awaiting the 6-foot-2, 190-pound athlete was BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill outside the revolving doors at the security exit.

Damuni is an all-around athlete who could play various positions in his collegiate career. We’ll say he lines up in Jay Hill’s safeties room for his first year. But he’s athletic enough to play at a handful of positions.

The former Timpview standout stayed loyal to BYU throughout his commitment. He committed to the Cougars six years ago in the winter of 2017. For context, Damuni committed to BYU before the Cougars 4-9 season in 2017. He navigated a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and remained loyal to BYU.

In this day and age of people talking about the Transfer Portal and student-athletes not being loyal to teams, Damuni stayed committed through many ups and downs for the BYU program.

Damuni finished his prep career with 82 tackles, 11 interceptions, and 35 pass deflections.

Jake Griffin, Offensive Line

Griffin was part of BYU’s 2020 recruiting class. A three-star prospect from Mesa, Arizona, Griffin earned high praise from former BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes as a future standout at offensive tackle.

In high school, Griffin was listed at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds. One of the challenges for returned missionaries along the offensive line is weight. For example, Clark Barrington lost 75 pounds when he was on a mission.

BYU’s offensive line in 2023 has some question marks regarding its depth. Griffin has the potential to be a two-deep player in year one.

Nukuluve Helu, Running Back

BYU has a nice trio of running backs in Hinckley Folau Ropati, Miles Davis, and UNLV transfer Aidan Robbins. But a name to keep an eye on is freshman Nukuluve Helu from Tooele High School.

Helu greyshirted last season after serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines. During his senior year at Tooele, Helu was one of the best running backs in Utah, rushing for 1,178 yards and eight touchdowns.

BYU running back coach Harvey Unga considered letting Helu compete for playing time last year. But ultimately, the patience is rewarded as Helu now has five years to play four, all of which will be in the Big 12 Conference.

Ace Kaufusi, Linebacker

Another Kaufusi is joining the fold at BYU. This time it’s Ace Kaufusi from Kahuku High School in Hawaii. He’s a cousin to former BYU linebackers Isaiah and Jackson Kaufusi.

A 6-foot-3, 200-pound linebacker, Kaufusi greyshirted last year after serving a mission in San Jose, California. He picked BYU out of high school over interest from Utah, Stanford, Utah State, and UCLA.

BYU’s linebacker position has lost a lot of key contributors. Ben Bywater and Max Tooley are at the top. Still, there should be some intriguing competition to round out the depth chart after them. Kaufusi could potentially factor into that conversation.

Bentley Redden, Tight End

BYU has a star tight end from San Clemente, California, in Isaac Rex. Could Bentley Redden follow in Rex’s footsteps?

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound tight end from San Clemente High was one of the top recruits in BYU’s 2021 recruiting class. He held offers from Tennessee, Nebraska, Virginia, Arizona State, and elite academic universities such as Harvard and Yale.

Redden is a legacy BYU recruit. His father, Matt, played at BYU as a defensive end from 1992-1995. He was a teammate with Kalani Sitake for one season in 1994.

BYU’s tight end depth chart likely consists of Isaac Rex and Ethan Erickson. But after that, there should be a lot of competition for Steve Clark’s tight ends.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU moving to the Big 12 Conference on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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Five BYU Football Returned Missionaries To Watch For In 2023