This is part 2 of Jeff Call’s ‘all-interview’ BYU football team.
Austin Collie, wide receiver
During the summer of 2007, Collie had been home from his mission for just a few months. Just weeks before the season began, I interviewed him at Legacy Hall.
While some people had lofty expectations for him, others thought he’d never be the same player after serving a mission. I didn’t even have to ask him about that — he was already fully aware of what people were saying. Then Collie opened a window to his soul.
“For all those people who think I’m going to come out and perform even better than I did, I want to prove them right,” he said. “For all those people who think I can’t hack it anymore and it’s going to take me a while to get back into it, I want to prove them wrong. I think about that when I’m catching a ball and I think about that when I’m dead tired and don’t want to keep going. It’s definitely one of those things that drives me. I’m not a person who’s going to go curl up in a ball and hide in a corner. I’m going to do something about it.”
Of course, Collie ended up becoming BYU’s all-time leader in receiving yards with 3,255 — in just three seasons.
In January, 2009, Collie announced he was skipping his senior season and making himself eligible for the NFL draft.
“After the year that I had and the success that I had, I feel like I’m ready to take on the next challenge,” Collie said. “I don’t know what will happen, but I feel pretty confident in my decision and what’s in store for me in the future … I do realize it is the NFL and anything can happen. It’s a choice I feel comfortable making. I’m just looking to make an NFL team. It’s been my dream. Always has. I feel that it’s the right time.”
Collie was drafted in the fourth round of the draft and enjoyed a few very productive seasons with Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Injuries forced him out of the game until this past week, when he helped the New England Patriots beat the New Orleans Saints, 30-27.
John Beck, quarterback
As Beck entered his senior campaign and third season as BYU’s established starter in 2006, he straddled a line that separated greatness from mediocrity. He had one season to stand on one side or the other in Cougar quarterback lore.
He was caught in a paradox. While he was on pace to finish his career as the No. 2 passer in BYU history behind leader Ty Detmer, his record as a starter in three seasons was an unimpressive 12-14. Beck had never led the Cougars to a conference championship. He’d never led them to a winning season. He’d never beaten arch-rival Utah.
Talk about pressure.
The spring before his senior year, I asked Beck about what it was like being a BYU quarterback.
“I think the biggest thing I would say is, the quarterback position at BYU is unlike any other, because mediocrity can never be accepted. Ever. Whereas aschool that doesn’t have a huge quarterback tradition, if a guy goes out and completes 50 percent of his passes for 200 yards, and his team wins the game, that’s acceptable. Here, we can win the ballgame, the quarterback can complete 60 percent of his passes for 300 yards, but that still might not be where the BYU quarterback needs to be.
“I’ve heard it said that the quarterback position is the toughest position to play in all of sports,” Beck added. “Then when you add playing at one of the most recognizable schools for quarterbacks in the nation, there’s a lot that goes into it. Because of that, you have a large responsibility as the BYU quarterback. A BYU quarterback is supposed to be nothing less than first-team all-conference. A BYU quarterback is supposed to be nothing less than being up for the awards for the top quarterbacks in the nation. That’s what’s expected at BYU. If you finish with not a great season record-wise, that doesn’t cut it. A BYU quarterback is supposed to be someone who wins a lot of games and wins the big ones. In tight situations, a BYU quarterback is supposed to make the play. But because of that large responsibility, it definitely makes the person in that position ask a lot of himself. They can’t play mediocre games. You’ve got to step on the field expecting to play your best and wanting to help your teammates play their best.”
Beck grew up as a BYU fan, so he understood what it meant to be a BYU quarterback and the challenges that accompany that honor.
“My first couple of years here it was tough not to think about it, just because of how much I knew,” he said. “For those guys that come in not knowing the history of the quarterback position here, that might be a benefit. Guyslike coach (Brandon) Doman grew up around it, and he knew what was expected, got to be one of them. If you know that tradition, and you can expect a lot of yourself, and then you can go out and make it happen. It’s fun because you know who you can stand with. Whereas someone who comes in not knowing, they may have a fantastic career, but when someone says, ‘You’re one of the great BYU quarterbacks,’ they may not understand exactly what that means. For those of us who have followed BYU football, we came into this world to be called a great BYU quarterback. You know who you stand with. That’s pretty special.”
As it turned out, Beck led the Cougars to an 11-2 record in 2006, a conference championship, and a winover Utah — on that unforgettable touchdown pass to Jonny Harline.
Curits Brown, running back
Brown never hesitated to speak his mind. His bravado, however, sometimes didn’t sit well with the coaches.
Once, early in the 2005 season, I asked him about TCU running back Aaron Brown. The Horned Frogs had beaten Utah the previous week. Brown was blunt.
“I think he’s good but not great. Our defense is great,” he said. “I’m not going to judge TCU based off of Utah because I don’t think Utah’s defense is as good as our defense. I’m not going to judge TCU’s defense off of Utah because I don’t think Utah’s offense is as good as our offense. I just have a lot of confidence in our team right now. Call it cockiness, but when you’ve invested in something so much and you believe it, you’re going to be cocky about it. TCU has great players and they’re a great team, but when we’re playing our best football, there’s nobody in this country, I believe, that can stop us.”
Needless to say, that created quite a stir locally.
Brown became BYU’s all-time leading rusher until Harvey Unga eclipsed his record in 2008.
When Brown first arrived on campus as a student, he wasn’t a member of the LDS Church. He admitted he experienced a form of culture shock. “It’s a great culture shock,” he said. “Everybody’s super nice. It’s a wonderful community. I came out here and it was a great atmosphere, a great setting. I just felt like it would fit. It did and it’s working out great.”
His friendship with quarterback Matt Berry led Brown to investigate the LDS Church. Brown was eventually baptized.
“It was a pretty big decision,” he said. “I’m thankful to Matt, who pointed me in that direction. People (outside BYU) were like, ‘They’re going to brainwash you.’ And to be honest with you, that’s what happened. They sucked me in. If it’s wrong, then I’m going to die living wrong because it’s a great church, a great school, a great community. So many positive things. All it’s done is made me a better person. I thank God every day for the opportunity I have to be at this university.”
How did Brown’s parents react to his decision to join the LDS Church?
“They were kind of shocked, but not surprised,” Brown said. “They know me and they know the kind of person that I am. They know the morals and standards they’ve raised me in. This kind of fits with what they were teaching me — just to be a better person, to put God first, to do what’s right. I think my parents are very comfortable with it. My mom grew up Catholic, my dad grew up Baptist. They have 40-plus years in their religion so it’s kind of hard for them to make a transition as much as me. It was something I needed. I needed guidance and direction.”
Brandon Doman, quarterback
Going into the 2000 season-finale, Doman was set to start his second game as a BYU quarterback. Fittingly, it would be against Utah, on the field, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where he won state championships in high school.
Not only that, but Doman had his wedding reception at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
After the Domans got engaged, his fiancée, Alisha — who grew up a die-hard Ute fan — tried to find just the right place to hold the reception.
“She told me she had two places in mind and that she would show them to me,” Brandon said. “She drove me to the U. of U. football stadium. I said, ‘That’s our last option.'”
Being a good sport, he agreed to have the reception at the stadium tower of Rice-Eccles Stadium anyway.
“It was a beautiful room,” he recalled. “It was just strange seeing the pictures of the Utah football players on the wall. It was fun. The BYU coaches came dressed in blue. We had an ice sculpture that had a ‘U’ and a ‘Y’ connected. The reception was something we’ll remember all our lives.”
Then, in 2000, he enjoyed a game they’ll remember all of their lives.
It was legendary coach LaVell Edwards’ final game. The Cougars squandered a big lead, then found themselves with a fourth-and-13 situation deep in their own territory. Doman completed a pass for a first down, then another. He ended up scoring the game-winner tosend LaVell out with a career-ending victory.
The following season, Doman directed another dramatic BYU win over Utah by rallying the Cougars once again in the fourth quarter. The game-winning touchdown came on a pitch from Doman to Luke Staley.
“There’s a little magic toward the end of those games, if you’re feeling it like that,” Doman said afterwards. “There’s a little destiny. At least that’s the way I believe it. I believe we’re going to win these games.”
Bryan Kehl, linebacker
When Kehl was a senior in 2007, I was assigned to do a feature story on him. I had just one opportunity to interview him. Trouble was, he had a meeting after practice and couldn’t do an interview with me. However, he said if I was willing to wait, he’d talk to me after the meeting. I agreed, and I waited.
True to his word, Kehl caught up with me later. It was worth the wait.
I asked him about what it meant to him to play at BYU. Kehl’s older brother, Ed, played for BYU in the 1990s. When Bryan was a youngster, he was known as Ed Kehl’s little brother, he faithfully attended BYU games, soaking up every second.
“Not only did I go to the games, but I went into the locker room, I was at practices, I met the players in the offseason,” said Kehl. “I went to the bowl games. So I definitely have a unique perspective and am able to add that and enlighten (teammates) that don’t understand (what it means to play at BYU). I watched the players coming out of the tunnel, making plays. I envisioned myself doing that. When that dream was realized, it wasamazing. Whenever little kids come to the functions that we have now, I’m excited about that because I was that little kid. When we hit people’s hands after the game or at halftime outside our (locker room) tunnel, I love that. I know how that feels. Those kids just want to be part of the action. I looked up to the players. Now, being one of those guys that kids look up to, I recognize the responsibility on my shoulders and I hope to explain that to my teammates.”
Kehl grew up in a family with nine children. Six of them were adopted, and three of them, like Bryan, are of mixed race.
“It was awesome growing up,” Bryan said. “The most commendable thing I can say about my parents would be the lack of a double standard. I guess a lot of times you might think that a parent would separate their kids and say, ‘These are my natural children and those are my adopted children.’ But there was absolutely no such presence of that. It boggles my mind, especially with the different race and different skin color. That’s a hard thing to do. They did it amazingly. There is absolutely no difference. Family life was awesome. We still get together every Sunday, and it’s the highlight of the week. What’s amazing about it, I don’t remember ever being told I was adopted. Obviously with a different skin color, at some point I would have realized it, but it was something I always knew. I don’t know how it was brought up in the first place, I was too little to remember, but however they did it, they did it correctly. I always knew (the Kehls) were my mom and dad.”
In later years, after he had been playing in the NFL for a while, Kehl met his birth parents. His father, Maurice Turner, played running back in the NFL.
Hema Heimuli, running back
A little more than one week before the BYU-Utah game in 1994, Heimuli was driving on I-15 from Utah County to Salt Lake County to visit his mother. The night before, he had the game of his life on national TV against San Diego State.
Heimuli was tired as he drove. Twice, he caught himself falling asleep, but kept driving.
His eyes closed a third time, and his car drifted toward on-coming traffic. As he tried to turn the wheel to avoid the cars coming from the opposite direction, he overcorrected. The car flipped six or seven times, according to eyewitnesses. Glass from Heimuli’s car shattered and cut his arm and neck.
As he lay in the mangled metal that used to be his car, the first question he asked the paramedic (who, fortunately for him was a BYU fan): “You think I’m going to play Saturday (against Utah)?’”
Heimuli was taken to American Fork Hospital, where he received 70 stitches.
That brush with death left a lasting mark on him. The scars are something he lives with every day.
“I can’t help but think about it,” he said. “I feel blessed. We have a short time here and we have to make the most of it. It makes me wonder if I have a mission here, you know, to rush for 500 yards in a game or something.”
Heimuli, the younger brother of former Cougar running back Lakei Heimuli, wore an unusual number at BYU —15. Why? “The number reflects the kind of person I am. Other guys like wearing their brother’s number. I like not wearing a typical fullback or running back number. I want to be myself and show that in my number.”
Heimuli began his mission in Anaheim, Calif., on Feb. 15, 1988 and returned on Feb. 15, 1990. He had theoption of completing his mission a month early, but he wanted to serve exactly two years to the day. Hence, 15.
“Going on a mission was a big decision and I wanted to remember my mission,” he said. “That’s totally me to wear 15. I like to be totally different. I don’t like being compared.”
No comparisons needed for Heimuli. He was one of a kind.
Kalani Sitake, fullback
Assigned to write a story about the Polynesian influence on in-state college football teams, one of those I talked to was Sitake, who was a team captain at BYU and is now Utah’s defensive coordinator.
Not long after returning from his LDS Church mission to Oakland, Calif., Sitake had a tattoo engraved on his left arm. It depicts the letter “S” (for Sitake) inside a compass.
“My ancestors were navigators,” he explained. “It’s a compass leading me home, even if I’m far from home. It helps me remember who I am.”
As the Polynesians will tell you, family is at the center of the Polynesian culture. Its influence is so strong that Sitake, who was known as Kalani Fifita before his mission, added the name Sitake at the request of his grandfather.
Rob Morris, linebacker
Morris certainly marched to the beat of his own drummer during his BYU career.
Near the end of his senior season, I had the opportunity to sit down with him for about 30 minutes for a Q&A session. Here’s a sample of our conversation.
Question: When you were in high school, being recruited by schools like Stanford and BYU, did you see yourself being a linebacker or a fullback at the college level?
Answer: “I was recruited as both by different schools. But I knew in the back of my mind that eventually I would be a linebacker. When I was a freshman at BYU, and having a hard time with the switch from fullback to linebacker, LaVell (Edwards) told me, ‘I think you can be a great running back, but I think you can play on Sundays as a linebacker. You have the potential to go a long way.’ And LaVell doesn’t throw out idle things like that, so I took that to heart. That transition (to linebacker) was a big turning point. LaVell has a nose for where a guy should be. He knew that.”
Question: A year ago, you spoke out about the way BYU was dealing with non-Latter-day Saint students who violated the honor code. Are you pleased with the steps the school has taken to mitigate the situation, especially with creating a Student Athlete Center?
Answer: “I don’t know in-depth about the program they have, but I know that the effort the school has made is what has meant the most to me. My intention never was to say that I disagreed with the Honor Code. You come here knowing it’s a private school, you know it’s owned by the Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), so you have to do those things. It’s difficult for me, as a returned missionary, to do everything right, and I know how hard it is for other people. So the efforts the school’s made has meant a lot to me because these are some of my close friends.”
Question: Did administrators pull you aside after you made your comments and reprimand you?
Answer: “I did have a meeting one time in particular with the administration that was fairly heated. I’m the type of person who will voice my opinion. If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong, but I’m not going to hold back because someone holds a higher position than me. I didn’t catch a lot of flak. I had a lot of people that actually said, ‘It’s good you said that because you have that forum to say that. We really can’t say that in our position because we work for the school.'”
Question: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Morris: “One is the alligator thing in Florida (on a trip with former teammate John Tait). It’s seems crazy now, but it didn’t seem crazy then because I was kind of taunting the alligator, and I got pretty close to himwith a stick. It wasn’t until after we got out of the Everglades and we read a pamphlet and found out that they can run like 40 miles an hour. And we weretaunting this eight-foot alligator. Then I realized that probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. I’ve got it on videotape.”
Morris ended up as a first-round NFL draft pick and enjoyed an eight-year NFL career with the Indianapolis Colts.
Jake Kuresa, offensive lineman
Kuresa was one of the go-to guys for quotes, particularly during the 2006 season. He had suffered through losing seasons, and plenty of disappointments in his career, so he savored every moment.
“For our senior year to be panning out like this, with us to be in the driver’s seat, the number one thing in our minds is, we’re not going to let that go because we know what it’s like not to have a conference championship,” he said midway through the season. “We know what it’s like to come up short. We know what it’s like to have disappointments. Our senior year, the year that means the most to us, I don’t think we’re not going to have any shortcomings because we’ve had to learn the hard way how valuable a winning season and a conference championship is.”
Brandon Ogletree, linebacker
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall once said that on the field Ogletree is “kind of a twisted individual, which you want most of your linebackers to be,” and a “Tasmanian devilish kind of guy.”
Of course, Ogletree has a softer side. I asked him about his young son, who was born during the 2011 season.
“He was born the day of the Central Florida game, that morning. It was a crazy day. I played on three hours of sleep. But it was cool. His name is Luke and he weighed 6 pounds, 5 ounces. He’s five weeks old. He had his doctor’s appointment yesterday and now he’s 10 pounds. He’s eating well and growing fast. He’s a really good baby. He doesn’t cry very much. He’s happy. He keeps my wife up a little bit more than me. It’s been fun.”
Earlier that season, Ogletree, who is a native of McKinney, Texas, looked forward to playing in Austin against the University of Texas.
“There’s a great tradition of great football at Texas,” said Ogletree. “The passion and pageantry is unmatched.”
Unfortunately for him, a knee injury prevented him from playing. I asked him what it was like to miss that game against the Longhorns.
“That was frustrating, especially because it wasn’t like I was out with a knee (injury) and I couldn’t run. I was more held out as a precaution. As soon as I found out we were playing Texas, I was stoked. Not being able to play was really frustrating for me. There are a lot of life lessons in football, so you have to learn from it and you have to move on.”
During a game against Utah State, the Cougar offense struggled mightily. Ogletree walked up to Mendenhall on the sideline and reminded him how backup quarterback Riley Nelson had rallied the offense during the spring game.
Mendenhall replaced starting quarterback Jake Heaps with Nelson, and Nelson rallied the Cougars to a dramatic victory over the Aggies.
“I believe in him. The guy’s one of the hardest workers that I know,” Ogletree said of Nelson. “He’s gritty and he’s tough. He’s had a tough road and he stayed with it and it’s inspiring. You saw the way the team rallied around him.”
I’m not surprised at all that Ogletree now runs his own web site, ogletreefootball.com, which offers “Thoughtful Football Conversation.” Thoughtful conversation describes most of my interactions with Ogletree — as well as all the players listed on my All-Interview Team.
HONORABLE MENTION: Steve Sarkisian, Max Hall, Eathyn Manumaleuna, Tim Nowatzke, Jan Jorgensen, Brian Logan, Daniel Coats, Margin Hooks, Harvey Unga, Jason Scukanec, Jonathan Pittman, Andrew Rich, Matt Bauman, Lenny Gomes, Reno Mahe, Kelly Poppinga, Tim McTyer, Riley Nelson, Tevita Ofahengaue, Justin Ena, Brandon Stephens, Daniel Sorensen, Mike Tanner, Itula Mili, Spencer Nead, Travis Uale and Quinn Gooch
FINAL NOTE: One one player that did not make my All-Interview Team is former BYU wide receiver O’Neill Chambers. He often expressed views that were audacious. Chambers is pretty much responsible for what is known among the local media as the O’Neill Chambers Rule, which was implemented in 2008. After saying some outlandish things to an ESPN reporter during fall camp, Chambers, then a freshman, was reprimanded by coach Bronco Mendenhall. Soon after, Mendenhall created a rule that reporters couldn’t talk to newcomers to the program until after the first game of the season. In case you were wondering, that’s why during spring ball and fall camp you won’t see any quotes from players who are new to the program. We aren’t allowed talk to them.