Several walk-ons on BYU’s football team are more excited than usual to be playing against Idaho State on Saturday, and not just because the Bengals are a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team and don’t figure to force the Cougars into playing their starters the entire game.
Defensive back Hayden Livingston and running back-turned-linebacker and safety Morgan Pyper are also from southeast Idaho, and know a few of the players on Idaho State’s roster.
The Bengals (1-7) will try to test the No. 15 Cougars (7-2) at 1:30 p.m. MDT at LaVell Edwards Stadium in a game that will be televised by BYUtv.
Livingston, Pyper and long snapper Austin Riggs, who is from Eagle, Idaho, on the other side of the Gem State, have spent the week since the Cougars knocked off Virginia 66-49 in a shootout and earned the No. 15 ranking in the first release of the College Football Playoff rankings saying that Idaho State has a lot of good athletes and is better than its record suggests.
“We see good things from them. I know they have a good receiving corps,” said Livingston, who is from Rigby, Idaho. “We know we have to come ready to execute and be ready to play.”
Riggs’ father, Duane, played football at Idaho State (and BYU) before settling in the Boise area. Austin Riggs was impressed by Idaho State’s program when he attended a camp there in high school, but ultimately chose to attend his dream school growing up, BYU, as a walk-on who was one of the country’s best long-snappers out of Eagle High, the same school that produced former BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum.
Pyper, who grew up in Idaho Falls and was the Eastern Idaho Player of the Year at Hillcrest High in 2015 before a church mission to Milan, Italy, said he has been impressed by ISU’s game plans.
“What we are going to be focusing on a lot is they have some great athletes, so we have to be geared up for that,” Pyper said. “We have a good game plan, too. We just gotta execute.”
All three Idahoans said they respected and cheered for the Bengals growing up, but their hearts have always been in Provo. Even when BYU didn’t offer scholarships to them out of high school and other schools in their areas expressed interest, they decided taking the Cougars’ preferred walk-on offers was more appealing.
The Cougars’ strong tradition of giving walk-ons a chance, which dates back to LaVell Edwards’ days and was ramped up by Bronco Mendenhall and continued seamlessly by Kalani Sitake, was an added bonus.
Pyper, a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder who is listed as a sophomore on the roster even though he has been in the program since 2018, began his career as a running back before moving over to defense in 2019.
“I just saw it as a great opportunity,” he said. “I went originally as a safety, and then they kinda turned me into a hybrid linebacker, but I can still play some safety.”
Pyper has already been in on 24 tackles this year, after making eight last year while appearing in all 12 games. He had seven tackles against Virginia.
Like a lot of BYU’s other 30-plus walk-ons, he was thrilled in August when Built Brand LCC, a Utah-based company that produces energy bars, announced it was paying the equivalent of a year’s tuition for any BYU walk-ons who would agree to sign an NIL deal.
“Yeah, Built Bar was a huge blessing for everybody, a tremendous blessing,” Pyper said. “To not have to worry about tuition was awesome. You can focus more on playing football and not having to worry about working side jobs as much to pay for school. I can’t say enough about Built Bar and how they have helped out the BYU football team. It was incredible for sure.”
At one point in the game last week against Virginia, the Cougars’ defense had six walk-ons or former walk-ons on the field. Livingston had three tackles against the Cavs, making the most impact in a game since he had an interception in the end zone against Arizona.
A former high school quarterback, Livingston redshirted in 2016 before a church mission to England. He started at safety against Utah in 2019, and has been a steady contributor on defense and special teams ever since.
“The journey has been really fun. It has been hard at times. It can be tough to be a walk-on,” he said. “But with the Built Bar deal coming in and just the great support I have from teammates and coaches and my family, it has been a great experience.”
Livingston’s father, Jeremy, played football at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho.
“It is always fun to kinda have fellow Idaho people come down to play us,” Livingston said. “I know a couple guys on the team, so we are looking forward to playing them. It will be fun.”
Livingston said walk-ons at BYU are treated no differently than scholarship players.
“They are given good opportunities and given chances to prove themselves. So to see so many guys that are succeeding and doing well is great,” he said, noting how star running back Tyler Allgeier was once a walk-on. “It goes to show that we have a really good culture here at BYU. Kalani always talks about love and learning and that is exactly what I have experienced as a walk-on.”
Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said Tuesday that keeping the strong walk-on program will be key when BYU enters the Big 12.
“Obviously, with the way the walk-ons have been taken care of with the new NIL deal, it is huge for us to get guys who are coming in and contributing,” he said. “It is really almost like getting 123 kids on scholarship, is what it is. … You are not taking scholarships, you are just talking contributors throughout the whole roster.”
Whether they are from Idaho, or anywhere else.