Hayes, Brooks highlight BYU's 2023 NFL Pro Day


PROVO, Utah — In addition to BYU football's three NFL Combine participants, defensive back Kaleb Hayes and running back Christopher Brooks highlighted the performances among 17 former Cougars at BYU’s 2023 NFL Pro Day held at the Indoor Practice Facility on Friday morning.

Offensive lineman Blake Freeland, quarterback Jaren Hall and wide receiver Puka Nacua returned to BYU after performing at the combine to participate on Pro Day, joining Hayes, Brooks and defensive back Matthew Criddle, defensive lineman Lorenzo Fauatea, fullback Houston Heimuli, long snapper Britton Hogan, wide receiver Chris Jackson, offensive lineman Harris LaChance, defensive back D’Angelo Mandell, kicker Jake Oldroyd, wide receiver Gunner Romney, defensive lineman Earl Tuioti-Mariner, offensive lineman Joe Tukuafu and linebacker Payton Wilgar.

The group met with 39 NFL team representatives from all 32 teams, participated in various combine tests and performed position-specific skills throughout the day as BYUtv provided live coverage of the event. 

Beginning the day with official measurements, the former BYU student-athletes then proceeded with the bench press, vertical and broad jumps before moving in the 40-yard dash, cone and shuttle drills and position-specific workouts. 

Heimuli led all Cougars with 31 reps in the bench press, which would’ve been good for No. 5 overall at the NFL Combine and first among running backs. Brooks tallied 21 reps, while Hayes recorded 17, both ranking No. 2 for their respective position groups at the Combine.

Hayes continued to impress in the vertical jump, posting a 40-inch vertical, a mark that would’ve ranked No. 6 for defensive backs at the Combine. Brooks jumped 37 inches, good for fifth among running backs, with Earl Tuioti-Mariner ranking No. 2 for defensive lineman at 33 inches.

Running a 4.31 in the 40-yard dash, Hayes’ time would have placed third both for defensive backs and overall at the Combine. Hayes and Brooks recorded top times in the 3-cone drill as well as the defensive back clocked a 6.88 while the running back ran a 7.13. Hayes’ time was tied for second at his position with Brooks’ time good for sole second in his position.

Freeland, Hemuli and Wilgar joined Brooks and Hayes with top times in the 20-yard shuttle. Both Brooks’ 4.18 and Freeland’s 4.42 would have ranked No. 1 in their position groups at the Combine. Ranking second for their positions were Wilgar (4.32) and Heimuli (4.5), while Hayes’ 4.17 was again good for a tie at second among defensive backs.

The NFL Draft will be held April 24-29 at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake, members of the coaching staff and the participants each spoke about Pro Day following the event. 

Head coach Kalani Sitake on Blake Freeland
“He’s a big-time play-maker. We project him to be a top draft pick. A lot of people know him for breaking the vertical jump record at the NFL Combine, but he’s been showing this type of athleticism since he was young. He was a basketball player and state champion in discus and shotput. His parents are also former BYU student-athletes, with his mom being an All-American, so it makes sense that he has great genetics. Blake still has so much potential. He has not hit his peak yet. It’s gonna be a lot of fun to see him in the NFL.”

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick on Blake Freeland
“Blake is a freak. He is the most athletic big man I’ve ever seen. He is explosive. His ability to change direction at his size is amazing. He also brings a lot of toughness which is what makes him an elite player.”

Offensive line coach Darrell Funk on Blake Freeland
“I’m very excited about Blake’s future. He did excellent at the NFL Combine, like I knew he would. He also played very well for BYU during the last three years. The most interesting thing to me about Blake is that he is just a baby in O-Line years. A lot of guys have played offensive line their whole lives, which he hasn’t. When you combine his skill set — such as athleticism and durability — with his intangibles — such as character, work ethic, leadership and morale — it makes him an excellent prospect.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake on Harris LaChance
“Harris is a big, skilled player. He can play a lot of different positions, whether it’s on the right or left side. He’s still learning, and he hasn’t hit his peak when it comes to football. He’s got a great football IQ, and there still is so much for him to accomplish.”

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick on Harris LaChance
“I think Harris brings versatility to an NFL team. He’s an interesting player, because he started games for us at guard and tackle. That versatility is his biggest strength, because he will be able to move around a lot.”

Offensive line coach Darrell Funk on Harris LaChance
“Harris has done a lot for BYU. His versatility will help him succeed at the next level. They don’t suit many guys in the NFL, so players have to be able to cross-train, which is what Harris is capable of. He is a tough guy who’s got a lot of spirit. He also has a lot of confidence in himself. I know he will have a real chance to make an impression once he gets to camp.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake on Joe Tukuafu
“Joe is very athletic. He converted from tight end, to defensive line, to offensive line. He’s a tough player and holds himself accountable. He cares about his team, but he is also very smart and knows what he’s doing. He’s a guy that can play all five positions and will be very useful at the next level.”

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick on Joe Tukuafu
“Joe has versatility. He can play both sides equally well. He’s a veteran that played a lot of snaps in college, but in the NFL, he’ll be able to play three different positions.”

Offensive line coach Darrell Funk on Joe Tukuafu
“Joe loves to play the game. He has a lot of energy and toughness. The advantage Joe has is that he’s a resourceful athlete. He has played guard and center, so that is huge. He knew our offense inside and out, so he is very football intelligent. He was a leader for us and has the capability to teach the game as well. I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake on Matt Criddle
“I actually moved him to a position I was coaching, which is a hybrid nickel safety. He has a lot of speed and is super smart, and has a high football IQ. He’s a guy you can count on because he always knows what all 11 guys on the field are doing. He’s a very versatile player, and teams could use him in lots of different spots.”

Cornerback coach Jernaro Gilford on Matt Criddle
“Matt is super smart, and he has a really high football IQ. He’s got great length and is super physical, and he genuinely loves the game of football.

Head coach Kalani Sitake on Kaleb Hayes
“Kaleb is super fast and explosive. In the game of football, he is big and tall, so as a corner, he brings a lot to the table. His athleticism is amazing, and he has great charisma and leadership. The people really love Kaleb.”

Cornerback coach Jernaro Gilford on Kaleb Hayes
“He’s a great leader, and he’s the type of guy who will come in and just work. He isn’t satisfied with anything but being the best, whether that’s on the field or off the field. He’s super competitive, and he’ll bring some speed and length. Whatever team picks him up is going to be very happy with him.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake on Chris Brooks
“I wish he wouldn’t have got banged up during the season, because I think he was on a path to have a great senior year. Although he did some great things and had some great runs, the injury kind of slowed him down a little bit, but he’ll test really, really well. He’s a big, strong body that will bring a lot to the table.”

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick on Chris Brooks
“Chris has great speed for a guy his size. He definitely has an NFL body and has the durability to be able to last in the league. It’s a really physical league, and the running backs take a lot of shots. He can take that.”

Running backs coach Harvey Unga on Chris Brooks
“Chris is definitely a professional. He’s a super fast learner. He came in right away and understood at least 80% of the playbook within the first couple of weeks. To me, that’s huge, because NFL franchises have huge playbooks that he’ll be able to pick up quickly. He’s very smart, a good teammate, good leader and has a great understanding of the game of football. Physically, he looks the part, but he has performed it well too. He also brings a lot of energy to the room and has great hands.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake on Jaren Hall
“Jaren is an ultimate leader. He’s all about the team, does everything right and the only thing I regret is that he’s not playing for us one more year. Just a great kid and a great leader and has tons of ability. I’m looking forward to seeing him next winter. He’ll do amazing things for any team that takes him.”

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick on Jaren Hall
“Jaren has always been a poised guy. He’s accurate, a super athlete and he’s smart. He’s going to play a long time in the NFL.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake on Puka Nacua
“Puka Nacua is the hardest worker, especially in practice. You can tell by his energy that practice is the best part of his day. He loves football. He’s the ultimate competitor and has non-stop energy. He’s willing to do everything. Sometimes you have to tell him to slow down. He has no idea how to do a walk-through. He’s not wired like that. He goes 100%.”

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick on Puka Nacua 
“Puka is the most explosive playmaker I’ve ever coached. He has an outstanding ability to run with the ball after the catch. He will be a great playmaker in the NFL.”

Wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake on Puka Nacua
“In Puka, you’re getting someone who is all football. He eats, sleeps and breathes football. He’s very studious with film. He loves his craft as a receiver. You get the passion you want in Puka. He’s a super hard worker, a great leader and very charismatic. We’ve already felt the absence of Puka’s energy and smiles he brought every day, whether he was able to practice or not. He brings great value to any team with his infectious energy.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake on Gunner Romney
“Gunner is a big-time play-maker, especially with the deep ball. He’s a big target with sure hands and a great route runner. Quarterbacks love him, because he’s always accountable. He’s always where he’s supposed to be. He does things the right way. He can block well and do a lot on special teams, so I think he will make a team really proud.”

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick on Gunner Romney
“Gunner is a deep-ball threat. He’s great at tracking the deep ball, finding it and making a play down the field. Gunner plays bigger than he is. He has a good range, and he’s tough. He makes catches in traffic. He knows how to hold onto the ball in a tight space.”

Wide Receivers Coach Fesi Sitake on Gunner Romney 
“He blossomed during his time at BYU. He went from someone who was very quiet and mild-mannered to a very vocal leader. He speaks at the right time. He’s very disciplined and is one of the smarter receivers I’ve ever coached. In Gunner, you’re getting someone who understands the game and is dedicated to his craft.”

Head Coach Kalani Sitake on wide receiver/defensive back Chris Jackson: 
“I wish he would have moved to corner a long time ago. He has tons of speed, especially straight-line speed. We utilized him on a lot of special teams, especially punt and kickoff cover teams. If a team is willing to develop him and see him through in the cornerback position, I think he will have a great career.”

Offensive Coordinator Aaron Roderick on wide receiver/defensive back Chris Jackson
“He has great speed, and he’s one of the best special teams players we’ve had here.” 

Head Coach Kalani Sitake on fullback Houston Heimuli
"Houston is a great leader, he’s really smart and has the tools to play fullback at the next level. I have a huge appreciation for fullbacks and know Houston can do so many things to help a team both at fullback and on special teams."

Head coach Kalani Sitake on Payton Wilgar
“Payton Wilgar had a lot of great plays. He is a converted safety to linebacker. He has great instincts in the game of football so we played him at all three different positions at linebacker. He is versatile. He can also play on the line of scrimmage as a defensive end. In the NFL, I would project him as an outside linebacker, but he also has experience at inside linebacker. I think he has a good chance of possibly making it on a team because he has so much flexibility and can do a lot of different things.”

Head Coach Kalani Sitake on defensive lineman Lorenzo Fauatea
“He’s done some great things for us and has overcome injuries to get to the level that he’s at right now. I think a team will be very fortunate to have him. His experience with overcoming adversity is going to be huge for him. Great teammate, great leader for us, as he was a team captain, with extreme toughness that will help out on the football field.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake on defensive lineman Earl Tuioti-Mariner
“He’s been banged up with injuries in the past and was able to overcome them. He’s played all four positions on the line and has great footwork and athleticism. It’ll be interesting to see where he fits in for a 3-4 or 4-3.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake on D’Angelo Mandell
“He has overcome quite a bit of adversity and has been someone who we can always count on. He has gratitude for every day that he lives and gets to play football, and that carries over into the way he conducts himself on and off the field. He is very athletic and has a lot of speed. He is a tough player, always ready to tackle and strike.”

Cornerback coach Jernaro Gilford on D’Angelo Mandell
“He is a player who is going to work hard every single day. He’s got the length, speed and is not satisfied with being mediocre. He will put in the work to be his best.  Any program would be lucky to have him.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake on long snapper Britton Hogan
“Britton’s been a great long snapper for us for many years. You know whenever you don’t hear about the long snapper that it’s a good sign. People don’t know his name for the wrong reasons, and he’s always been really solid with all his snaps.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake on kicker Jake Oldroyd
“He’s an amazing kicker with a strong leg. He gets great height on the ball, a great pop, and he can also do kickoffs and punts. He can do everything with his leg, and you can see his mastery of kicks when he does onside kicks too. He’s got great accuracy.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake General Media Session

Opening Statement
“Pro day went really well. I’m happy that our players got to perform in front of the NFL and the teams. I’m really excited about the possibilities for this group that’s going into the draft and happy that they’re able to fulfill their lifelong dreams. I look forward to seeing what’s going to happen in the draft and free agency.”

On the Pro Day at BYU over the years
“A lot of great people have put this together with the help of the support staff to make it what it is today. A lot of hard work has gone into it to elevate the player’s abilities and showcase it to the scouts, and I’m really glad we were able to do that. I don’t know what the future holds in this, but we will continue to find ways to elevate the brand and elevate our players in their opportunities.” 

Defensive back Kaleb Hayes General Media Session

Opening Statement
“I feel like I came out and did what I had to do today. I had an expectation for myself during my months of training, and I had a chip on my shoulder for not being able to participate in many events, so today was a great opportunity for me. I am an athlete, and I am going to perform, compete and win. I appreciate all the people who have been training me and helping me, especially my coaches and my parents.”

On running a 4.31 for the 40-yard dash
“A 4.31 is crazy. I was hoping to get anywhere in the 4.3 range, show my speed, and I think I did that and definitely turned some heads today.”

Appreciation for NFL scouts
“We really appreciate them all coming out today, because we train for this moment our entire lives, so it means a lot, being able to go out there and perform in front of the scouts, so I want to thank them for coming out.”

Quarterback Jaren Hall General Media Session

On how the day went
“It was fun. I just wanted to come out here and have a good time. It wasn’t going to be perfect, but I’m just glad to be back here in the Indoor Practice Facility here in Provo with all the guys. It’s a lot of fun.”

On what he was able to show
“I was healthy today. My ankle feels better and recovered, and I just wanted to show that I’m an athletic guy and confirm what is on tape. I wanted to show that I can do everything I need to.”

“For throws, I looked to demonstrate the ability to make every throw, like off-platform, on the run, and mobility in the pocket. Just small things that can separate me from other people and show off my skill set. In the combine, I threw everything under center and in the pocket, so today we wanted to do a lot on the run to show the mobility side of things.”

On receiving any advice from BYU players who are in the NFL
“I’ve talked to some guys and all the advice comes down to not stress or fret too much about the process, because everything comes down to the situation you land in. You can’t always control those things, and so you try to refine yourself and be the best you can show coaches and organizations who you are.”

On how BYU helped prepare him for the NFL
“It’s been fantastic. When you’re independent, you play against a lot of teams, see a lot of different styles of football and travel all across the country meeting people. I’ve loved my time here. I felt like it prepared me really well for the NFL, and there are great coaches here.”

Wide receiver Puka Nacua General Media Session

On his performance at Pro Day
“I feel good. I feel like my shoulders have been able to drop ever since we finished. It was stress-relieving and exciting. It’s what I’ve been training for. Last season, I don’t feel like I tracked the deep ball as well, so today that last deep ball I caught from Jaren [Hall] made me feel better.”

On his goals today
“I wanted to show that I can move with the best. I feel like I’m one of the most smooth and efficient route runners, so when we were out there running routes I was trying to show what I do best. In the other drills I wanted to continue to prove my flexibility and explosiveness.”

On learning from his brothers’ NFL experiences
“Their advice is super valuable. It’s a huge blessing to have [Samson and Kai] supporting me but also telling me what I need to do better.”

On working with quarterback Jaren Hall following the 2022 season
“I’ve worked with him a ton. He’s been working out with 3D QB in Orange County [California], and he’s been five minutes down the street from me there. We went to the Senior Bowl together and spent time going over the plays.”

On the NFL teams he’s met with
“I’ve probably met with the [Seattle] Seahawks and [New England] Patriots the most. I’ve met with the [Kansas City] Chiefs, [Arizona] Cardinals and the [New York] Jets too. I feel like I play the game with a lot of physicality, and they love that.”