Top 10 Transfer Players In BYU Football History

Jul 21, 2021, 3:42 PM
BYU Football - Best Transfers...
BYU football has produced some talented transfers over the years with James Dye (far left), Max Hall (middle), and Jordan Leslie (right) near the top. (Photos courtesy of Deseret News)
(Photos courtesy of Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – Transfers have become such a big part of college football, and BYU is no exception to that. The Cougars have some potential impact transfers for the 2021 season in Puka and Samson Nacua joining the program.

Both Nacua brothers have the potential to one day make the list of greatest transfers in BYU football history. So who makes up that top 10 list of the greatest transfers in BYU’s history? You’ve come to the right place.

Top 10 transfers in BYU football history

I put this list together with the sole focus on the impact these transfers players made during their careers at BYU. The NFL didn’t factor into these rankings. Also note, this doesn’t include Junior College transfers. Just players from another FBS program to BYU.

10. Riley Nelson, QB (Utah State)

The transfer of Riley Nelson from the Cache Valley to BYU on Memorial Day 2008 during his Latter-day Saint Church mission was memorable. Nelson’s move to BYU created an NCAA bylaw that many coined the “Riley Nelson Rule” as the NCAA told their member institutions not to recruit athletes on church missions.

Despite the angst from Logan, Nelson pushed forward with a career at BYU that he began in 2009. Nelson racked up 3,971 passing yards and tossed 34 touchdown passes in his time with the Cougars. He currently serves as the color analyst for radio broadcasts on the BYU Sports Network (heard on KSL NewsRadio).

9. Uani Unga, LB (Oregon State)

Unga was a tackling machine for BYU during his senior season in 2013. As a captain of the Cougars defense that featured Kyle Van Noy at outside linebacker, Unga was the top tackler with 121 tackles that season.

8. Hau’oli “Joe” Wong, OL (Hawaii)

Wong was a starter at right tackle for the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors under Bob Wagner. When Wagner was fired after the 1995 season, the Bows brought in Fred Von Appen. Wong didn’t want to play on the islands anymore, and he wanted to play at BYU.

Von Appen wouldn’t release him from his scholarship. So the massive 6-foot-6, 315-pound Wong paid his own way at BYU for a year in 1996. He then started along the offensive line in 1997 and 1998 for the Cougars before going on to play in the NFL.

7. Manaia Brown, DL (Nebraska)

When Manaia Brown was coming out of Granger High School, he was one of the nation’s top defensive line recruits in 2000. He signed with Nebraska out of high school, turning down BYU, Notre Dame, and a long list of others.

Brown played on Nebraska’s defensive line as a redshirt freshman in 2001, the last time they appeared in the National Championship game. He was expected to be a starter on the Blackshirts defense in the future until his father became ill. Causing him to want to be closer to family in Utah.

Brown wanted to go to BYU, but former Nebraska coach Frank Solich wouldn’t release him out of his scholarship until the pressure started to mount for Solich’s program. The 6-foot-4, 313-pound lineman, arrived at BYU in 2002. He played from 2003-2005.

During his time at BYU, Brown was an All-MWC performer despite playing through lingering shoulder injuries.

6. Jordan Leslie, WR (UTEP)

Leslie was a historic transfer BYU as he was the first grad transfer into the program. The former UTEP standout played for wide receiver coach Guy Holliday in El Paso. Holliday was at BYU in 2014; the two had a strong relationship. Leslie came to BYU and was an immediate contributor to a team that jumped out to a 4-0 start with a healthy Taysom Hill at quarterback.

During his one year with the Cougars, Leslie totaled 722 receiving yards on 49 receptions. He scored five touchdowns in that one season.

5. James Dye, WR/PR (Utah State)

You punt, you “dye!”

James Dye transferred to BYU after one year with Utah State then Utah Valley State College (now UVU). In his two years at BYU, Dye was an electrifying return specialist who also contributed to the receiving game.

In 1995 and 1996, Dye returned four punts for touchdowns and one kickoff for a score. He was number one nationally in punt returns with a 21.9-yard average in 1995.

4. Harvey Langi, DE/LB (Utah)

Coming out of Bingham High, Langi was a four-star running back prospect with offers from many schools out west. Langi signed with Utah out of high school, where he played one season in 2011. He then left to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

After returning home from his mission for the Church, Langi transferred to BYU. With the Cougars from 2014-2015, he played linebacker. In 2015, he was one of the top performers on defense. Then in his senior season, new head coach Kalani Sitake switched Langi to defensive end, where he had 57 tackles and four sacks.

3. Taysom Hill, QB (Stanford)

It’s easy to forget, but Taysom Hill didn’t sign with BYU out of Highland High School in Pocatello, Idaho. Instead, the do-it-all Hill signed with Jim Harbaugh and Stanford initially in 2009.

BYU fans are fortunate that Stanford doesn’t have mid-year enrollees. So when Hill returned home from his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he switched his commitment to BYU and signed a scholarship agreement with the Cougars.

Hill never played a down at Stanford, but it was a big coup for BYU to land one of the program’s best all-around athletes from the Cardinal.

During his time at BYU from 2012-2016, Hill put together some dazzling performances. Unfortunately, he played in only 36 games due to four season-ending injuries during his career. His performances against Texas in 2013 and 2014 will forever live in BYU lore. Along with his play against Nebraska in 2015 before suffering a lisfranc injury.

Hill played for Kalani Sitake and Ty Detmer in 2016, starting in 12 games before suffering another season-ending injury. He ended his BYU career with 6,636 passing yards and 2,682 rushing yards.

2. Brad Oates, OL (Duke)

There aren’t many connections between BYU football and Duke on the gridiron, but they have Brad Oates. The BYU Hall of Famer transferred from Durham to Provo in 1972, the first year of LaVell Edwards’ historic tenure as head coach.

Oates was the starting offensive tackle for the Cougars from 1973-75 and he was a co-captain in his final two seasons, helping lead BYU to their first-ever bowl game in 1974 against Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.

1. Max Hall, QB (Arizona State)

When Max Hall returned home from his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he had a change of heart on his allegiance to Arizona State. Hall, a native of Mesa, Arizona, signed with the hometown Sun Devils out of high school.

BYU had a scholarship open up at quarterback after the heralded Ben Olsen opted to transfer to UCLA after his mission. As Hall went on to become the winningest quarterback in BYU Football history, it was a great move for BYU, guiding the Cougars to 32 wins in his three years as the starter.

In all three seasons, he led BYU at quarterback; the Cougars finished each season nationally ranked. However, the crown jewel moment of Hall’s career was a win against No. 3 Oklahoma in 2009 in the first game at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

Hall finished second all-time in career passing yardage at BYU with 11,365 yards. He also finished second in career touchdowns with 94, behind only Ty Detmer.

Just missed the cut: Kelly Poppinga, Ty’Son Williams, Levi Madarieta, Michael Wadsworth

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

  • BYU Cougars Scoreboard

  • BYU Cougars Team Leaders

  • BYU Cougars Standings

Cougar Tracks

BYU Football, Micah Harper, Depth Chart...
Mitch Harper

Four Takeaways From BYU’s Depth Chart For Notre Dame Week

The standout takeaways from No. 16 BYU's depth chart heading into the Notre Dame game.
1 day ago
BYU vs Utah State, Wagon Wheel...
Mitch Harper

BYU Vs. Utah State: Game Day Preview Plus Score Prediction

Preview and prediction on the BYU side for tonight's Wagon Wheel matchup.
5 days ago
BYU Basketball, Practice, Mark Pope...
Mitch Harper

BYU Basketball Practices Tip Off With ‘New And Young’ Challenges

Year four of the Mark Pope era tipped off with practices beginning today.
8 days ago
BYU vs Oregon, Autzen Stadium...
Mitch Harper

BYU Vs. Oregon: Game Day Preview Plus Score Prediction

It's game day! No. 12 BYU versus No. 25 Oregon.
17 days ago
BYU vs Baylor, Jaren Hall...
Mitch Harper

BYU Vs. Baylor: Game Day Preview Plus Score Prediction

Huge game with no shortage of storylines, questions, and intrigue.
24 days ago
BYU, Big 12 Conference, Kevin Worthen, Tom Holmoe...
Mitch Harper

One Year Later: BYU’s Big 12 Invitation Represents Endless Potential

Over the past year, the significance of BYU's move to the Big 12 has only become more historic.
26 days ago
Top 10 Transfer Players In BYU Football History