BYU football: Who will be the the Cougars’ rising star in 2022?

BYU football: Who will be the the Cougars’ rising star in 2022?

BYU’s Keanu Hill attends practice in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021.

BYU’s Keanu Hill attends practice in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. The talented receiver could be on the cusp of a breakout season for the Cougars this year.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Calling a fourth-year player a rising star might be seen as a bit of a stretch, but not in the case of BYU receiver Keanu “Ke-bo” Hill, the sophomore who coaches say is heading toward a breakout year.

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“He’s going to make a lot of big plays for us,” offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said.

Some might look at the hype that accompanied Hill out of Texas’ Trinity High when he signed with the Cougars in 2019 and say it’s about time — partly because of his football bloodlines — but Roderick and receivers coach Fesi Sitake insist the 6-foot-4, 210-pound speedster was a vital part of the Cougars’ offense last year.

It’s just that he was overshadowed by departed stars Samson Nacua and Neil Pau’u and the top two receivers back this year — Gunner Romney and Puka Nacua.

“He is a proven guy who has made a ton of plays for us in games. He’s got great leadership. He’s got a great mentality,” Sitake said. “When I hear his name, I think of his journey from beginning to end, and how people doubted him and he just kept fighting to improve his craft, and he is proof that hard work pays off.”

“It is a big honor. I am blessed to be given that role and be one of the starters. But nothing is promised, so I gotta keep working because I know these young guys (behind him on the depth chart) like Chase Roberts and Kody Epps, are hungry. So I gotta keep putting in the effort, keep putting in the work, so I can maintain that.” — BYU receiver Keanu Hill on becoming WR3 on the depth chart

Sitake said at June’s BYU football media day that Hill had emerged as the Cougars’ third starting receiver after spring camp, and Hill vowed to back up the coach’s confidence by working even harder.

“It is a big honor,” he said Tuesday. “I am blessed to be given that role and be one of the starters. But nothing is promised, so I gotta keep working because I know these young guys (behind him on the depth chart) like Chase Roberts and Kody Epps, are hungry. So I gotta keep putting in the effort, keep putting in the work, so I can maintain that.”

As was well-documented by the Deseret News last November, Hill is the son of former Texas Tech first-team All-America receiver Lloyd Hill. He is the nephew of former Dallas Cowboys and Texas Longhorns great Roy Williams.

Ke-bo, as everyone has called him since he got that nickname from his grandmother when he was a toddler, was BYU’s fourth-leading receiver last year with 18 catches for 343 yards and two touchdowns. That’s 19.1 yards per catch.

Highlights last year were a 33-yard reception to set up a touchdown in BYU’s 26-17 win over Utah and a 41-yard touchdown catch in BYU’s 35-31 win over USC. What will he do for an encore?

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BYU receiver Keanu Hill celebrates a long catch setting up a Cougar score as BYU and Utah play at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“My goal for this season is to be a leader on this team, really,” he said. And not just lead with my voice, but by example.”

On the field, he wants to improve his route running and blocking, and perhaps get to 1,000 receiving yards if the stars align.

“I probably won’t get a thousand (yards), but that’s a little goal of mine, so we will see what happens,” he said.

Roberts, who could also be called a potential rising star, said Hill is having a fantastic fall camp.

“He’s catching those high-point balls and making those amazing, jaw-dropping plays,” Roberts said. “I think you will see a lot of those from Ke-bo this season.”

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Sitake said Hill has come a long ways since early in his freshman season in 2019 when coaches briefly considered making him an outside linebacker.

“He was a big, athletic guy, and had good genes, but if it wasn’t working out, we were going to move him to a defensive player,” Sitake said. “He just started to really work hard on the things he was struggling with as a receiver. He just chipped away every single spring and fall, and obviously he is to the point now where he is in a great position.”

A lot of players who enter programs with lofty expectations but don’t get a lot of early playing time hit the transfer portal, but Sitake says he’s never encountered that kind of attitude from Hill.

“He’s been all in from the beginning. We’ve had zero issues with him. A lot of that just comes from his family dynamic. He’s very loyal. His dad and his uncle are cut from that college football cloth, where they understand the value of working hard and staying true to who you are and staying loyal to your team,” Sitake said.

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