BYU football legends reflect on program’s history and move to independence


Former BYU stars enjoyed their time playing in established conferences but are excited for the increased exposure that will come as BYU begins its journey into independence.

In a recent appearance on BYU’s Media Day, BYU football alumni acknowledged there will be added pressure as the Cougars play on a national stage, but the opportunities that come with independence are worth the risk. Legendary coach LaVell Edwards and quarterbacks Steve Young and Ty Detmer helped put BYU on the national radar,  but now the spotlight on the Cougars will be bigger than ever.

“We have been a little bit of a secret. People that love college football know BYU football, but this is a much broader mass of people that have just heard of BYU,” Young said. “This is that opportunity to make BYU, I’m not going to say immediately as big as Notre Dame or some of the other great independents that are out there, but the opportunity  is immense. Therefore, the pressure is a little bit more, because you really can’t go 3-5 or 4-6 and really get that excitement going. It’s nothing new, we’ve always had pressure to win at BYU.”

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Former BYU quarterback Ty Detmer laughs as Steve Young speaks via satellite during BYU football media days in July.
Former BYU head coach Edwards walked up and down the sidelines at Pitt Stadium during ESPN’s first live college football regular season broadcast on Sept. 1, 1984. Both ESPN and BYU are excited to renew their relationship that began with a stunning Cougar upset over third-ranked Pittsburgh, and has been highlighted most recently by BYU’s 14-13 upset over third-ranked Oklahoma in the 2009 season opener.

“I don’t think there’s any question, that the thing that helped us to reach more of a national consciousness [was] ESPN, the few games that we were on. I remember the Thursday night games that we had, with some of those wild high scoring games, and then of course the Pittsburgh game was huge for us, because it was a national game and we had a great run that day and things went well,” Edwards said. “I think  the fact that we do have this contract with ESPN, I think it’s going to make it very exciting, and as we mentioned it’s going to be different, but it has the potential of being great as well.”

BYU is scheduled to appear on ESPN’s network of channels 10 times this season, matching the number of times they have appeared on ESPN in the past five seasons combined.

Former BYU quarterback Detmer believes playing in front of a national television audience on ESPN and BYUtv will be a great opportunity for BYU’s players. Older fans will miss established rivalries with teams such as Wyoming, Colorado State and Air Force, according to Detmer, but everything will sort itself out as the team goes into independence.

Detmer’s four-year stint as BYU’s quarterback was highlighted by a Heisman Trophy season in 1990  in which he led the Cougars to a 28-21 upset victory over No. 1-ranked Miami in their second game of the season. His experience at BYU is highlighted by memories of high-scoring games and playing under Edwards.

“There were so many games that you just had so much fun playing in,” Detmer said. “Exciting games, where you had to come from behind, and other games where you just rolled right through a team. I think the overall experience, and not just on the field, but I enjoyed myself off the field. Coach Edwards was a great person to play for as you got older. When you first come in you see that stone face and you’re intimidated by him. As you leave, he’s slapping you on the back of the head and you have a great relationship with him. I think just the overall experience that you have here, was fun for me.”

Trevor Matich, ESPN college football analyst and BYU center during the 1984 national championship season, ultimately believes independence will play a crucial role in BYU’s ability to recruit quality athletes from all parts of the nation. The success of this season has potential to establish a solid recruiting presence for BYU’s football program moving forward into the independence era.

“Well, it’s exciting and it’s a little terrifying because it is such a brand new world now,” Matich said. “Now BYU is out there on its own, completely on its own, to sink or swim. I think the opportunities are fantastic because BYU right now recruits at a very high level, they’ve won 10 or more games in four of the last five seasons. That is recruiting with a TV presence that was kind of small. What this will do is have BYU more familiar to potential recruits in the Southeast, in Texas, on the East Coast, and really parts of California. I think that it will feed upon itself if they can get out to a quick start. This year that opportunity is there.”


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