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Brandon Ogletree embodies spirit of BYU defense

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A BYU defense, probably one for the ages, left LaVell Edwards Stadium for the final time this season.

Yes, I know, it was an effort against a limited foe in problem-plagued Idaho Saturday night. But from South Bend to Atlanta, from Salt Lake City to Provo, their numbers have done the talking for them, again on a late Saturday night.

In BYU’s lopsided win, you had Kyle Van Noy forcing a fumble, Spencer Hadley picking up a bad Idaho hike for a touchdown and senior reserve corner Robbie Buckner. Ezekiel Ansah put on a helmet-popping show. The Cougars didn’t register a shutout like they did against Hawaii, but it was workman-like, and Bronco Mendenhall emptied his bench.

Mendenhall will miss his seniors on this unit.

Since taking over the reins as his own defensive coordinator after a loss to Utah State 405 days ago, Mendenhall has established two straight seasons of a top 10 defense.

It carries his brand. It’s stingy, physical, it attacks, it is very good against the run. The fanatical swarming to the ball is an established Mendenhall trademark.

No defensive player of the past two years embodies this more than senior linebacker and captain Brandon Ogletree. He’s a guy who plays like his pants are on fire, and Saturday night, Ogletree exited the stadium playing the same as he always has: Burying the RPM needle.

Few Mendenhall defenders work as hard as Ogletree. It would be hard to find any that play harder down after down. And I’d press anyone to find a Mendenhall defensive player who knows more about BYU’s schemes than this guy.

Ogletree symbolically represents Mendenhall’s type of player. He’s dedicated to a fault, works his tail off, and his football intelligence is off the charts.

Recruited in the class of 2006, Ogletree was the last prospect Mendenhall offered a scholarship to that year, almost passed over. He got his BYU papers as the last recruit, despite a resume as a two-time All-State 4A player out of McKinney, Texas. As good of a football player as Ogletree was in high school, he was a better basketball player, the best in his school. He was good enough of a football player to play with the varsity as a sophomore. In Texas, that is a very big deal.

Ogletree grew up in a family where he was the only son. He has seven sisters. His father Mark made a point of playing basketball and football with his son every day and even taught him to bat left-handed. The son couldn’t get enough of it and developed a competitive streak that kind of scared his loved ones.

He hated to lose. Put him in a game situation, whether Tiddley Winks or a sandlot game, and he became a crazy guy.

“We tried to get him to play basketball against his twin sisters and that didn’t work,” said Mark. “He just wanted to beat them like a hundred to nothing.”

Ogletree began playing football (flag) in the first grade in Mesa, Ariz. His father coached him with Dan Shreeve, who made the trip from Arizona Saturday night to watch Ogletree’s last college game in Provo. “He came to Brandon’s first game and then this last one,” said Mark.

Both Shreeve and Mark noticed early, in Pop Warner football, what a great football mind Ogletree possessed. He’d yell at the other kids when they missed their assignments, and their parents would yell at him to stop and mind his own business.

Ogletree’s parents knew their son was gifted but didn’t imagine he’d deliver in high school like he did. Then came college, and he made good on a childhood dream. Ogletree’s idol was former Cougar and Indianapolis Colt linebacker Rob Morris. After every game Morris played, Mark and his young son, only a kid, would sit down and replay BYU games and go over every play Morris made. They’d talk about what he did and break down how he did it.

Brandon Ogletree wanted to play like Morris someday. He wanted to follow him at BYU, play his position, make plays, make a difference. It is because of Morris that Ogletree wears the No. 44 on his jersey.

Ogletree signed to play for the Cougars but didn’t enroll until he served an LDS mission to Chile. Fast forward to Saturday night against the Vandals, it is no fluke Ogletree has led BYU’s defense in tackles the past two seasons.

“I never knew Brandon would do anything beyond high school football, then he made all-state in Texas. Then I thought, ‘wow, he has a chance to do something in college,’ ” his dad said.

Many believe this 2012 Cougar defense may be one of the best in school history. To lead this defense in tackles is a very big deal. Symbolically, Ogletree, a team captain, is the heart of Mendenhall’s defense.

And Saturday, he led BYU’s defense like he always had, full-bore, full-speed and without hesitation.

It was only fitting that Ogletree’s two flag football coaches, his father and Shreeve, were in the stands to see it end in Provo.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.