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Staffieri followed father's footsteps to BYU

PROVO — Markell Staffieri is hip-deep in his work as a BYU linebacker, but there was a time he thought he would tread in the footsteps of his father, Mike Staffieri, a former all-conference shortstop, pro player, graduate assistant coach and team captain of the baseball team at BYU.

Baseball is part of Markell's genetic makeup. The youngest of six Staffieri sons, he grew up in the ranks of diamond ball, playing shortstop, first base and third base as a doubles hitter who actually went to spring training in Arizona after an LDS Church mission.

Then he chose football.

"My dad's influence on my athletic career has been everything, totally," said Markell this week as the Cougars prepare to meet UNLV in Las Vegas this Saturday.

"He's been to levels in his sport that I want to get to in mine. He has always been there for me. He always sat me down and told me if I wanted to be a champion, if I wanted to go to the next level, this is what I would have to do.

"We always had to relate it from baseball to football, but he's done a great job. He's been there for me when I've been down or had challenges."

Staffieri is tied for fifth on the Cougar defense for tackles with defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen with 27 tackles in five games. Playing on the inside, alongside Kelly Poppinga, he believes he is part of one of the best linebacker groups in the country.

His father, Mike, was a 17th round draft pick of the Seattle Pilots out of Sunny Hills High in Fullerton, Calif. He chose to play baseball at BYU, where he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the sixth round of the 1972 draft.

"Mike was one of the best baseball players we ever had," said his coach, retired Alabama and BYU athletic director Glen Tuckett. "He played in the College World Series, and when Cincinnati drafted him, he was in a group with Tommy Helm, Ken Griffey Sr. and Danny Driesen, and at the time he was considered to be as good as any of them. He played for the Reds for four years and instead of going to Indianapolis one year, he went to Tampa Bay and got sidetracked somehow," said Tuckett, who pointed out Mike received an NCAA post-graduate scholarship.

"He was in my inner sanctum, a great guy," said Tuckett.

"He was in a group that was supposed to come along and fill in behind Pete Rose and Joe Morgan."

As a son, the current Cougar credits his father for support and tireless hours of backing him.

Markell compares his father's intense interest in his career with that of his father-in-law, Wendell Beck, father of Miami Dolphin second-round pick John Beck. Married to Anna Beck almost a year ago, Markell said, like Wendell, his father always kept statistics on just about everything he ever did. "From hard hit balls to where they were hit. Just everything."

One of Markell's big moments as a baseball player came in high school against El Camino High when he had back-to-back homers on back-to-back pitches. His mother wasn't present to witness the first one.

When he was in the on deck circle warming up for his next at bat, his mother arrived and yelled out to him, "I missed the first one — hit a second one." He did.

Always one of the first three in the lineup, Markell's ticket appeared to be baseball. But his love for football kicked in after his mission, leading him to a key role for the Cougars, even after he fought a seasonlong hamstring tear in 2006.

Markell's faith in his linebacker brothers is sky high. He doesn't just think BYU's 'backers are the best around. He thinks it is global.

"I think it's the best in the world," he said. " I love these guys.

Kelly (Poppinga) is a big body that just stuffs things up. He's kind of crazy like his brother Brady (Green Bay Packers), crazy and reckless.

Brian (Kehl ) and Dave (Nixon) on the outside are so quick, it's amazing how quick those guys are. I bet Brian gets most of his tackles from behind. He just chases people down and some are tackles for loss.

Those two are also great in pass coverages. There are so many weapons out there for us. Some teams have guys who are great against the run but so-so against the pass. These guys can do it all."

Cougar notes: BYU currently has an eight-game MWC road win streak intact heading into Saturday's game at UNLV. The eight-game streak equals the most consecutive road wins in league play since the Cougars won eight straight league games from September 30, 1995 through September 27, 1997. The current streak started with a 27-24 win at New Mexico during the 2005 season. The eight-game streak is also two behind the conference record of 10 held by Utah (Sept. 27, 2003 to Sept. 15, 2005).