BYU Football’s 50 Greatest Players Of All-Time: Nos. 11-25
PROVO, Utah – The countdown of the greatest BYU Football players of all-time, rolls on.
This installment looks at players ranked number 11 on the list to number 25.
25. Itula Mili
Years played: 1991, 1994-1996
Mili was one of the most versatile and complete tight ends BYU has ever had. A native of Laie, Hawaii, Mili spurned the hometown Hawaii Rainbow Warriors to sign with BYU. Mili had had 1,730 receiving yards in his career with the Cougars before suffering a devastating knee injury on the nasty astroturf at Sam Boyd Stadium in the WAC Championship game in 1996 against Wyoming.
24. Jan Jorgensen
Years played: 2005-2009
From tiny Helper, Utah to BYU’s all-time leader in sacks. Jan Jorgensen was an elite pass rusher off the edge in Bronco Mendenhall’s 3-4 defense. Jorgensen grew up a Utah Utes fan because of his family’s close relationship with former Utah head coach Ron McBride. Jorgensen was going to follow Ronnie Mac when Mac was coaching at the University of Kentucky out of high school. After serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Jorgensen redshirted in 2005 and then was a dominant force at defensive end the following four seasons. Jorgensen had 28.5 sacks and an eye-popping 44 tackles for loss in his BYU career.
23. Rob Morris
Years played: 1993, 1996-1999
Morris began his career at fullback for BYU before switching to middle linebacker midway through his freshman season in 1993. That position switch was beneficial as Morris went on to earn All-American honors in 1998 and 1999. Morris was nicknamed “The Freight Train” and in 1999, BYU marketing made wooden train whistles as an opportunity to promote Morris for the Butkus Award. Morris had 316 tackles in his career.
22. Steve Sarkisian
Years played: 1995-1996
The number one junior college recruit in America for the class of 1995, Sarkisian signed with BYU and helped lead the Cougars to one of the greatest seasons in school history in 1996. Sarkisian and BYU went on to have a 14-1 season that was capped by a win in the Cotton Bowl. Sarkisian went on to win the Sammy Baugh Trophy, awarded to the best quarterback in college football that season. The Torrance, California native burst onto the national scene by throwing for 536 yards against the “Wrecking Crew” defense of No. 13 Texas A&M.
21. Leon White
Years played: 1981-1985
A national champion at linebacker for BYU, White picked the Cougars over hometown San Diego State coming out of Helix High School in California. White paired with Kurt Gouveia formed one of the best linebacking tandems BYU has ever had. White’s classic gapped teeth smile made him a recognizable face and he went on to pile up 163 tackles and 17.5 sacks along with All-American honors in 1985.
20. Harvey Unga
Years played: 2006-2009
Coming out of local Timpview High School, Harvey Unga signed with BYU over rival Utah and it was a huge recruiting win for the Cougars in Bronco Mendenhall’s first year. Unga had to greyshirt in 2005 and then took a medical redshirt in 2006 before emerging as BYU’s star at running back in fall camp of 2007. Immediately that season, Unga made his mark as BYU’s feature back by piling up 127 rushing yards in the season opener against Arizona. Unga would go on to be BYU’s career leading rusher with 3,455 rushing yards. Unga was versatile as he also piled up 1,085 receiving yards in his three playing seasons.
19. Mohammed Elewonibi
Years played: 1988-1989
A junior college transfer from Snow College, BYU was the beneficiary of landing Elewonibi with Snow being close enough for the Cougar coaching staff to consistently recruit him. Elewonibi was a fulltime starter for BYU only one season but it was one of the best seasons by a BYU offensive lineman ever. Elewonibi playing offensive guard went on to win the Outland Trophy for Most Outstanding Interior Lineman in college football.
18. Jamaal Williams
Years played: 2012-2014, 2016
The “Swagdaddy,” “J-man da China Man,” and “Baby J” were some of the nicknames Jamaal Williams had during his career at BYU. But the most recognizable title Williams has next to his name is current all-time leading rusher in BYU football history. Williams ran for 3,901 rushing yards in his career at BYU. A native of Fontana, California, Williams picked BYU over Boise State and a late push from hometown UCLA. Williams’ most notable performance was a 286 yard game against Toledo in his senior season.
17. Gifford Nielsen
Years played: 1973-1977
Nielsen was the hometown superstar out of Provo High School that became the first nationally recognized quarterback in the LaVell Edwards era. “The Mormon Riffle” finished 6th in the Heisman voting in his junior season in 1976 after throwing for 2,787 yards and 24 touchdown passes in only 10 games. BYU generated a Heisman campaign for Nielsen heading into his senior season in 1977 and the Cougars started strong winning their first three games, but those lofty aspirations were derailed as Nielsen suffered a season-ending knee injury against Oregon State that sidelined him the rest of his BYU career. Nielsen ended with 5,041 career passing yards.
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16. Kyle Morrell
Years played: 1981-1984
When you think of Kyle Morrell, you have to start with 1984 against Hawaii on the islands to save the undefeated and eventual National Championship season. Morrell’s leap in a goal stand to stop Hawaii from scoring a touchdown is iconic and will forever play in BYU highlights as long as the Cougars are still fielding a football team. Morrell was more than just one play though. He was a first-team All-American from the safety spot in 1984 and was recognized as a Bob Hope All-American as well.
15. Kyle Van Noy
Years played: 2010-2013
A four-star recruit out of Reno, Nevada, KVN was one of the best defensive athletes in the class of 2009 out west. Van Noy sat out the 2009 season but then started to make his impact in the final few games of his freshman season in 2010. Then in 2011, Van Noy had a game-winning scoop-and-score against Ole Miss in SEC Country. Van Noy was one of the only defensive players in BYU history to be a threat at any time to score points. Case in point the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl. Without Van Noy, BYU doesn’t win that football game. He helped generate two touchdowns in that win alone in a game where BYU’s offense was struggling to generate any points.
14. John Tait
Years played: 1993, 1996-1998
The best offensive tackle in the history of BYU football. Tait picked BYU out of high school over Arizona State, Notre Dame, and UCLA. Right away in Tait’s redshirt season in 1993, people around BYU’s program were buzzing about how good Tait was going to be after he returned home from serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Tait ended up delivering on those lofty expectations starting in all 15 games at left tackle in 1996. Tait went on to start in 38 games in his three years playing for BYU before foregoing his senior year to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
13. Robbie Bosco
Years played: 1981-1985
The man who led BYU to their only undefeated and national championship season in 1984. There was a lot of uncertainty heading into the 1984 season. How as BYU going to replace Steve Young and were they going to be able to keep up their string of incredible quarterback play? Bosco emphatically let people know the quarterback factory was going to keep rolling as he helped lead BYU to a win at No. 3 Pitt to open the 1984 season. Bosco threw for 8,717 yards in two seasons as the starter. In 1985, Bosco, who battled shoulder problems still threw for 4,226 yards in his final season. Bosco’s No. 6 jersey was retired in 2017.
12. Taysom Hill
Years played: 2012-2016
Taysom might be pound-for-pound the greatest athlete to ever play for the BYU football program. Hill did things that nobody at BYU had ever seen before and that was saying something when you consider how many great quarterbacks have come through BYU over the years. BYU was fortunate to land Taysom after returning home from serving a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission, Hill was expected to enroll at Stanford. But the Cardinal didn’t accept mid-year enrollees into school, Taysom didn’t want to wait and he enrolled at BYU. Hill passed for 6,929 yards and ran for 2,815 yards in his career at BYU. Hill’s hurdle at Texas in 2014 is ingrained in the minds of Cougar fans everywhere. Had Hill avoided injuries, suffered four season-ending injuries in his career, he likely would have ended up much higher on this list.
11. Gordon Hudson
Years played: 1980-1983
The production Hudson had from the tight end position was never heard of in football during his playing days. A College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Hudson was a consensus All-American in 1982 and 1983. In three seasons, Hudson racked up 2,438 receiving yards on 172 receptions in only 31 games. That’s an average of 78 receiving yards per game.
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.