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BYU Football’s 100 Greatest Players Of All-Time: Nos. 26-50

May 15, 2024, 9:00 AM

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PROVO, Utah BYU football will kick off its 100th season in 2024.

In honor of BYU hitting the century mark, KSL Sports is rolling out our ranking of the 100 greatest players in BYU football history.

Throughout May, we will release 25 players in the countdown to the number one BYU player of all time.

Here’s installment number three of the countdown with players 50 to 26 on the ranking.

To capture the nostalgia of BYU football, subscribe to the “A Century of Cougar Football” Podcast. The podcast will feature interviews with former BYU stars and an analysis of the rankings uploaded throughout the month.

Vai Sikahema | BYU Football

50. Vai Sikahema

Halfback / Return specialist

Hometown: Mesa, Arizona 

Years Played: 1980-1981, 1983-1985 

Sikahema was a jack of all trades during his decorated BYU career, which included a National Championship ring in 1984, where Sikahema’s most significant impact took place in the return game.

Some of the notable returns by Sikahema were in the 1980 Holiday Bowl comeback against SMU. Down 29-7, Sikahema returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.

In Sikahema’s senior season, he set the NCAA record for return touchdowns with a 72-yard punt return against a nationally-ranked Air Force team.

BYU Football | Nick Eyre

49. Nick Eyre

Offensive Line 

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada 

Years Played: 1977-1980 

Nick Eyre, a.k.a. “The Bear,” was one of the most heralded recruits LaVell Edwards signed early in his head coaching tenure. Eyre picked BYU over former WAC rival Arizona State.

Eyre was a two-time All-American and was a pick on the 15th anniversary of the All-WAC team.

The 6-foot-5 Eyre protected for BYU legends Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon.

BYU Football | Bryan Kehl

48. Bryan Kehl

Linebacker 

Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah 

Years Played: 2002, 2005-2007 

An exceptional athlete with an elite combination of size and speed, Bryan Kehl was a force in BYU’s 3-4 defensive scheme under Bronco Mendenhall. Kehl had 203 tackles in his four seasons at outside linebacker.

One of the top moments in Kehl’s career was a pick-six on the road in 2007 against a New Mexico team that was viewed as a potential MWC title contender that season.

BYU Football | Bronson Kaufusi

47. Bronson Kaufusi

Defensive End 

Hometown: Provo, Utah 

Years Played: 2012-2015 

Bronson Kaufusi was a heralded recruit who lived up to the hype. The former four-star prospect was the last BYU player to have a season with double-digit sacks (11) in 2015.

Kaufusi was nearly unblockable during his senior season. He had three or more sacks in two games.

Kaufusi finished his BYU career with 26.5 sacks.

BYU Football | Jonny Harline

46. Jonny Harline

Tight End 

Hometown: Orem, Utah 

Years Played: 2005-2006 

One of the most iconic BYU football history involved Jonny Harline.

BYU’s last victory in Salt Lake City against Utah in 2006, quarterback John Beck scrambled as the final seconds ticked off the clock with BYU down 31-27. He rolled right and found his guy, Harline.

That moment alone etched Harline in BYU lore, but his two seasons as a JC transfer from Ricks did plenty to put him among the best tight ends in program history.

Harline had a knack for acrobatic catches. He finished with 121 receptions for 1,788 yards and 17 touchdowns in his two years at BYU. Harline was a semifinalist for the Mackey Award in 2006 and was a first-team All-American by various outlets.

BYU Football | Gary Sheide

45. Gary Sheide

Quarterback 

Hometown: Concord, California 

Years Played: 1973-1974 

The man who helped bring LaVell Edwards’ passing attack to life.

When LaVell Edwards took over as the head coach in 1972, he wanted to pivot from college football’s popular ground game to a passing attack that no one would know how to stop.

The former JUCO transfer was Edwards’s first quarterback to establish the program as QB U.

Sheide transferred to BYU from Diablo Junior College and helped lead BYU to its first-ever bowl appearance in the 1974 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State. Sheide suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter of that game when BYU had a 6-0 lead.

In his two years at BYU, Sheide passed for 4,554 yards and 44 touchdown passes. His brief but impactful career at BYU earned him a place in the BYU Hall of Fame.

BYU Football | Mark Bellini

44. Mark Bellini

Wide Receiver 

Hometown: San Leandro, California 

Years Played: 1982-1986 

Bellini was a do-it-all weapon in the golden era of BYU’s offense in the 1980s. Even more impressive is that he began his BYU career as a walk-on.

The California native racked up 2,558 receiving yards and was named an All-American his senior season in 1986. Bellini also has one of the best personal facts on his BYU bio, stating he owned a boa constrictor while playing for the Cougars.

BYU Football | Glen Kozlowski

43. Glen Kozlowski

Wide Receiver 

Hometown: Carlsbad, California 

Years Played: 1981, 1983-1985

Kozlowski played with an attitude that is still admired by BYU football fans today. He played with some of the greatest quarterbacks in BYU football history: Jim McMahon, Steve Young, and Robbie Bosco.

Kozlowski hauled in the touchdown grab from Bosco that tied up the Michigan Wolverines in the 1984 Holiday Bowl.

The Koz had 2,223 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns in his four seasons with the Cougars.

BYU Football | Kurt Gouveia

42. Kurt Gouveia

Linebacker 

Hometown: Waianae, Hawaii 

Years Played: 1983-1985 

Gouveia was an honorable mention All-American in 1985.  One of Gouveia’s best games was against New Mexico in Albuquerque. He had 10 tackles and a pass breakup that later led to him doing a shimmy on the field that has often played on KSL Sports Live highlights.

Gouveia finished his BYU career with 138 tackles.

BYU Football | Kai Nacua

41. Kai Nacua

Safety 

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada 

Years Played: 2013-2016 

A former high school quarterback at Liberty High in Las Vegas, Nacua signed with BYU and became one of the program’s best safeties.

Nacua’s playmaking ability is highlighted in his pick-six against nationally ranked Boise State in 2015.

Nacua was a ballhawk with a knack for making big plays in his BYU career.

He finished his career with 163 tackles and 14 interceptions.

BYU Football | Jan Jorgensen

40. Jan Jorgensen

Defensive End 

Hometown: Helper, Utah 

Years Played: 2006-2009 

Jan Jorgensen grew up a Utah fan and was committed to playing for Ron McBride when he was the Utes head coach. When he was let go as Utah’s head man, Jorgensen followed McBride to Kentucky, where he signed a letter of intent out of high school.

After serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jorgensen opted to stay closer to home and play for BYU.

Jorgensen became a star defensive end for the Cougars. During his four seasons as a starter, Jorgensen set a Mountain West Conference record for sacks with 30 in his career. Jorgensen’s 30 sacks rank second in BYU football history.

Brad Oates

39. Brad Oates

Offensive Line 

Hometown: Albany, Georgia 

Years Played: 1973-1975 

Oates transferred to BYU after beginning his career at Duke University. He was a star tackle at BYU, earning second-team All-American honors in 1975.

Cody Hoffman

38. Cody Hoffman

Wide Receiver 

Hometown: Crescent City, California 

Years Played: 2010-2013 

Hoffman arrived at BYU in 2009 with little to no fanfare. The Crescent City, California native only held an offer from Sacramento State besides BYU. But that didn’t matter as he left the school as the school’s all-time leading receiver.

Hoffman finished his BYU career with 3,612 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns.

What’s even more impressive about Hoffman’s stats is that he put up these numbers with a lot of shuffling at the quarterback position during his four years.

Brady Poppinga

37. Brady Poppinga

Defensive End/Linebacker 

Hometown: Evanston, Wyoming 

Years Played: 2001-2004 

Poppinga was a three-time All-Mountain West Conference selection during his time at BYU. He’s the only player in BYU history to achieve all-conference honors from three different positions. Those positions included a 4-3 defensive end, an outside linebacker, and a defensive end in a three-down lineman formation (3-3-5).

Virgil Carter

36. Virgil Carter

Quarterback 

Hometown: Folsom, California 

Years Played: 1964-1966 

One of the great quarterbacks in BYU’s history, Virgil “The Blue Darter” Carter was a dual-threat signal-caller for the Cougars. After Carter’s three years as the starter at BYU, he left as the program’s all-time leading passer at 5,125 yards.

Among the notable performances of Carter’s career was against UTEP in 1966. Carter accounted for 611 total yards in a 53-33 win over the Miners. He had 513 yards passing and 98 yards rushing the ball.

During his career, he set six NCAA records.

Fred Warner

35. Fred Warner

Linebacker 

Hometown: San Marcos, California 

Years Played: 2014-2017 

Warner picked BYU over a push from the hometown USC Trojans. When Warner arrived on campus, lofty expectations were placed on him as the next Kyle Van Noy. He didn’t quite live up to that level, but he sure got close.

Warner started in 42 games in his BYU career. His breakout performance was as a true freshman when he recorded five tackles and a TFL against Utah State. From there, Warner became a star in BYU’s defense.

Warner played for Bronco Mendenhall and Kalani Sitake and played a different role in both defensive schemes. In his four seasons with the Cougars, he had two pick-sixes.

Jamal Willis

34. Jamal Willis

Running Back 

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada 

Years Played: 1991-1994 

Willis was a dual-sport star in Las Vegas, excelling at football and basketball. As a true freshman, he shined in BYU’s backfield, which featured senior Ty Detmer in 1991.

Willis’s breakout game was an 82-yard performance against rival Hawaii in Provo that featured two trips to the endzone. Then he had monster games against Wyoming and in the 52-52 tie to clinch the WAC Championship against San Diego State.

The big performances as a freshman set the stage for Willis to go on as the school’s all-time leading rusher. He finished with 2,970 rushing yards in his four years at BYU. But what made Willis special was his versatility.

He also hauled in 77 receptions for 1,095 yards and five touchdowns.

The shining moment of Willis’ career was the win at Notre Dame in 1994. He totaled 158 yards (75 rushing, 83 receiving) in BYU’s lone victory in South Bend.

Trevor Matich

33. Trevor Matich

Offensive Line 

Hometown: Sacramento, California 

Years Played: 1979-1980, 1983-1984

Matich, the star center on BYU’s National Championship team in 1984, only had one missed center exchange that season. He was the anchor of BYU offensive lines that protected Steve Young and Robbie Bosco.

Matich went on to earn third-team All-American recognition in 1984.

Rob Morris

32. Rob Morris

Linebacker 

Hometown: Nampa, Idaho 

Years Played: 1993, 1997-1999 

The “Freight Train” was a tackling machine at middle linebacker for BYU. Many forget that his BYU career began as a fullback during his true freshman season in 1993.

Morris was a star recruit from Nampa, Idaho. He picked BYU over heavy interest from Stanford and other programs along the West Coast.

During the freshman campaign in ’93, he began taking some snaps as a reserve linebacker. Then, after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he redshirted to gear up for a key role as a linebacker. He shined.

Morris had 98 tackles as a sophomore in 1997. Then he put together an eye-popping 147 tackles as a junior. He opted to return for his senior year instead of chase the NFL, and it launched thousands of wooden whistles in honor of the “Freight Train” nickname.

Morris finished his BYU career after the 1999 season with a total of 333 tackles, 35 TFLs, and 13 sacks.

Itula Mili

31. Itula Mili

Tight End 

Hometown: Laie, Hawaii 

Years Played: 1991, 1994-1996 

Itula Mili had elite athleticism for a player at 6-foot-4, 235-pounds. Mili was part of a dynamic tight end tandem with Chad Lewis. Mili had 125 receptions for 1,763 yards and 11 touchdowns during his BYU career.

Unfortunately, Mili’s career at BYU ended in heartbreak with a devastating injury in the WAC Championship game in 1996 against Wyoming. BYU players dedicated the Cotton Bowl to Mili to close out that memorable 14-win season.

Ezekiel Ziggy Ansah

30. Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah

Defensive End 

Hometown: Accra, Ghana 

Years Played: 2010-2012 

Some might consider Ansah’s ranking too high. But very few players in BYU football history have the athletic makeup of someone like Ansah. What’s incredible is that the star power potentially wasn’t going to be realized unless there was an injury in front of Ansah.

From not knowing how to put on his shoulder pads to being one of the most dominant defensive ends in college football, Ansah embodied the cliche “freak” term often used in football.

During the 2012 season, Ansah was part of a BYU defense that was third nationally in total defense. He had 62 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 4.5 sacks, nine pass breakups, and six quarterback hurries in that one year.

Ansah was a once-in-a-lifetime type of story.

Eldon Fortie

29. Eldon Fortie

Quarterback/Halfback 

Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah 

Years Played: 1960-1962 

Eldon “The Phantom” Fortie was the first BYU player to receive first-team All-American recognition. He ran the single-wing offense, playing quarterback and halfback for BYU. Fortie was the WAC Offensive Player of the Year in 1962.

Fortie passed for 1,390 yards and rushed for 1,624. He accounted for 26 touchdowns during his BYU career.

Fortie’s number is the first retired jersey in BYU football history.

Chris Smith

28. Chris Smith

Tight End 

Hometown: La Canada, California 

Years Played: 1987-1990 

One of the great transfers in BYU football history, Smith transferred to BYU after one season with the Arizona Wildcats. It was a smart move for Smith as he became a consensus All-American at BYU.

Smith thrived in BYU’s offense, which featured Ty Detmer at quarterback.

When Smith became the full-time starter at tight end in 1989, he became a third-team All-American, hauling in 60 receptions for 1,090 yards and five touchdowns. In 1990, he had 68 grabs for 1,156 yards and two touchdowns.

Brady Christensen

27. Brady Christensen

Offensive Tackle 

Hometown: Bountiful, Utah 

Years Played: 2018-2020 

When Brady Christensen signed with BYU out of Bountiful High School, he was an under-the-radar prospect who also played baseball. His only other offer was from Air Force. After serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the arrival of Jeff Grimes as BYU’s offensive coordinator, Christensen emerged as a star left tackle at BYU.

Christensen earned consensus All-American status in 2020 for his play at left tackle.

Steve Sarkisian | BYU Football

26. Steve Sarkisian

Quarterback 

Hometown: Torrance, California 

Years Played: 1995-1996

Steve Sarkisian was a rare JUCO quarterback signing for LaVell Edwards. Sarkisian picked BYU over interest from Fresno State, Kansas State, and Kansas. The stocky Californian from El Camino had some ups and downs in his junior season at BYU in 1995. But at the end of that season, he had a 31-of-34 passing performance against the Bulldogs to close out the regular season.

That performance gave Sarkisian and BYU momentum heading into 1996. That season, Sarkisian was brilliant. He passed for 4,027 yards and had 33 touchdown passes.

Sark led BYU to its only New Year’s Day bowl game in program history and a historic 14-win season that finished with a No. 5 ranking.

His performance against Texas A&M in the Pigskin Classic was legendary as he opened that season with a 536-yard passing performance against A&M’s “Wrecking Crew” defense.

Then, in the Cotton Bowl against Kansas State, Sark passed for 297 yards and two touchdowns. He showed toughness as he battled through a seven-sack day to do enough to earn BYU the coveted Cotton Bowl victory.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and hosts the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Football’s 100 Greatest Players Of All-Time: Nos. 26-50