Gunner Romney looks on from the sideline at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Romney was one of six BYU players named to a national award watchlist. (Hannah Miner)

BYU football players racking up award watchlist selections

The BYU football team had six players named to a bevy of national award watchlists over the last week, including three players with multiple selections.

The selections came in all three phases of the game for BYU, foreshadowing a balanced squad that looks to continue its national relevance after a top-10 ranking last year. Despite a wide-open quarterback race as the Cougars attempt to replace No. 2 NFL draft pick Zach Wilson, the pieces around the quarterback appear primed for a strong 2021 season.

Running back Tyler Allgeier led the watchlist selections with a spot on the Maxwell Award watchlist, given to the best player in college football every year. Allgeier was also named a Doak Walker Award preseason candidate, recognizing the best running back in the nation.

The sophomore from Fontana, California broke onto the scene last season as a speedy, reliable back for the Cougars. He totaled 13 touchdowns last season and received the 2020 Phil Steele All-America honorable mention.

Joining Allgeier on the offensive side of the ball is center James Empey, who was named to the Rimington Trophy watchlist for centers and the Outland Trophy watchlist for the best interior lineman. A three-time Rimington Trophy watchlist honoree and two-time Outland Trophy watchlist selection, Empey has started in all 34 games he has played.

Empey is a key returning piece for BYU’s offensive line after the position group lost three starters to the NFL: Brady Christensen, Chandon Herring and Tristen Hoge. Whoever ends up behind him as the starting quarterback will be glad to have an experienced center blocking and leading the way in front of them.

The other BYU player to receive two watchlist selections was linebacker Payton Wilgar, who was named to the Butkus Award watchlist for linebackers and the Bronko Nagurski watchlist for the best defensive player in the nation.

Wilgar had 57 tackles, including five for loss, in addition to four pass breakups and a forced fumble last season. He was named to the 2020 Phil Steele All-Independent Second Team and helped the BYU defense rank No. 4 in scoring defense and No. 10 in total defense.

Back on offense, two members of the BYU receiving corps were named to award watchlists. Gunner Romney was named to the Biletnikoff Award watchlist for best receiver and Isaac Rex was recognized by the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s most outstanding tight end.

Last year, Romney was also recognized on the watch list after a strong start to the season along with fellow BYU receiver Dax Milne, who become a 2020 Biletnikoff Award semifinalist and All-American before getting drafted by the Washington Football Team in the NFL. 

With Milne gone, Romney will be the featured wide receiver in BYU’s offense, after ranking No. 28 in the nation last season with 767 receiving yards on 39 catches despite missing nearly three full games with injury. Romney found himself within just a few yards of the endzone on multiple occasions last season and has stated he hopes to score on a lot more of those catches in 2021.

Rex is one of the most promising young players on BYU’s roster following a breakout freshman year when he ranked No. 1 among tight ends in the nation, along with 2020 Mackey Award winner Kyle Pitts of Florida, with 12 receiving touchdowns. He earned 2020 Phil Steele All-Independent First Team honors and 2020 Freshman All-America accolades by The Athletic.

Kicker Jake Oldroyd was the most recent selection, named to the Lou Groza Award watchlist for the top placekicker on Wednesday. Oldroyd was one of three finalists for the award in 2020 after finishing the season a perfect 13-of-13 on field-goal attempts. He was named to four All-American teams as a sophomore last season, the first BYU All-American kicker since Matt Payne in 2004. 

Even after having an impressive five players selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, BYU football still has stars to spare on both sides of the ball, as evidenced by the national recognition and breakout moments in 2020.

The Cougars report to fall training camp in just one week on Wednesday, Aug. 4, and open the season a month later on Sep. 4 against Arizona at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

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