I began a BYU sports fan summertime pet project. The goal was to decide which BYU player gets to stake their claim at being the all-time best to ever wear that number across all the sports, male and female.
As a disclaimer, I must admit that I am weaker in my knowledge of some sports. However, I tried to make adjustments for this knowledge deficit by researching and investigating individual accolades awarded to athletes in all sports with assigned numbers. If you feel injustice has occurred. I'm genuinely eager to listen to arguments via the comment section.
For the rest of this series, click here.
#80 Mekeli Ieremia
Mekeli Ieremia grew up in American Samoa until he was 16, when his family moved to Tarrytown, New York. After attending Sleepy Hollow High School for a year, he was convinced to play for the Headless Horsemen Football team as a Senior. (Easily the coolest high school mascot in the country.) His first experience with football. Needless to say, Mekeli's impact just east of the Hudson River caused swells! He was named region MVP as Sleepy Hollow won their region championship in 1974.
In his 3rd season of football, Ieremia as defensive end for the Cougars set the All-Time Single Season sacks record with a whopping 17 sacks! He also had 8 tackles for loss and an additional 17 QB hurries. 95 tackles and 2 forced fumbles made Ieremia an All-American honorable mention. Again, in his 3rd season playing football. It is very possible that Queen and David Bowie inspiration for their collaboration hit "Under Pressure" was found in their sympathy for the poor quarterbacks in Ieremia's crosshairs.
He repeated the All-American honorable mention accomplishment in his final season.
He would go on to play one season in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills.
#81 Marion Probert
BYU's 1st 4-time letterman, a 3-time All-Conference selection, and an All-American honorable mention in 1954. Probert played defensive end and wide receiver for the Y. After finishing at BYU, Probert went on the be a practicing physician in Salt Lake City.
On November 27, 1962, tragedy struck Dr. Probert and 12 other passengers when his flight, which was operating under visual flight rules, entered into adverse weather conditions with a low ceiling and heavy snow blowing at a 7 knots headwind. The weather gave zero visibility causing the pilot to take the Douglas DC-3, 1 mile off-course east of the thru-pass of the mountains. This deviation cause the aircraft to collide with the snow covered mountain killing all passengers aboard. The plane was headed to Albuquerque where Marion planned to attend the BYU football game against New Mexico. The Cougars won 42-8 giving BYU its first ever football conference championship. A celebration that was tabled as one of the program's icons was lost on the same day.
Probert's was honored as his 81 was retired.
#82 Chuck Cutler
In 1986, Chuck Cutler finally popped the question to his girlfriend of 18 months, Michelle Maxfield. It was official they were getting married.
A few days later Cutler, a walk-on turned scholarship wide receiver, travelled to Colorado Springs as the team was playing Air Force on December 6. Cutler had a sideline route in the 3rd quarter where he received a 4-yard pass. Closing down hard on Cutler was Air Force defensive back Tom Rotello. Rotello's hit on Cutler knocked him back to before Thanksgiving. Literally.
Cutler had a severe concussion causing him to forget everything that happened in the previous two weeks. He forgot that the Cougars weren't going to be WAC Champions. He forgot all of his classroom studies, which was problematic as final exams were the following week. Worst of all, he even forgot that he had proposed and was engaged!
"We had spoken with her parents and my parents and told them we were going to get married next summer," Cutler said. "But I didn't remember any of that. It was kind of a touchy situation for a while. After I started coming around, she let me know that we were getting married on June 12. She said, 'I can understand your forgetting that, but I might have been a little upset if you had forgotten who I was.'"
Cutler's plight led to his teammates brandishing him with the nickname Rip VanCutler.
Of the whole ordeal Cutler said, "It's been quite an experience -- something I won't forget."
Following this Cutler went on to have a successful Junior and Senior campaign earning All-WAC recognition. In particular, Cutler's senior year was huge. 64 catches for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns. An effort that led to honorable mention All-American honor.
Cutler served as a mission president for the Texas San Antonio mission. He had one of the best retorts for the tired claim that missions are an advantage for BYU. "If it is such an advantage, why don't others do it?"
Linebacker Larry Miller was a tremendous force racking up 243 tackles, 2 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, 7 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles during his 1975-78 run. He earned an All-American honorable mention in 1978.
#83 Mat Mendenhall
Bronco's brother, Mat played defensive end for the Cougars in 1975-79. Mendenhall's most productive season came as a junior where he had 11 of his 15 career sacks. He went on to play in the NFL for the Washington Redskins where he won a Super Bowl, before things went downhill.
#84 Jan Jorgensen
3-time All-MWC 1st team DE Jan Jorgensen is the MWC all-time sacks leader with 28.5.
Wide Receiver Kirk Pendleton had an excellent season in 1983 when he caught 50 passes for 810 yards and 11 TDs. He came back to BYU as a graduate assistant in 1989, but his time at BYU graudate school was cut short when he plead guilty and was jailed for 30-days on charges of attempting to distribute cocaine.
Joe Liljenquist, like Jorgensen, was a great DE at BYU from 1969-71. He also did the kicking duties while in Provo. He now is Dr. Liljenquist, a veterinarian in Bountiful, Utah.
#85 Clay Brown
College football has seen several iconic Hail Mary plays. We remember them by crediting the quarterback. The Kordell Stewart Hail Mary. The Doug Flutie Hail Mary. The Brett Farve Hail Mary. The Kirk Cousins Hail Mary. And, of course, the Jim McMahon Hail Mary.
On every great Hailmary play, there is the (often forgotten) receiver who out-willed and out-lucked multiple defenders.
Without Clay Brown's effort in beating out 2 SMU defenders, the Cougars would have had continued their Holiday Bowl winless woes.
Brown's wife dreamed the night before the 1979 Holiday Bowl that her husband would make the winning catch. Clay had a great game in the heartbreaking 1-point loss to Indiana with 9 catches. As he was leaving for the 1980 Holiday Bowl vs. SMU, Brown leaned back through the door and said to his wife, "You remember that dream you had last year? Maybe this time."
Beyond making the catch, Clay Brown was a monster tight end for the Cougars. He had over 1,000 yards with 15 TDs as a Senior. Earning him 1980 All-American Third Team honors. He was an honorable mention All-American in 1979.
#86 Ben Cahoon
A junior college transfer from Ricks College, Cahoon made an impact during his two seasons in 1996-97. In 1997, he had 57 catches for 931 yards and 4 TDs. Including a monster game in 97 against the 14th ranked Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe where Cahoon caught 8 balls for 219 yards (51.3% of his team's total offensive!) as the Cougars pulled off the upset 13-10.
Cahoon went on to play for Montreal in the CFL, where not only did he make this impossible catch, but won 3 Grey Cup on his way to being named to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Beyond that, Cahoon has two trophies in his house that read "Most Outstanding Canadian."
Dan Plater was a favorite target of Jim McMahon. Plater caught the ball 124 times for 1979 yards and 16 TDs during his career at BYU. Plater was drafted in the 4th round of the NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He never played, however, as he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Before Super Bowl XX, Jim McMahon's headband read "JDF Cure" for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. After the game began, his headband read "POW-MIA" in reference to the U.S. servicemen imprisoned or missing in action from the Vietnam War. Later in the game, when the Chicago Bears were destroying the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX, Jim McMahon switched his headband for a third time. This time it said, "Pluto." Dan Plater's nickname.
When asked about the "Pluto" headband, McMahon explained that when he met Plater, "He was this skinny freshman from Reno, Nevada, always laughing and joking. Dan was a Mormon, like most of the other students at BYU. But the difference was, Pluto was normal."
Plater's brain tumor was removed and he would serve as McMahon's caddie at celebrity golf tournaments.
Doug Jolley was a productive Tight End. He was an All-MWC selection in 2001 before he played in the NFL, where he made 5 catches in Super Bowl XXXVII for the Oakland Raiders.
Earl Kauffman served as both punter and kicker for the Cougars from 1988-91. An unsung hero from the iconic 1990 victory over #1 University of Miami. Kauffman blasted 4 punts for an average of 53.8 yards to stretch the field for the Hurricanes. He also hit two field goals in the contest.
#87 Brian Billick
Brian Billick transferred to BYU after attending 1 year at the Air Force Academy. He left when he found out after enrolling that his 6'5" 230 lbs frame was too large to be a fighter pilot. He played Tight End at BYU in 1974-76. In 1976, Billick was named All-WAC and honorable mention All-American on the strength of 20 catches, 338 yards, and a TD.
Billick, then decided to head into coaching. Most notably as the Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens, who he guided to a Super Bowl victory in 2001.
Honolulu, Hawaii's Micah Matsuzaki was a sure-handed wideout. On the receiving end of Ty Detmer and John Walsh's footballs Matsuzaki brought in 91 catches for 1604 yards and 11 TDs. He also rushed 1 time -- a 15 yard burst into the endzone.
Keep an eye on Mitchell Juergens. The junior receiver had a solid sophomore campaign 28 catches 424 yards and 4 TDs. Maybe the next two seasons could propel him to the top of this number.
#88 Jay Miller
In 1973, the nation's leading wide receiver wore #88 for BYU. Jay Miller caught 100 balls for 1181 yards and 8 TDs as a sophomore. He would be named a 1st team All-American. During that season, Miller torched the University of New Mexico for 22 catches for 263 yards and 3 TDs. Those 22 catches still represent the BYU single game record, as do his 263 yards.
Miller, unfortunately, battled injuries for his junior and senior seasons only catching 14 more passes for 128 yards.
Itula Mili was named a 1st team All-American in 1996. He had 125 catches for 1763 yards for 11 TDs during his career. He also played some running back while in Provo recording 13 rushes for 63 yards.
Phil Odle was a 1st team All-American in 1967. Odle finished his career at BYU as 2nd All-Time in NCAA catches. Odle still sits high in the BYU All-Time record books. 6th All-Time in catches, 7th in yards, and 4th in receiving TDs. Odle also played both sides of the ball. He was named the WAC Lineman of the Year for his play at defensive end during his sophomore season in 1965. Odle would play 3 seasons with the Detroit Lions.
Andrew George has an iconic moment as he is the last player to hold onto a football victoriously against the University of Utah in 2009. He was a skilled tight end with career stats of 70 catches for 827 yards and 11 TDs. As a bonus, Andrew was terrific podcast guest.
The decision at #88 is incredibly tough. Had Miller stayed healthy it would be a slam dunk. Plus, he has a marquee, record breaking performance the others don't. Then again, had Mili not been a career backup his numbers would have been better. Plus, a professional career run the others don't. Then there's Odle, he was a dominate receiver in an era when it didn't exist, AND he was a very good defensive end.
#89 Neil Balholm
|Career Receiving Yards
|Career Receiving TD
The race here is paper thin. Ultimately, I give the nod to Balholm.
Keep an eye on Terenn Houk this season. Houk has 23 catches for 249 yards and 2 TDs. A solid senior season would put Terenn in range for the right to be BYU's #89.
#90 Lenny Gomes
Gomes, also known as Lenny Gregory, was a termendous defensive line talent. Earning All-WAC honors for 3 season. Which makes it all to more criminal that he is predominantly remembered for when he popped off about the University of Utah.
Stan Varner played defensive end in 1972-75. Stan recorded 230 career tackles with 19 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. He also forced 6 fumbles, while picking off 3 INTs.
Keep an eye on Bronson Kaufusi. It's possible for him to claim the #90 this season, but unlikely. Bronson would need to have one of the finest seasons of any defensive linemen in BYU football history to catch Varner and Gomes as he is 100+ tackles behind them. His career season high through 3 campaigns is 43 tackles.
#91 Ross Varner
Ross Varner is the younger brother to Stan Varner (see 2 paragraphs above). Ross was a honorable mention All-American in 1978, his senior season. His work on the defensive line in his All-American season featured 92 tackles, 7 sacks, 9 tackles for loss and 6 forced fumbles. 6 FORCED FUMBLES IN A SEASON! That's every other game.
Tevita Ofahengaue was a productive, consistent tight end during 1997-2000. All 3 seasons he would get around 20 catches 280 yards and a couple TDs.
Henry Bloomfield was a junior college transfer from Dixie. He played in the 1995 and '96 seasons. He recorded 132 tackles and 7 sacks over his two seasons on the Cougars defensive line.
#92 Jim Herrmann
The defensive captain of the 1984 National Championship team. Herrmann's work from the defensive end position landed him 2nd Team All-American honors with 62 tackles, 6 sacks, and 10 tackles for loss.
Herrmann totaled over his career 106 tackles, 26 sacks, and 12 tackles for loss.
John, Ryan, Brett Denney made the number 92 a family affair. All three played defensive end. From 1998-2009, the Denney's occupied and caused havoc in the trenches.
Tod Thompson is another successful BYU tight end. During 1975-78, Thompson caught 84 ball for 1389 yards and 15 TDs.
#93 Brett Keisel
Brett Keisel played defensive end for the Cougars in 1998, 2000-01. Keisel's career totals were 66 tackles, 9 sacks, and 19 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Keisel's play and athleticism led to being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 7th round in the 2002 NFL Draft. Keisel won 2 Super Bowls with the Steelers and was on the AFC Pro Bowl roster in 2010.
Brad Anae played in 1979-81 as a defensive end collecting 94 tackles, 21 sacks, and 14 tackles for loss. In a November 15, 1980 clash with Colorado State, Anae intercepted Steve Fairchild's pass and took it back 45 yards for the touchdown. He was a 3rd Team All-American in 1981. He would sign with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1982 before going to the USFL and playing three seasons with the Philadelphia Stars, Houston Gamblers, and San Antonio Gunslingers.
Byron Frisch played significant downs his freshman year in 1996 and never looked back. He finished his career with 210 tackles, 23 sacks and 43 tackles for loss. Frisch also played 3 seasons in the NFL as a backup on the Titans, Cowboys, and Giants.
Following Frisch's football career he became an insurance broker in the San Diego area where he is been charged with a $50 Million Insurance Fraud Scheme. In the FBI's San Diego Division press release on August 1, 2013, Frisch is accused that he "recruited elderly individuals to apply for 'free' life insurance policies with million-dollar death benefits. They then submitted fraudulent applications to the life insurance companies by intentionally omitting or falsifying the applicant's net worth, income, or source of premium payments. In addition, the conspirators concealed that they were paying all or part of the policy premiums and intended to sell the policies on the secondary market for large profits."
Frisch pleaded not guilty on his September 6, 2013 hearing. The case is still pending.
#94 Chris Smith
One of only 7 players to be a 2-time 1st Team All-American, Chris Smith was a consensus choice in the 1990 season. Only 9 BYU Football players have been consensus All-Americans. Smith was a terrific tight end. He led the team in receiving in 1989 with his 60 catches for 1090 yards and 5 TDs. In 1990, he set the then-NCAA record for receiving yards by a tight end in a season with 1156 yards on 68 catches and 2 scores. He still holds the record at BYU. For reference, the 2nd most single season receiving yards by a tight end is Smith's 1090 yards as a junior.
Trevor Molini was also named a 1st-Team All-American in 1985. The tight end caught 105 passes for 1,355 yards and 5 TDs in his career.
#95 Gordon Hudson
In a school filled to the gills with unbelievable talents at tight end, Gordon Hudson stands as the greatest. Hudson, like Chris Smith, is one of the 7 players to be a 2-time 1st Team All-American. Hudson, however, was a consensus All-American choice both times. Only he and Ty Detmer have been a consensus All-American twice.
In his career Hudson caught 178 passes for 2,484 yards and 22 TDs. Hudson holds the NCAA records for most passes caught per game by a tight end at 5.4, most career yards per game by a tight end at 75.3, and most yards in a game by a tight end with 259 yards against the University of Utah.
in 2010, Gordon Hudson was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Hudson also played professionally in the USFL and NFL. In 1985, Hudson was selected to the All-USFL team for his work on the Los Angeles Express.
Personally, I think Hudson has an incredibly strong case to have his number retired.
Byron Rex was another great tight end for the Cougars. A 1st team All-American in 1992, Rex caught 45 passes that season for 612 yards and 5 TDs. In that season's rivarly game against the Utes, it was the "Snowball Game." Named as there was a huge amount of snow in the stands at Rice Stadium and the Utah fans would rain snowballs down on the BYU players following big plays. Rex himself would get buried in snowball after he took a handoff from Ryan Hancock and rolled to the right where he triggered a 19-yard touchdown pass to Eric Drage in the "Snowball Game" against the University of Utah. Making him the only tight end to throw for a touchdown pass. Rex also caught a TD in the "Snowball Game." On both occassions, he would have hundreds of snowballs hurled his way.
Rex grew up a BYU fan. Looking up to the BYU players and watching, in particular, Gordon Hudson.
#96 Chad Lewis
If you are old enough to have watched him, it is easy to picture Lewis' big #96 hurdling over would be tacklers. Lewis brought in 111 receptions for 1,376 yards and 10 TDs in his BYU career. He was an All-WAC 1st team selection as well as a honorable mention All-American following his junior season.
Lewis was an undrafted free agent that signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. He also had a short stint with the St. Louis Rams. While with the Eagles, Lewis caught the game-clinching TD pass of the 2005 NFC Championship game. On that play, he injured his foot keeping him out of Super Bowl XXXIX. He was selected to 3 Pro Bowls.
#97 Randy Brock
A defensive end from 1991-1994, Randy Brock was a fixture all 4 years he was in Provo. Brock's worst season was as a junior when he had 30 tackles with 4 sacks, and 12 tackles were for loss. Not too shabby. His career totals are 175 tackles with 25 sack and 46 tackles for loss.
Darren Yancey filled in after Brock graduated as he played from 1995-98. Yancey's 123 tackles with 14 sacks and 24 tackles for loss in his career.
Keep an eye on Travis Tuiloma. If Travis can build upon his sophomore campaign, he could play his way into the hunt to be BYU's #97.
#98 Brad Hunter
"Hunter the Punter" has become myth during 1992 amongst BYU fans as they remember the giant 6'5" 260 defensive lineman that would blast a 65-yard punt. Some may recall when Brad Hunter ran a fake punt for 13 yards and a first down against Notre Dame. He took 29 punts as a senior averaging 44.1 yards per punt. He was also a decent lineman recording 63 career tackles and 7.5 sacks.
Romney Fuga played over the course of 5 seasons in 2006, 2009-12. He played defensive tackle where he recorded 132 tackles and 3 sacks.
#99 Jason Buck
Perhaps the greatest defensive player in BYU History, Jason Buck, a Ricks College transfer, won the Outland Trophy in 1986 recording 59 tackles, 13 for loss and 13 sacks. He was also a consensus All-American in '86. In 1985, he had 53 tackles, 7 for loss, and 12 sacks.
Beyond that, his episode of BYUTV's "Legends" is easily the best one. You should watch it. You'll be better off for doing so.
#127 Lars Birkeland
Oddly, BYU Baseball has rostered two players who wore #127: Lars Birkeland and Ryan Adams. Both played for the Y in 2001-02.
Birkeland was a Catcher. He batted .281 in his career with 4 home runs and 42 RBIs.
Adams was a right handed Pitcher. He went 12-8 in 23 career starts. With 34 appearances, Ryan finished with a 5.85 ERA and 69 strikeouts.
The strangest part of all this is that not only was there a #127 on the team. There were two of them on the same team. Meaning there must have been games were #127 was catching pitches from #127.
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So, there you have it! The greatest BYU players by jersey number across all sports! Hope you enjoyed this series.