PROVO — With 2,368 rushing yards already on his resume after two seasons at BYU, junior running back Harvey Unga needs only 854 yards to become the Cougars' all-time leading rusher.
It seems the only thing that could prevent him from accomplishing that feat this season is injuries.
A year ago, Unga was hampered by an ankle sprain, shoulder stingers and shoulder sprains, but he still managed to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau.
So it is that after an off-season that saw Unga lose a few pounds, go through physical therapy and visit chiropractors, and a fall camp where he has been held out of contract drills, and running backs coach Lance Reynolds has said of him, "He's playing really well right now, better than ever before," he injured his hamstring during Monday's morning practice.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said Unga will play against Oklahoma in the season-opener on Sept. 5.
Still, Unga's latest ailment raises questions once again — will he be at full speed like he was in 2007 as a freshman?
"I'm the kind of guy that if you need me out there, I'll be out there," Unga said last week. "If something's hurting, it's going to hurt. I'd rather be out there hurting and trying to do something good for the team than doing nothing at all."
Last season, Unga said, "was frustrating at times" because of various injuries. "But that comes with the game. Talking to players before me, they told me, 'That's the name of the game — staying healthy.' It's going to happen regardless of what I want."
The return of blocker-extraordinaire Manase Tonga should bolster Unga's running, just like he did when he opened holes for Unga two years ago.
Unga is getting more and more questions about the possibility of becoming the school's all-time No. 1 rusher.
"Is that my focus? No. I want to win," he said. "That's what I'm here for. As long as I'm doing what I need to be doing to help my team and to win, I think everything else will fall into place. I'm not too worried about the record. If it happens, I'd be grateful. It would be an honor to have that. Right now, my focus is to win. Everything else will fall into place."
While BYU is known for its quarterbacks, past Cougar running backs keep up with the program and Unga talks to them, or texts them, on a regular basis. Unga considers Curtis Brown, who currently reigns as BYU's No. 1 all-time rusher, as a mentor. The two went out to lunch together recently.
"Last year, Curtis was giving (offensive coordinator Robert) Anae and Reynolds a hard time about his record, asking them not to give me the ball as much," Unga said with a laugh. "I love Curtis. He's a good guy. It's always good to chit-chat with him."
Unga also stays in touch with 2001 Doak Walker Award winner Luke Staley, as well as Fui Vakapuna, Reno Mahe, Fahu Tahi and Jamal Willis. Mahe played in the NFL while Vakapuna and Tahi are currently in the NFL. Willis currently works as an academic advisor on campus.
"(Willis) will come up to me and hassle me a little bit," Unga said. "He tells me, 'Don't let Curtis hold the record for as long as I did.' We'll joke about that. Jamal's one of the best. It's nice he's around here."
Over the summer, Unga trained with Vakapuna and Tahi.
"I keep in touch with every single one of those guys. They keep in touch with me, asking how camp is going," Unga said. "BYU's definitely known for the passing game and the quarterback factory. But I think, personally, there's also a rich tradition at running backs and fullbacks. There's guys out there (in the NFL) doing their thing at fullback. We have a Doak Walker Award winner. As far as I'm concerned, BYU is rich in tradition in many ways. As a running back, I feel there's definitely a rich tradition there and I take pride in that. I'm going to keep working hard to hopefully make those guys proud, as well as my coaches, teammates, my family and the fans."