Former Dixie teammates Westfall, Wilgar and Nyberg will reunite in New Mexico Bowl

Dixie Flyers captains take the field in the 4A state football playoffs, St. George, Utah, Nov. 3, 2017 | Photo courtesy Cassandra Eakins for St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Three Dixie High School graduates will experience a reunion Saturday when the football teams from Brigham Young University and Southern Methodist University kick off against each other in the New Mexico Bowl.

Sam Westfall, Payton Wilgar and Hobbs Nyberg last played on the same football field Nov. 3, 2017.

Their Dixie Flyers were up against Mountain Crest in the quarterfinals of the Utah 4A state football championship.

Despite being the favored team, Dixie came up just short that day, falling 18-17 in a long, nail-bitingly close contest.

Stricken with disappointment, Dixie seniors Westfall, Wilgar and Nyberg knew their chances of ever playing together on the same field again were slim.

“After that last game, you thought you were giving your last goodbyes playing on the same field together,” Nyberg recalled.

Dixie graduate Payton Wilgar for BYU, date unspecified | Photo courtesy Cassandra Eakins, St. George News

Wilgar and Nyberg first met in their fourth-grade class but at the time played for separate football teams. Wilgar played for Snow Canyon while Nyberg played for Dixie.

In seventh grade, Wilgar transferred to Dixie and the two became teammates.

The next year, Westfall, who was born in Mississippi but adopted into a family in Cedar City, moved to St. George and joined the Flyers.

Playing football together spurred a competitive friendship among the three, who soon settled into the positions that would carry into their college careers.

Wilgar and Westfall lined up on defense as linebacker and cornerback, respectively, while Nyberg went to offense in a variety of positions, favoring slot receiver.

They proved their expertise through their high school careers, piling up some impressive stats by the time they graduated.

Westfall allowed only one catch his entire final season. Wilgar posted nine career interceptions and totaled 131 career tackles throughout his high school career. Nyberg was named the region MVP that last season.

Their high school football team would go on to win four regional championships, with each of them achieving all-state status in their senior years.

When it came time for college all three players knew their value but each found their own path to realizing their dreams.

Wilgar followed in his father’s footsteps and went to BYU as a preferred walk-on, earning a scholarship after one semester. He was named to the Pro Football Focus All-Freshman Team his first year, leading the Cougars and tying for second nationally among linebackers with three interceptions.

In the years that followed he continued to impress. Wilgar was named to the Pro Football Network’s Independent Linebacker of the Year, as well as the All-Independent First Team Defense for the 2021 season.

Although he experienced a season-ending injury after ten games, he still finished as BYU’s third-leading tackler last season. This year, despite injuries, he was named one of the team captains.

Nyberg’s father also played football in Provo and his mom ran track at Weber State. Nyberg excelled in baseball at Dixie and was a back-to-back state champion and the Utah 4A MVP in 2018.

Dixie graduate Hobbs Nyberg returns a punt for BYU, date unspecified | Photo courtesy Cassandra Eakins, St. George News

After accepting an offer to play for BYU’s baseball team, he played on the diamond for two years before he gave in to the call of his other love, football.

In 2020, Nyberg walked on to the football team and joined former teammate Wilgar. In that same season, Nyberg defined himself in the role of BYU’s main punt returner.

By the next year, he was named to the All-Independent Second Team Special Teams by ProFootball Network. This year, he’s continued to perform as a starting punt and kickoff returner.

While his two friends followed paths to BYU, Westfall chose a different route to his education.

Although he’d been offered a preferred walk-on opportunity at BYU, the alma mater of both his parents, he refused to accept anything short of a scholarship.

Instead, Westfall signed on to Mesa Community College’s football team with the hope it would be a stepping stone to greater things.

Within one season, he achieved his goal, receiving several full-ride scholarship offers from Division I schools.

He ultimately committed to play at SMU in Dallas, Texas.

Since being named a starter, he’s only allowed one touchdown and has been named by ESPN as a Player to Watch, earning a reputation as the most consistent cornerback on SMU’s team coming into this season.

One common thread binds these three players together, other than their same high school team: They have all been starters in college.

“We’ve all been working hard and trying to continue our winning success,” Hobbs said.

They were valuable players out of high school and spent the last five years building on their potential with a mixture of hard work and determination.

While the Dixie trio kept in touch over the years, they never expected they might play together again after the devastating playoff loss in 2017.

“I always tried to get Sam (Westfall) to come (to BYU) but he never came,” said Wilgar, adding that Westfall was reluctant to give up a scholarship at a school as prestigious as SMU.

Dixie graduate Sam Westfall for SMU, date unspecified | Photo courtesy Cassandra Eakins, St. George News

“It would have been fun to reunite with some old teammates,” Westfall said. “But I felt at home in Dallas. The coaching staff has always been really good to me.”

Nobody expected that the three friends would ever compete together again.

Then the unexpected happened when the New Mexico Bowl competitors were announced. BYU and SMU will face each other in Albuquerque on Saturday, Dec. 17.

“I think it’s pretty wild that we will all be meeting up at a bowl game,” Wilgar said. “I never would’ve guessed.”

Westfall, however, was more hopeful.

“I always had a feeling that SMU and BYU were going to play at some point in my career,” he said. “But I didn’t know when.”

While Westfall hopes his familiarity with BYU’s players might give him an edge, he admitted that both teams had similar seasons and the game is set up to be good.

In fact, he, Wilgar and Nyberg have had a back-and-forth conversation for years talking about who might win if the two teams ever met up.

Now, five years after the loss that ended their high school careers, the trio of former Flyers will have the chance to answer that question as they face each other in uniform one final time.

Only this time, at least one of them will leave victorious.

The Cougars and Mustangs kick off in the New Mexico Bowl Saturday, Dec. 17, at 5:30 p.m.

The text of this story was written by CASSANDRA EAKINS for St. George News Sports.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!