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PROVO — BYU football has one less day to prepare for in-state rival Utah State, which is coming off a bye week before Friday night’s 7 p.m. kickoff at LaVell Edwards Stadium (ESPN2, KSL Newsradio).
The Cougars (3-2) will also be down one more tight end.
Moroni Laulu-Pututau, who went down with a left knee injury in Saturday’s 35-7 loss at No. 10 Washington, confirmed the worst Sunday night via Twitter: He will have surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the rest of the 2018 season.
It’s the second season-ending surgery in as many years for Laulu-Pututau, a native of Hyrum who missed the 2017 season with a Lisfranc fracture.
“He really wanted this game, because he’s from there,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “It’s unfortunate. He’s had some really tough battles with injury, and I think we were starting to see him emerge as a receiver and a blocker. It’s always hard when a guy goes down.”
In Laulu-Pututau’s absence, sophomore Matt Bushman and freshman Dallin Holker will be tasked to carry more of the load at tight end. The duo were the only two tight ends listed on BYU’s Week 6 depth chart, but Sitake and assistant head coach Ed Lamb added that Hank Tuipulotu is also ready to return to the field. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound freshman from Fort Mill, South Carolina, recently returned from a two-year church mission, but Lamb said during his “Coordinator’s Corner” radio show that he’s bulked up his frame enough to potentially see playing time this year.
Laulu-Pututau also won’t go far from the program.
“His leadership will continue for our team,” Sitake said. “He’ll still be tuned in, but he just won’t be ready to play on the field.”
The former standout wide receiver has made an impression on Cougars in two years, despite limited playing time. Laulu-Pututau caught 14 passes for 120 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown from Aleva Hifo against Wisconsin as a redshirt junior.
But his impact in the locker room has been even bigger. Both Tanner Mangum and Talon Shumway referred to Laulu-Pututau as “a best friend” while speaking to the media Monday, and there’s rarely been a negative word spoken of the teammate in BYU circles.
“My heart hurts,” said Mangum, who also served as a missionary with Laulu-Pututau in Chile. “He’s worked so hard to get back, and it was so fun playing with him again. I could feel for him; those injuries aren’t fun. I feel really bad, but we are going to be there for him.
“He’s the type of guy that won’t let this derail him. He’ll be back stronger than ever, for sure.”