Two years in a row, the WAC Mountain Division freshman of the year has come from BYU. And, two years in a row, that player has had to sit out the following season.
In 1997, it was Ronney Jenkins. This season, it will be Jaron Dabney.While Jenkins will make his much-anticipated return to the Cougars in 1998, Dabney, who has been ruled academically ineligible, is likely gone for good from the BYU football program.
Reached by phone at his home in Sealy, Texas, Dabney's father, Halbert, refused to speculate on his son's future and reports that he is being courted by other Division I schools.
"He's real anxious to play football again. We'll wait and see what he'll do," said Halbert Dabney. "I'm disappointed he won't be back for BYU."
Dabney might be looking into resuming his collegiate career in his home state. The fleet-footed, 5-foot-6, 165-pound sophomore has reportedly been in contact with Texas and Texas A&M. If that scenario materializes, he would have to sit out one season to become eligible to play for a Division I program, as per NCAA rules.
Then again, he could enroll at a junior college and come back to Provo in 1999, but it appears Cougar fans have seen the last of Dabney in a BYU uniform.
"Jaron enjoyed his time in Provo. It's beautiful country with beautiful people," Halbert Dabney added. "I thought he'd be a Cougar for life."
Jaron Dabney's last several months at BYU were memorable, but mostly for the wrong reasons. In January he was charged with shoplifting. He subsequently was suspended by the school's Honor Code Office but was allowed to participate in spring drills. Meanwhile, trouble in the classroom put his status at BYU in jeopardy throughout the spring and summer.
In June, Dabney pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge, was ordered by the judge to pay a $400 fine and left for his hometown of Sealy, Texas.
Since that time, in addition to working a job, he apparently has been feeling out his options. Texas and Texas A&M are two schools that were leery of offering Dabney a scholarship out of high school because of his height, or lack thereof. Both schools may be interested in him now.
After all, the multidimensional speedster proved he could play big-time college football last fall. Dabney averaged 14 yards every time he touched the ball, either as a running back, receiver or kick returner. He averaged 24.5 yards per kick-off return.
Having Dabney this season would have afforded BYU offensive coordinator Norm Chow the luxury of playing both Dabney and Jenkins together in a variety of offensive looks. Having Dabney would have helped Chow fulfill the mandate handed down to him from the BYU athletic department hierarchy to open up the offense.
Cougar coaches acknowledge losing Dabney is painful, but they have no choice but to go on without him. Chow insists there is a Dabney-like player that will join the program in August: freshman Reno Mahe, the diminutive all-purpose star out of Brighton High School.
While Jenkins will be back, the Cougars have lost Brian McKenzie and his 1,004 rushing yards to graduation. Will Snowden, the Cougars' second-leading rusher at 122 yards, has been attending Utah Valley State College to get his grades up and is expected to be back at BYU come fall camp.
Freshmen report to campus Aug. 10, and returning players report Aug. 13. BYU's first full-team practice will be Aug. 15, and two-a-days run from Aug. 17-28.