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Graduating linebacker Drew Jensen faces tough decision: return in 2022 or fly on?

No. 14 BYU honored 14 players two weeks ago on Senior Day, but some underclassmen, such as Jensen, aren’t sure yet whether they will stay or go

BYU’s Drew Jensen tackles Coastal Carolina’s CJ Marabale during game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Conway, S.C.
BYU’s Drew Jensen tackles Coastal Carolina’s CJ Marabale during game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Conway, S.C. The BYU linebacker is weighing his decisions: return for another year of college football or move on to flight school.
Richard Shiro, Associated Press

Drew Jensen’s very first play in a BYU football uniform — against McNeese State in 2018 on the last play of a 30-3 blowout — ended in the worst way imaginable. He suffered a devastating knee injury and was out for rest of the year.

The backup linebacker still isn’t sure how his career as a Cougar will end, but he’s bound and determined to go out on a more positive note.

Listed as a redshirt sophomore on BYU’s roster although he’s been in the program for four years since returning from a mission to Santa Fe, Argentina, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jensen is trying to decide whether this will be his final season or if he will come back for one more in 2022.

“Right now, it is 50-50, I would say,” he told the Deseret News on Tuesday as the No. 14 Cougars (8-2) continued preparations for Saturday’s 2 p.m. MST game at Georgia Southern (3-7).

Jensen was honored just in case he decides to leave with 13 other players on Senior Day before the Cougars crushed Idaho State 59-14 at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and participated in the Senior Walk after the game with the likes of fellow redshirt sophomore Tyler Allgeier and juniors James Empey and Lopini Katoa.

But that doesn’t mean he’s “Audi 5,000,” to borrow a line from the 1990s.

“I haven’t made a final, full decision,” he said. “I have an option to leave, so that is why I decided to walk (on Senior Day) and see how the season plays out and see how the body feels and see where life can take me.”

A geography major, Jensen will graduate in December with a degree in global studies, which should serve him well when he realizes a lifelong goal and becomes a commercial airline pilot. He checked out a couple flight schools in Arizona during the Cougars’ bye week last week and became even more excited to pursue that career.

“Honestly, I haven’t really talked to coaches much about it yet,” he said. “I plan to (soon). That’s why I would say it is 50-50. … I want to start flight school at some point in life, and the best time to do it is soon as possible, is what they say. So that is why I am in limbo with it.”

Jensen has appeared in all 10 games this season, both on special teams and as a valuable LB after middle linebacker Keenan Pili sustained a knee injury in the third game, against Arizona State. He’s made 23 tackles and came up with a huge interception in the second half of the 66-49 win over Virginia.

The momentum-swinging pick vs. Bronco Mendenhall’s Cavaliers was not unlike the pick he had last year in the 28-14 win over San Diego State.

“The Virginia (interception) was special just to do it against the coach who gave me my very first scholarship offer and the coach that I actually committed to first at BYU,” he said. “The one against San Diego State stands out because I wasn’t sure I was going to get many reps in that game. They are both my favorites, for different reasons.”

Fellow linebacker Ben Bywater said if Jensen decides to move on, he will be missed on the field, and off it, too.

“Drew Jensen is a stud. I have nothing but good things to say about Drew. He’s a high-energy guy and I am going to be sad to see him go,” Bywater said. “He will be great in whatever he does, because he is a super genuine guy. I am excited for him, whatever he tackles next in life.”

Jensen and Bywater are on similar paths, having grown up in Salt Lake County — Jensen in Cottonwood Heights and Bywater in Holladay — among University of Utah fans. Both suffered injuries their first year at BYU that slowed their development.

Jensen has cousins who starred for BYU basketball — brothers Nick and Jackson Emery — and University of Utah football. His mother and the Emerys’ mother are sisters. Another sister married into the Rice family that donated millions to build Rice-Eccles Stadium at the U.

“I kinda grew up in some stages of my life a really, really big BYU fan. And then other stages of my life I was kinda split,” Jensen said. “Our family is kinda split right down the middle. My dad was a diehard Utes fan and I was more leaning on the BYU side, for some reason.”

Jensen broke his wrist trying to play QB in his early days at Brighton, then played several positions on both sides of the ball before tearing his the ACL in his right knee the second game of his junior season. It’s the same knee he would later injure in that first appearance for BYU.

The injury dampened his recruitment, but he still got offers from Utah, Utah State, Oregon State and BYU, according to Scout.com. The three-star prospect, rated as the No. 20 safety prospect in the West by Scout, committed to Mendenhall and BYU in July of 2015.

Jensen hasn’t developed into the star that some expected him to be — thanks to the early injury and a deep group of LBs and safeties the past few seasons — but he’s surpassed his own expectations and accomplished more than he thought he would after tearing his ACL again.

“I was actually just talking to my dad about that this week,” he said. “I guess that’s the humblest way I could say that (he is happy with his career). I feel really good about it.

“Honestly, every second I have loved it. It has been so much fun. All of my best friends are on the team, and the coaches have been huge mentors and awesome to be around. I would say it has been one of the best times of my life.”

And it might not be coming to an end. It’s an excruciating decision that hundreds of players around the country who were granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA due to the pandemic are having to make.

“I think I will have it decided within the next few weeks,” Jensen said. “I definitely want to talk to the coaches and see what they think is best, and kinda make a decision based off what is best for my future, and my health, both mental and physical.”