Luke Staley is the most decorated running back in BYU history, winning the Doak Walker Award in 2001 and averaging eight yards per carry as a junior. He’s remembered for igniting a 24-21 comeback win over rival Utah, but also endured more than 20 surgeries. Staley left Provo early to play in the NFL, but an injury during training camp cut his pro career short.
Despite his successful college football career, Staley left BYU with feelings of resentment towards the medical staff and hadn’t spoken to any journalists in 15 years.
BYU journalism students Riley Lewis, Cody Meredith, Justin Reeder and Skyler Street produced the documentary “Not For Luke” to give Staley a chance to share his side of the story. The film debuted Wednesday, Apr. 13.
“The thing that attracted us to Luke was that he such a dominant player but yet nobody knew anything about him,” Street said in a question and answer session following the premiere.
Riley’s uncle Chad Lewis a former NFL tight end, is an associate athletic director at BYU. Chad helped put the crew in contact with former Cougar and NFL quarterback Brandon Doman, who played with Staley.
Riley described Staley as a private man, but Doman was one of the few teammates who kept in touch with him over the years.
“Brandon’s one of the few that’s been able to maintain somewhat of contact with him, and he was able to connect us with him,” Riley said.
Riley wasn’t sure if Staley would be willing to talk because he didn’t know the state of Staley’s relationship with BYU. But the crew explained they wanted to “give (him) a microphone.”
Riley, Meredity, Reeder and Street began working on the project in November 2015: making contacts, conducting interviews, writing the script, compiling photos, restoring game footage, selecting music and then editing it all together.
It took time for Staley to open up in interviews. He felt the BYU medical staff put him back on the field prematurely and harbored resentment.
“We didn’t want to make it a Mormon Message where he loves BYU,” Riley said. “We wanted to report the truth that he did have some issues with BYU.”
Staley’s relationship with BYU seems to be improving. He was inducted into the BYU Athletic Hall of Fame in October 2015 and was present at the press conference that introduced his former teammate Kalani Sitake as the new BYU head football coach. “Not For Luke” may have been the next part in improving the relationship.
“His wife probably said it best, where he went from resentment and maybe anger towards BYU to now he’s neutral, doesn’t hate BYU,” Riley said.
Staley told the crew that he hadn’t talked to anyone about these events in two decades. Street described Staley’s involvement in the documentary as “therapeutic.”
“It was really cool to see him start talking about it and the more he talked about it, the more we got out of him,” Street said. “It was just something he’s never talked about.”
Staley was unable to attend the film’s premiere because it was his son’s birthday and he had a baseball practice to coach, but the crew showed him the film’s teaser a couple of weeks ago.
“He really liked it,” Meredith said. “I think that was one of the things that really opened him up.”
But while “Not For Luke” is garnering plenty of attention, Riley said that was never their goal.
“I don’t think our mission is to convert people to BYU and to BYU football, but it’s to heal wounds,” Riley said. “And I think there were wounds there, intentional or not.”
“Not For Luke” is available for viewing on YouTube here.