BYU Football: DEFENSIVE DREAM TEAM

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dream-defenseFirst, a disclaimer: Assembling a Dream Team at a tradition-rich school like BYU is an audacious assignment.

But it’s also a lot of fun.

Let your imagination run wild in a dimension unencumbered by time or space with the image of Ty Detmer slinging a touchdown pass to Dennis Pitta. Or Mo Elewonibi opening a gaping hole in the line for Luke Staley. Or Kurt Gouveia teaming up with Kyle Van Noy for a bone-crunching quarterback sack. Or Jason Buck collaring a quarterback and forcing a pass that’s intercepted by Aaron Francisco.

Of course, there is a caveat to this ambitious endeavor. From the outset, ground rules must be established. Do you select players from all eras, dating way back to 1922? If so, how do you compare players from era to era, considering that the game has changed radically over the past 90-plus years? Do you take into consideration the players’ success in the National Football League, or simply what they accomplished at BYU?

In the end, the criteria was predicated on this: If BYU had to play one game it had to win, and you could use any Cougar player in the modern era (determined to be anyone who played since 1980), which players, presuming they’re healthy and in their prime, at each position, would you choose?

After researching statistics, consulting experts, and poring over team and individual accomplishments, here’s my list of Game Day Legends, with an explanation for each. These are, in my estimation, the elite of the elite.

This week, it’s the BYU’s Dream Team defense and special teams.

Next week, I’ll tackle the offense.

DEFENSE

Defensive line

Jason Buck (1986-86), Shawn Knight (1983-86) and Ezekiel Ansah (2010-12)

Buck, BYU’s first Outland Trophy winner, was dominant in his two seasons in Provo, racking up 24 career sacks. He became a first-round NFL draft pick and enjoyed a solid pro career. Knight was also drafted in the first round (No. 11 overall) in 1987. Then there’s Ansah, who had probably the most unlikely career of anyone whose donned a Cougar uniform. A walk-on from Ghana, Ansah enjoyed a meteoric rise. He learned the sport, eventually became a starter midway through his senior season, and was picked No. 5 overall in the 2013 NFL draft. Though he played very little, his speed and athleticism has never been seen at that position at BYU.

Backups: Mike Morgan, Glen Titensor, Ryan Denney, Jim Herrman, Eathyn Manumaleuna, Bronson Kaufusi, Jan Jorgensen

Honorable Mention: Brad Anae, Henry Bloomfield, Chuck Ehin, Brandon Flint, Byron Frisch, Romney Fuga, David Futrell, Setema Gali, Lenny Gomes, Travis Hall, Chris Hoke, Ed Kehl, Rich Kaufusi, Brett Keisel, Hans Olsen, Ifo Pili, Brady Poppinga, John Raass, Russell Tialavea, Mike Ulufale, Daren Yancey

Linebackers

Kyle Van Noy (2010-2013), Rob Morris (1993, 1997-99), Kurt Gouveia (1983-85), Todd Shell (1980-83)

This one was tough. What quarterbacks are to BYU’s offense, linebackers are to the Cougar defense. BYU owns a proud tradition of stellar linebackers, churning out great ones on aregular basis. Morris, Gouveia and Shell all enjoyed long NFL careers. Van Noy, who may be BYU’s top defensive playmaker ever, is projected to go high in next April’s NFL draft.

Backups: Brady Poppinga, Shay Muirbrook, Shad Hansen. Leon White

Honorable mention: MarvAllen, Rocky Biegel, Colby Bockwoldt, Bob Davis, Justin Ena, Alema Fitisemanu, Cameron Jensen, Bryan Kehl, Todd Herget, Gary Kama, Brandon Ogletree, KellyPoppinga, Stan Raass, Glen Redd, Thor Salanoa, Mike Tanner, Kyle Whittingham

Safeties

Kyle Morrell (1981-84), Derwin Gray (1989-92)

Morrell will forever as the author of the most famous defensive play in Cougar history. During BYU’s national championship run in 1984, Morrell leaped over the center at the goal line in Hawaii, thwarting a possible touchdown and thus preserving nationaltitle hopes. Gray holds the school record for most tackles in a single game (22 against Penn State) and he led the Cougars in interceptions for three straight seasons, recording 14 in his career.

Backups: Aaron Francisco, Eric Bergeson, Andrew Rich, Daniel Sorensen

Honorable mention: Josh Arnold, Mark Brady, Brad Clark, Chris Ellison, Jared Lee, Troy Long, Bill Schoepflin, Jeff Wilcox, Jon Young

Cornerbacks

Tim McTyer (1995-96), Omarr Morgan (1996-97)

McTyer and Morgan comprised perhaps the best cornerback duo in school history. They had only one season together in the defensive backfield, but in that season BYU earned a No. 5 ranking in 1996 thanks in large part to a stingy defense. McTyer was one of the hardest-hitting corners to play for the Cougars while Morgan was nicknamed “The Blanket” because of his coverage skills.

Backups: Tom Holmoe, Rodney Rice

Honorable mention: Tony Crutchfield, Jernaro Gilford, Jordan Johnson, Brian Gray, Brian Mitchell, Jeff Sprowls, Rodney Thomas

SPECIAL TEAMS

Placekicker

Owen Pochman (1997-2000)

Pochman made his mark in the BYU record books, holding the all-time records for most field goals made in a game (5), most career field goals (66) and longest field goal (56 yards). He’s second in scoring with 333 points.

Backups: Kurt Gunther, Mitch Payne

Honorable mention: Jason Chaffetz, Leonard Chitty, Lee Johnson, David Lauder, Matt Payne, Ethan Pochman

Punter

Lee Johnson (1981-84)

Johnson not only enjoyed a distinguished NFL career, but he also holds the BYU records for longest punt (80 yards), as well as best punting average in a game (60.4), season (50.6) and career (47.0).

Backups: Matt Payne, Riley Stephenson

Honorable mention: ClayBrown, Aaron Edmunds, Brad Hunter, Earl Kauffman, Mike Mees, Pat Thompson

Kick return specialists

Vai Sikahema (1980, 1983-85), James Dye (1995-96)

Sikahema is the NCAA’s career leader in punt returns (153 returns, 1,312 yards) and he’s one of the most prolific return specialists in NFL history. Dye finished No. 1 in the nation in punt returns in 1995 (21.9 yards per attempt) and No. 2 in 1996 (17.6). He also set a school record with four career punt return touchdowns and a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Honorable mention: Stacey Corley, Jaron Dabney, JD Falslev

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Jeff Call has covered BYU sports since 1993, including the past 16 years for the Deseret News. He, his wife and six sons live in Cedar Hills.

9 Comments

  1. J Thomas Reply

    No on Ziggy Ansah. He just wasn’t a starter – in the program – long enough, and frankly wasn’t THAT good when he was. Why was he drafted, and drafted so high, in the NFL? Genes. His ceiling is that high. His potential. And he had just enough experience to enable NFL teams to make the decision they did. Now, Ziggy may very well have been productive enough to be included in this list if he had been at least a two-year starter. But he wasn’t. Don’t select to this all-time list based on NFL potential.

  2. Jeff Call Reply

    Remember, the criteria for these selections is, “If BYU had to play one game it had to win, and you could use any Cougar player in the modern era (determined to be anyone who played since 1980), which players, presuming they’re healthy and in their prime, at each position, would you choose?” So, it’s not necessarily based on statistics or length of time in the program. What’s fun about these is, you can always make arguments for a lot of different players. Love seeing all the comments.

    1. J Thomas Reply

      Yes, but even then I don’t think the general play of Ziggy was quite at that level. Give him two more years, or maybe even one more year, and probably would be. Almost certainly. Again I think that was more a pick based on NFL draft pick, potential, and notoriety.

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