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Former Y. player optimistic

PROVO — Trevor Matich sees a bright future for the BYU football program.

Matich, who was the starting center on BYU's 1984 national championship team and now works as an ESPN color analyst, says the Cougars are on the verge of becoming championship-caliber again.

"They have struggled a bit the last couple of years," Matich told the Deseret Morning News before helping call Friday's BYU-UNLV game on ESPN2. "(Coach) Gary Crowton is on the hot seat. I hope the powers that be in Provo let him finish the job. He's poised to getting this team competing for championships again."

Matich said Crowton, who is in his fourth season at the helm, is beginning to get his players into the program.

"Starting next year, he'll have his first full recruiting class in the program. He's got his own pipeline coming back from missions. At BYU, because of missions, you have to wait two or three years longer to get your players. There are great new facilities and that will influence future recruits. When you look at the totality of the situation, there is a foundation that has been built."

After he finished his BYU career, Matich went on to play 12 years in the NFL. While playing with the Cougars, he snapped to four illustrious quarterbacks — Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco. During his four seasons at BYU (1979, 1980, 1983, 1984), the Cougars posted a combined 47-3 record. "It was quite a ride," Matich recalled.

PRAISING ROBINSON: UNLV coach John Robinson announced a couple of weeks ago that he will retire at the end of the season. Crowton paid tribute to the coaching legend this week.

"I just feel fortunate to have been associated with Coach Robinson in conference meetings and to go against him in games," he said. "He's just an outstanding coach in our profession. I have great respect for him as a college coach and an NFL coach. I believe the players who play for him have that same kind of respect."

O-LINEMAN COMMITS: Oceanside High School lineman Russell Tialavea has verbally committed to BYU, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

"I had no clue where I was going until I visited BYU," Tialavea told the Union-Tribune. "The atmosphere was great. Everyone I met was great. It was a perfect fit."

The 6-foot-3, 265-pounder also visited Nebraska and was considering Oregon State and Kansas State. He has family, including two sisters, living in Utah. Tialavea is rated No. 65 among the top 100 seniors in the state of California by TheInsiders.com. He is expected to be a defensive tackle at BYU.

BACK HOME AGAIN: Going into Friday's game against UNLV, BYU had posted a 2-6 record in its last eight games at LaVell Edwards Stadium. That includes five straight losses prior to the Cougars' season-opening victory against Notre Dame.

Despite their struggles at home in recent years, players say it's not on their minds. "We don't think about that," said cornerback Micah Alba. "We go into every game planning to win, so I don't look at what happened in the past."

BYU has three of its next four games in Provo. "It's a good feeling," Alba said. "We love our fans here at home. We love being here in a comfortable atmosphere. It's a good feeling to be here for a long stretch."

BYU HONORS HAMBLINS: Shannon Hamblin, wife of BYU academic coach Jim Hamblin, died Thursday following a battle with cancer. She was 38. The Cougars wore black wristbands Friday during the UNLV game to honor the Hamblin family, which includes three children. Funeral services for Shannon are scheduled for Monday at 11 a.m. at the Canyon View Stake Center in Orem.

NOTES: Prior to the game, BYU honored Robinson by giving he and his wife airline tickets to Hawaii . . . For the first time this season, the Cougars wore blue tops with white pants . . . BYU's Matt Payne booted a 63-yard punt in the first half. He has kicked 14 punts inside the 20-yard line and nine inside the 10 this season . . . BYU safety Jon Burbidge suffered a right forearm injury in the first half.


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com