Ansah, Unga leading the way for former BYU defenders in the NFL

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Defensive players currently lead the way in representing BYU in the NFL. Former first-round pick Ezekiel Ansah continues to thrive as one of the league’s premier pass rushers while Uani’ Unga, Kyle Van Noy, Alani Fua, and Daniel Sorensen hope to make a name for themselves in the pros. Each played on BYU’s defense over the past three years.

Ansah is tied with Cincinnati’s Carlos Dunlap as the NFL sack leader and has been a bright spot for the Detroit Lions this season. Van Noy, Ansah’s teammate and second-round draft pick, has spent most of his time on special teams.

Brandon Wade
New York Giants linebacker Uani’ Unga tackles a Dallas Cowboys player earlier this season. Unga played linebacker for BYU from 2011-2013. (Associated Press)

New York Giants linebacker Uani’ Unga is an undrafted Cougar who made it into the spotlight this season. Unga is currently tied for most interceptions by a linebacker and has led the Giants in tackles in three games this season.

Unga’s best game came when he led the Giant’s defense with 12 tackles and one interception against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1, which garnered praise from his former BYU coach, Paul Tidwell.

“I was very impressed and proud of Uani’ and his family,” Tidwell said. “He had a long road and trials he had to overcome. He pushed through them and got healthy and got his shot.”

The success of former Cougar players is noticed by coaches and players long after they leave Provo.

“I love it. Anyone from BYU playing in the NFL, I always watch their games and follow them,” defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi said. “I love seeing those guys really be successful.”

Elliott Miller
Alani Fua tackles Houston running back Kenneth Farrow on September 11, 2014. Fua now plays in the NFL for the Arizona Cardinals. (Elliott Miller)

Fua signed as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals this season after agreeing to move from outside to inside linebacker. He has played in all five games this seasonrecording a tackle in games against San Francisco and New Orleans.

Sorensen plays for the Kansas City Chiefs, primarily on the special teams unit. The undrafted free agent was demoted to the practice squad at one point before making his way back onto the 53-man active roster. He played in nine games in 2014, recording 7 tackles, and has seen playing time in three games so far this season.

Offensive lineman Dallas Reynolds and tight end Dennis Pitta represent the Cougars on the offensive side of the ball.

Reynolds played for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 and 2012 before being signed with the Giants in 2013. He has played in a total of 34 games and had 14 starts at center with the Eagles in spite of going undrafted. He played in 15 of 16 games for the Giants in 2014 and is currently listed as the backup center and left guard.

Pitta continues to struggle with a hip injury and hasn’t seen the field since September of 2014. The former fourth-round pick became one of the more memorable former Cougars in the NFL after helping the Ravens win a Super Bowl in 2012.

Long snapper John Denney is the most veteran player in the NFL right now, as far as former Cougars go. Miami signed him as an undrafted free agent back in 2005, and Denney has seen game action in every game over the last 11 seasons as a Dolphin. He was selected for the Pro Bowl in 2010, and in 2013 the Dolphins re-signed him to a contract that made him one of the highest-paid long snappers in the NFL.

Other former Cougars in the NFL currently play on the practice squads: De’Ondre Wesley (Ravens), Hebron Fangupo (Chiefs), Rob Daniel (Packers) and Paul Lasike (Bears).

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