Mitchell Juergens was one of the heroes of Saturday's matchup between the BYU Cougars and the Boise State Broncos. The scrappy, shifty and speedy wide receiver caught two deep passes from BYU Freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum for touchdowns in Saturday's victory. The first pass was an 84 yard bomb where he got behind the defense, Mangum hit him in stride, and he beat the defenders in a footrace to the end zone. The second was the stuff legends are made of, as Mangum, on fourth and seven, escaped a collapsing pocket, attempted to run for the first down but threw the ball up for grabs in the end zone when the Boise State defender who had been spying him came up to make a play. The ball traced a high arc to the end zone while Juergens fought off three defenders (with some help from Devon Blackmon getting tangled up in the feet of two of them), high pointed the ball and made a spectacular grab as he fell to the turf. One series later, a desperation heave by Boise State's quarterback Ryan Finley was picked off at the 50 yard line by BYU Safety Kai Nacua and returned on a tightrope down the sideline for a score to ice the game.
While everyone is talking about Tanner Mangum, I wanted to take a moment to get to know Mitchell Juergens a little better. The former walk-on from Langham Creek High School in the Houston, Texas area took a rather circuitous route from prep stand out to BYU playmaker. He has a twin brother on the team as well, defensive back Garret Juergens who, while he hasn't managed to have quite the success that his brother has had for BYU, has managed to join Mitchell on the roster for all four seasons that he's been a part of the Cougar football team.
Both of the Juergens brothers dreamed of growing up to play for BYU while they were prepsters in Texas. Both brothers played baseball as well as football for Langham Creek High School, where they each lettered three times in baseball, and were both named to the all-district team their senior year in 2009. Despite their success, neither brother received a division one scholarship. Although both brothers are very talented, they are diminutive, each standing at 5'10" and weighing around 180 lbs. They both walked on to BYU's football team in 2010, and after redshirting their first year, both brothers left to serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This was the first time that the brothers had been apart from each other for any significant length of time, as Garrett was called to serve in the Chiclayo, Peru Mission while Mitchell would serve in the Mexico City, Mexico Mission.
After their missions, the brothers walked on to the team again in 2013. As redshirt freshmen, neither saw any action, but in their sophomore years, Mitchell began to separate himself by his on field performances, becoming a nice third down option for his quarterback, piling up 424 yards on 24 receptions along with four touchdowns. His play in the slot was reminiscent of former NFL receiver Wes Welker, his favorite player. His skill set is similar as well, not only is he a shifty slot receiver with the ability to break the big gain after the catch, he also can break free and cause some havoc in the secondary. He returned punts and kickoffs as well in his sophomore campaign, but it doesn't look like BYU is going to use him in that capacity moving forward. But he's definitely proved in the early games of the 2015 campaign that he doesn't need to be a special teams standout to be an x-factor for the Cougars.
Just before the start of the 2015 season, Mitchell's lifelong dream was fulfilled when he was one of two former walk-on players (along with Nate Carter) who earned a scholarship for the Cougars. He's responded just how one would hope, by continuing to work hard and displaying his toughness on the field. While I had some concerns about ball security with Juergens going into this season, as he lost two fumbles last year, he hasn't had any of those issues with this season's admittedly small sample size. I'm confident that Juergens will continue to improve, and that he'll continue to thrill Cougar fans with his explosive play.