PROVO — It would serve Matt Bushman, Moroni Laulu-Pututau and Dallin Holker to binge on game tapes of Jonny Harline, a genuine big-play BYU tight end.
On Friday, Harline will be inducted into the BYU Athletic Hall of Fame. It’s a deserving honor for a local kid from Orem whose journey took him from Ricks College to the prep team at BYU before becoming one of the most devastating big-play receivers in school history.
At the induction, Harline will join current PGA golfer Daniel Summerhays, volleyball player Russell Holmes, track and volleyball star Lindsey Steele Metcalf and diver Aaron Russell.
There’re several traits that stood out about Harline. His road hotel roommate, former NFL quarterback John Beck, knew them better than anyone.
Beck and Harline will be forever linked to one of the more iconic plays in the history of the BYU-Utah rivalry, a last-second game-winning hookup that seemingly took minutes instead of seconds, a play popularly referred to as “Harline’s Still Open.”
People still come up to both men more than a decade after the fact and tell them where they were, what they were doing, who they were with when that play took place in Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2006.
“One thing about Jonny,” said Beck this week, “Is there was no moment too big for him. He was always capable and ready to make the big play all the time.”
Beck describes Harline as a remarkable competitor when the ball is in the air. His experience as a basketball player, who was used to going up for rebounds, gave him tremendous confidence at high pointing a ball, winning jump balls. “He and I had a great connection and confidence that if I put the ball in a position for him to get it, he would go and get it.”
That simple skill, honed by hundreds if not thousands of hand-eye-jump routines over his life made him easily the best BYU tight end at running fade routes in the end zone, a difficult if not often futile pass play in the red zone.
“Jonny has huge hands. His hands are abnormally large and because he had such big hands, he was such a great target. His story is so remarkable because he came in and did not immediately make an impact. He was on the scout squad, but once the offense changed to where he was a stand-up tight end receiver, he really took off,” said Beck.
Harline had remarkable jumping ability but under-mentioned speed. Beck remembers a game against New Mexico when Harline caught a pass against linebacker Quincy Black. “He turned on the jets and out-ran Black down the sideline for a touchdown. He was very fast, something many never realized,” said Beck. Black, who had a 42-inch vertical, later played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
When in the NFL, Beck remembers asking former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, who was playing for the Colts and throwing to Harline in a camp, what he thought of him. “Boy, can that guy catch.”
Beck recalls when he was still in high school dining with a friend named Chip Brown at Outback Steakhouse. Brown told him to watch out for Harline, that he was a stud of a player.
It all came true for Beck. And, for Harline.
“We had such a connection, there was a lot of trust between us. We were roommates and offensive coordinator Brandon Doman would come to our hotel room the night before games and tell us that we were capable of doing great things and then asked that we do great things.
“It is remarkable that we were roommates and that we spent so much time together. At that moment in that Utah game when so much was riding on one play; that he would have the presence to not follow the quarterback like you’re supposed to, but go the opposite way and hope I would somehow see him, and that I would be able to make that connection, spot him and deliver him the ball. It is something you don’t think could happen that way but it did and I’ll never forget it. Still, every BYU and Utah game, we talk to each other, we relive that moment,” said Beck.
Harline ended up leading the nation’s tight ends in 2006 with 935 yards. He set a Las Vegas Bowl record for receiving yards with 181.
In short, Harline inserted himself into BYU’s offense as a go-to guy, a dependable tool for his quarterback. He could shut out the world and focus on the ball in flight and his athleticism was not wasted on any play.
Harline is the third tight end to be inducted by BYU, joining Clay Brown and Chad Lewis with this honor.
Harline’s tapes tell the story. His iconic catch with Beck cemented his effectiveness as a big-play artist.
For the current guys, this is the legacy you signed up for.
Watch the films and learn something.
BYU can’t win consistently without big-play tight ends.
And it is a position they can recruit.