The Cougar football program recruited and developed quarterbacks like Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer during the LaVell Edwards era, though names like John Beck, Max Hall and Taysom Hill during more recent years may also come to mind.
One of the most developed quarterbacks from the 1990s was John Walsh, who was tasked with taking the reins from Heisman Trophy winner Detmer after Detmer entered the NFL in 1992. After three successful seasons at the helm of the BYU offense, Walsh added his name to the list of Cougars drafted to the NFL.
Walsh was raised in Torrance, California, where he attended West Torrance High School until his junior year in 1989. West Torrance was not heavily recruited for football so he decided to transfer to Carson High School — a more heavily recruited school — for his senior year. He was then recruited by 1990 preseason ranked No. 1 Miami, No. 4 Florida State, No. 8 USC, No. 16 BYU and No. 19 UCLA.
During his 1990 senior season at Carson Walsh set the California state passing record for a season with 4,226 yards, was named LA City 4-A MVP and Daily Breeze Player of the Year and received the Glenn Davis Award.
Walsh said his dream school was the University of Miami, which was the best team in the nation when he was growing up. He knew a UM football player who he grew up watching in the early ’80s while also having the opportunity to meet the team and get their autographs as a kid.
Walsh was contacted by the University of Miami and hoped to play there. The week before a recruiting trip, another Miami recruit, who happened to be the USA Today All-American preseason quarterback, committed to the university. As a result, Walsh decided not to take that recruiting trip.
“You want to put yourself in the best possible situation,” Walsh said.
Walsh’s next choice was BYU. Even though Walsh was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he and his father both liked the school and knew it was a great opportunity for Walsh to get a lot of time at quarterback.
“BYU made a commitment to me, so I made a commitment to them,” Walsh said.
Walsh had a great time while at BYU. He enjoyed his time with his teammates, but as he was not a member of the Church, it was a bit of a cultural shock. However, he said attending BYU helped him realize he wanted to be a better person.
Walsh’s former teammate Kaipo McGuire currently works as a mental performance coach with the Air Force Academy’s athletic department. McGuire noticed the mental toughness that Walsh possessed as a quarterback in the 1990’s.
“John had all the physical tools, but he was also fiery and a great leader,” McGuire said.
Walsh played for BYU from 1991-94. In his 1991 freshman season, Walsh was the backup quarterback behind Detmer and saw action in six games.
During the 1992 season, Walsh earned the starting role and threw over 300 yards in each of the first two games. However, he suffered a shoulder separation against UCLA in the third game of the year, ending his season.
In his 1993 comeback season, Walsh began to make a name for himself. He was named Co-Offensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl, Geneva Steelman of the Year, ranked No. 5 nationally in total offense at 310.91 yards per game and ranked No. 9 nationally with a 156.04 pass efficiency rating on the year.
That same year, Walsh set the school record for passing yards in a game with a 619 yard, 5 touchdown performance at Utah State — a record he still holds. He also totaled eight games of 300 or more passing yards, including four straight games over 400 yards — 439 vs. Fresno State, 619 at Utah State, 417 at San Diego State and 423 vs. Utah.
For his 1994 season, Walsh was named MVP of the Copper Bowl, ranked No. 5 nationally in total offense at 289.4 yards per game, ranked No. 15 nationally with a 143.3 pass efficiency rating on the year, and ranked No. 1 in the NCAA in pass completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns. He also totaled nine games of 300 or more passing yards in 1994, including a game over 400 yards.
Much of this success can be attributed to the standards to which he held himself and his teammates.
“He demanded respect in the huddle and for people to listen and do their job, and that’s why we were so successful,” McGuire said.
Walsh left his mark in the record books for BYU football. During his four years at BYU, he passed for 9,233 yards and 73 touchdowns, set the BYU record for passing yards in a single game, threw for over 300 yards in 19 games and surpassed the 400-yard mark five times.
He completed his career at BYU with 8,390 regular-season yards, according to NCAA, ranking fourth in school history. Walsh also finished with 66 regular-season touchdown passes, tied for No. 5 in Western Athletic Conference history with BYU’s Robbie Bosco. Walsh achieved a 147.6 career pass efficiency rating, ranking No. 6 in NCAA history at the time.
Walsh said his most memorable games were beating Notre Dame in South Bend, beating Oklahoma in the Copper Bowl in 1994, the 1993 Holiday Bowl vs. Ohio State, and the games against University of Utah, San Diego State and Utah State.
After his junior season, Walsh declared for the 1995 NFL Draft while still having one more year of NCAA eligibility. He was selected in the seventh round by the Cincinnati Bengals, much later than many anticipated.
His NFL career was short-lived, playing in the league for just one year before getting cut. Despite career challenges, Walsh left BYU with many accolades and much to be proud of.
“I tried to forget everything I had done and accomplished football-wise when I should have been proud of it,” Walsh said.
Walsh explained many athletes are so focused on their sport that when it’s gone, it’s as if their whole world is ending. Many athletes give most of their lives to a sport, and they end up having an identity crisis when their career is over.
“At the end of the day, you have to have your priorities set straight,” Walsh said.
It took Walsh seven or eight years to finally talk about his story. He said he had a treasure chest filled with memories and accomplishments, and he had slammed it shut and locked it away. Eventually, he was finally able to open up, talk about it and move on.
Walsh lives in Redondo Beach, California, with his wife and three daughters, two of which are committed to play a collegiate sport. He tells his daughters that they need to go to school and get their degree, but most importantly to have fun.
“He has a heart of gold. He is one of the kindest people I’ve ever known,” Walsh’s wife Linda said. “John always puts everyone first in front of himself and is someone you can always count on and rely on. Family and friends are very important to John and he shows that loyalty every day.”
Walsh owns his own franchise selling tools to auto-repair and body shops in Southern California. He also gives one-on-one quarterback lessons to local Southern California athletes.