Opposing coaches and players know beating the BYU defense starts with finding No. 3.
All-American linebacker Kyle Van Noy has lined up anywhere from on the defensive line to the Cougar secondary. No matter where he chooses to attack from, the senior manages to blow up plays in the backfield and frustrate the offense.
Van Noy has recorded a statistic in every category for two straight years and is only a blocked kick and a fumble recovery away from accomplishing the almost unheard-of feat for the third straight season. His knack for making the play begins and ends with his attitude of being the best of the best in every phase of the game.
“You got to hit people in the mouth,” Van Noy said. “You’ve got to go about every game with a prepared defense. Preparation has to be stronger and faster and better than anyone else in the country.”
Van Noy, who has been the heart and soul of the defense for virtually his entire career, didn’t have the easiest journey to Provo. While being recruited before his freshman season in 2009, Van Noy was arrested in his hometown of Reno, Nev., for driving under the influence. The crime would have prohibited head coach Bronco Mendenhall from offering him a scholarship because he was not in compliance with the Honor Code.
In the book “The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football” by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, the conversation that ensued between coach and prospective player is detailed:
“I messed up,” Van Noy began, his voice cracking. Mendenhall took a deep breath. “I got arrested,” Van Noy continued.
Mendenhall felt sick.
It happened the night before. Van Noy had been out and got arrested for drunk driving. He was underage. So the case would be disposed in juvenile court. But Mendenhall had a policy that prohibited him from offering scholarships to players who weren’t living in compliance with the Honor Code. He didn’t make exceptions — not even for the best recruits.
“You understand you can’t come to BYU under these circumstances?” Mendenhall asked.
Van Noy was silent.
“Kyle, I love you just the same,” Mendenhall told him. “I’ll release you from your commitment to BYU.”
“You can choose any of the schools that were recruiting you,” Mendenhall said. “My guess is that they will want you in a second.”
“But that’s not what I want,” Van Noy said.
Mendenhall didn’t expect that. “I was absolutely ready to release him at that point because of the Honor Code,” Mendenhall explained. “I told him I’d help him go anywhere he wanted to go. But he kept saying he wanted to come to BYU.”
Van Noy had another legal problem following the first, but the determined young athlete sought help from Mendenhall and athletic director Tom Holmoe, along with the dean of students. The four worked out a scenario in which Van Noy could still play for the Cougars. But he would need to sit out the entire 2009 season, with strict protocols making sure he kept the Honor Code both on and off campus. While the BYU administrators had initial reservations, Mendenhall stood up for his potential player.
“He never hides when his mistakes come,” Mendenhall told Benedict and Keteyian. “He has been honest from the minute our relationship started. I’m always the first to know when he makes a mistake. And I believe he can make it. He’s giving up a chance to go elsewhere.”
Five years later, and without a single Honor Code violation, Van Noy is on the precipice of making another giant leap forward — to the NFL, where he will certainly be no later than a second-round pick in the coming draft. Mendenhall said he knew from the first film he saw on Van Noy that he could be something special.
“All you had to do was watch a couple series of film and you knew,” Mendenhall said. “I thought very early on there was no limit on how good he could be.”
When compared to defensive greats like Jan Jorgensen, Bryan Kehl, and most recently Ezekiel Ansah, Van Noy and his accomplishments present a spotlight under which the other legends seem to dim, despite his modest attitude.
“(Van Noy’s) probably had more attention and more praise and more spotlight than maybe any other player,” Mendenhall said. “He’s been featured on billboards, in magazines, in books. If you think about that for a young person, or any person, and then to stay grounded, stable, consistent and to be able to continue to learn and grow and be teachable along the way — it’s quite a challenge.”
Van Noy made his triumphant return to his hometown of Reno on Saturday, helping the Cougars hold off Nevada 28–23 for the final regular season win of his career. As he thought about playing his final regular season college game where his football life had begun, he said he is a completely different person now.
“I can’t even get the words to describe how different I am,” Van Noy said. “But for the most part I’m just a completely different person. And that’s the most important thing to me is being different not only on the field, but off the field as well. I just have a lot different perspective on life.”
Van Noy still has the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco to add one more game to his unquestioned legendary career at BYU. But for now, all Van Noy wants is to continue his lifelong dream.
He just wants to play for BYU.