BYU Football’s 50 Greatest Players Of All-Time: Nos. 26-50
PROVO, Utah – Fifty days till kickoff! BYU opens up the 2019 football season against their rival, the University of Utah on August 29th in Provo.
To celebrate 50 days till kickoff, it’s time to roll out my 50 greatest players to ever play for BYU.
BYU history is filled with stories of courageous efforts, daring deeds, and breathtaking victories.
This feature here on KSL Sports spotlights the 50 greatest BYU football athletes to don the blue and white over the years.
These rankings focus solely on what these players did in their BYU football careers. NFL is not factored into the conversation.
Let’s start things off with numbers 26-50 on the list.
50. Lakei Heimuli
Years played: 1983-86
Heimuli was a feature back for BYU during the glory years of the ’80s when the Cougars were known for throwing the ball everywhere. People forget that the Cougars ground attack was very good with Heimuli in the backfield.
49. Brian Gray
Years played: 1998-99
Out of Hawthorne, California, Gray was a junior college All-American when he signed with BYU as part of the 1998 recruiting class. He immediately became a starter at cornerback teaming up with Heshimu Robertson to form one of the better cornerback tandems the Cougars have had over the last 30 years. Gray’s pick-six against San Diego State in a rain-filled night in Provo for the WAC Pacific Division lead was iconic.
48. Vai Sikahema
Years played: 1980-81, 1983-85
Sikahema could do it all for BYU. Whether it was catching passes out of the backfield, toting the football as a running back, Sikahema was everywhere in BYU’s potent offense. Vai’s biggest impact on games was felt in the return game where he was one of the nation’s top return men in 1984 and 1985. Sikahema is a BYU Hall of Fame inductee.
47. Glen Kozlowski
Years played: 1981, 1983-1985
“Koz” was a favorite target for some of the best quarterbacks to ever do it at BYU. Kozlowski played with Jim McMahon (1981), Steve Young (1983), and Robbie Bosco (1984-85). Kozlowski’s touchdown grab against Michigan in the 1984 Holiday Bowl to tie it up at 17 is one of his finest moments. Glen’s son, Tyler, played for BYU in the late 2000s.
46. Bronson Kaufusi
Years played: 2012-2015
A former four-star recruit out of Timpview High School, Kaufusi was elite at getting to the quarterback. Kaufusi’s senior season in 2015 he was nearly unblockable. His performances against Missouri in Kansas City and Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl were single-handedly keeping BYU in those ball games. In his career, Kaufusi racked up 26.5 sacks and that included 7 sacks in 2014 where he was primarily playing at outside linebacker.
45. Eric Drage
Years played: 1989-1993
Someone had to catch all those passes from Ty Detmer. Eric Drage was the beneficiary of that aerial attack with Ty. Until some guys named Austin Collie and Cody Hoffman came along, Drage was the school’s career receiving yards leader with 3,065. Of those 3,065 yards, the most memorable might be his 97-yard touchdown reception down the sideline in a 48-17 win against Utah in 1991.
44. Gary Sheide
Years played: 1973-1974
The man that helped bring LaVell Edwards’ passing attack to life. Sheide transferred to BYU from Diablo Junior College and helped lead BYU to their 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 had 44 touchdown passes en route to being inducted in the BYU Hall of Fame.
43. Aaron Francisco
Years played: 2001-2004
Francisco was nicknamed “Hawaiian Punch” during his four impactful years with the Cougars. Immediately as a true freshman, Francisco was a key contributor at safety helping BYU start 12-0 that season. In his next three years at BYU, he started all 36 games going on to be an NFL Draft pick.
42. Tim McTyer
Years played: 1995-1996
When BYU signed McTyer out of LA Southwest Junior College, it was a huge coup as McTyer was a heralded recruit coming from the JUCO ranks. Immediately, McTyer made an impact as you would expect from a JC transfer. McTyer had interceptions in three of his first four games as a Cougar. In total, McTyer ended up with eight interceptions in his two seasons at BYU, including an interception in the Cotton Bowl against Kansas State in 1997. McTyer’s most notable play in the Cotton Bowl was pushing Kevin Lockett out of bounds to prevent K-State from scoring another touchdown.
41. Nick Eyre
Years played: 1976-1980
One of the biggest recruits LaVell Edwards landed early in his tenure. Eyre who was nicknamed “The Bear” had his recruitment down to BYU and Arizona State. He ended up signing with BYU and he went on to be one of the best offensive tackles the Cougars have ever had. Eyre was an Outland Trophy finalist in 1980 and was the man in charge of protecting Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon’s blindsides.
40. Brady Poppinga
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 4-3 defensive end, outside linebacker, and a defensive end in a three-down lineman formation (3-3-5).
39. Cody Hoffman
Years played: 2009-2013
A native of Crescent City, California, Hoffman’s lone offer besides BYU out of high school was to Sacramento State. The Cougar coaching staff with Bronco Mendenhall and Robert Anae saw loads of potential in Hoffman, and they were on the money with that assessment. Hoffman went on to be the school’s all-time career leader in receiving yards with 3,612. Hoffman wasn’t a burner with his speed, but he caught everything thrown his way. His catch radius was off the charts.
MORE Top 50 Players in BYU Football History
38. Bryan Kehl
Years played: 2002, 2005-2007
An underrated two-star linebacker out of Brighton High School became a star at BYU during one of the winningest eras in program history. Kehl’s combination of size and speed at 6’3″ 231 pounds was exciting to watch. Kehl racked up 203 tackles in his four seasons at outside linebacker.
37. Fred Warner
Years played: 2014-2017
The four-star linebacker out of Southern California turned down the hometown USC Trojans to play for BYU and it worked out quite nicely for the San Marcos native. Warner ended up with 264 tackles and 6.5 sacks in his four seasons at BYU. His breakout performance came as a freshman against UCF in Orlando in replace of Alani Fua and from there he never looked back becoming one of the best outside linebackers in college football in his respective seasons.
36. Shawn Knight
Years played: 1982-1986
A member of the BYU Hall of Fame, Knight was dominant in his four seasons along the defensive line for the Cougars. At 6’6″, 288 pounds, Knight was a rare breed for how fast he was off the line of scrimmage at the size he played at. Knight paired with Jason Buck in 1985 and 1986 formed a tandem along BYU’s defensive line that no opposing offense wanted to face in those years.
35. Brad & Bart Oates
Years played: Brad – 1973-1975; Bart – 1977, 1980-1982
Hard to separate these two brothers out of Albany, Georgia, who went on to have All-American careers at BYU. Brad played offensive tackle while Bart lined up at center for the Cougars. Both Oates brothers were inducted into the BYU Hall of Fame for their impact on the football program.
34. Chris Smith
Years played: 1987-1990
Smith paired with BYU QB Ty Detmer rewrote the NCAA Football record books. Smith’s senior year in 1990 was a record for most receiving yards by a tight end with 1,232, a record that he held with his junior year output of 1,164 yards.
33. Derwin Gray
Years played: 1989-1992
Gray was a three-year starter at cornerback for BYU. In those three seasons, Gray had 14 interceptions which remain fifth all-time in a career at BYU. Along with the interceptions, Gray was a tackling machine. He racked up 282 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss. Gray is the last BYU cornerback to be selected in the NFL Draft (1993 – Colts).
32. Ryan Denney
Years played: 1997-2001
The Denney family is synonymous with BYU football. All the Denney brothers played at BYU, but Ryan was the best of the bunch. In Denney’s senior season he had seven sacks. Had a breakthrough in his career with playing time in the 1999 season where he got the start against nationally-ranked Virginia. Denney later went on to be selected in the second round of the NFL Draft.
31. Kurt Gouveia
Years played: 1982-1985
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. A National Champion, Gouveia racked up 138 total tackles at BYU.
30. Jonny Harline
Years played: 2004-2006
One of the most iconic moments in BYU football history is courtesy of Jonny Harline, and of course, John Beck. BYU’s win at Utah in 2006 on the final play of the game was the stuff of legends. Ralph Sokolowski is probably still screaming somewhere after that game-winning catch from Harline. That moment against Utah capped off a magical year for Harline that led to All-American honors. It felt like John Beck would go to the corner of the endzone and Harline was always there to make a big grab.
29. Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah
Years played: 2010-2012
Just an absolute freak of nature that I don’t believe this program has ever seen. Ansah’s senior year in 2012 where he was thrust into the starting lineup after Eathyn Manumaleuna went down with an injury was impressive. Ansah was unblockable piling up 13 tackles for loss, four sacks, six quarterback hurries, and nine pass breakups. He was everywhere on the field. When linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga said in 2011 that Ansah had NFL potential, he was spot on as Ansah ended up being a top-five pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
28. Trevor Matich
Years played: 1979-1980, 1983-1984
A dominant force at the center spot along BYU’s offensive line in 1984. Matich was a third-team All-American in ’84 in his one full season as the starter. Matich was a masterful technician in his protection and was the definition of what a BYU lineman was in the 1980s.
27. Jamal Willis
Years played: 1991-1994
Willis, a native of Las Vegas, picked BYU out of high school in large part because of the school’s honor code. Willis thought the honor code would be a great way to stay out of trouble. The only trouble Willis caused was for opposing defenses. In Willis’ four years at BYU, he left the school as the all-time leading running back with 3,148 yards. Willis’ touchdown run in a win at Notre Dame was one of the highlight moments of his outstanding career.
26. Mark Bellini
Years played: 1982-1986
One of the popular movies in the 1980s was Rocky. Like Rocky, BYU had their own version of the Italian Stallion and it was Mark Bellini. Bellini was a do-it-all wide receiver in the BYU offense. Bellini 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. That’s the stuff of legends.
Players that missed the Top 50: Ronney Jenkins, Chad Lewis, Curtis Brown, Clay Brown, Mekeli Ieremia, Randy Brock, Todd Christensen, Kai Nacua, Todd Watkins, Jake Kuresa, Cameron Jensen, Shay Muirbrook, Jernaro Gilford, Omarr Morgan
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.