Brady Christensen didn’t think he was good enough to play for BYU. Now he’s headed to the NFL
An offensive lineman from Bountiful who protected Zach Wilson’s blind side for three seasons, Christensen was a ‘late-bloomer’ whose only other choices out of high school were Air Force, Southern Utah and Weber State
“Dad, I don’t belong here,” he told his father, Doug, as they walked to the Marriott Center to watch a BYU-Utah basketball game, having received the tickets from BYU football coaches Bronco Mendenhall and Nick Howell.
“I am not good enough to play football here,” Brady continued. “I want to leave.”
Doug Christensen told his reluctant, less-than-confident son to stay the course and at least listen to what BYU coaches had in mind for him.
“I told him they wouldn’t have invited him if they didn’t believe in him,” Doug said.
“Yeah, I remember it well. BYU was hesitant too, to be honest. And I don’t blame them. I didn’t have any big-time offers. It kinda went back and forth. I was questioning myself, for sure. I didn’t think I belonged.” — Former BYU offensive lineman Brady Christensen
“Yeah, I remember it well,” Brady Christensen said last week. “BYU was hesitant too, to be honest. And I don’t blame them. I didn’t have any big-time offers. It kinda went back and forth. I was questioning myself, for sure. I didn’t think I belonged.”
A few weeks later, Christensen made a recruiting visit to the Air Force Academy, added an offer from the Falcons to go with an offer he had from then-Southern Utah University coach Ed Lamb, and verbally committed to play for AFA after his church mission. His only other offer was from Weber State.
But the week before signing day in February 2015, BYU finally offered Christensen a scholarship, its last remaining scholarship for the class of 2015, said former BYU kicker Vance “Moose” Bingham, who was an assistant to recruiting coordinator Geoff Martzen at the time.
Christensen took that last scholarship from the Cougars, then served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Hamilton, New Zealand, where he added 45 pounds and grew a couple inches, but more importantly developed the confidence he would need to become one of the best offensive linemen in BYU history when he returned in 2017.
“He came back a bigger person physically, but even a better person emotionally and spiritually,” said Christensen’s high school baseball coach and assistant football coach, Clark “Boog” Stringfellow. “His mission really made a huge difference in his life. His confidence in himself was totally different. He really, really began to believe in himself.”
Yet, Stringfellow said, Christensen remained humble, grateful and a hard worker, traits that have put him in a place nobody thought possible — not even Christensen himself — at the beginning of last decade when he couldn’t even make the football team at Bountiful.
Now 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds, Christensen, 24, became BYU’s first consensus All-America football player since 2009 (tight end Dennis Pitta) after his junior season in 2020, then declared for the NFL draft, which is April 29-30 and May 1 in Cleveland.
His is a story of remarkable perseverance, dedication to his craft and an intense desire to succeed. Here’s how it all began:
Mastering other sports
The third of Doug and Shauna Christensen’s four children, Brady played or tried every sport imaginable growing up, including outdoor recreational sports such as snowboarding, wakeboarding, golf, tennis and water skiing. Doug Christensen laughs when critics say Brady isn’t athletic enough to play in the NFL.
“He doesn’t do too many things on the wakeboard because he wants to be careful, but he jumps the wake like he is a 150-pounder,” Doug said. “He’s a great athlete.”
Brady Christensen showed off some of that athleticism at BYU’s pro day on March 26, posting a broad jump of 10 feet, 4 inches that bested the best-ever NFL combine broad jump for an offensive lineman by 3 inches.
“I am not just a big, fat guy, as some people may think I am, think that offensive lineman are,” he said. “I am not just an offensive lineman. I am an athlete playing offensive line.”
He also loved basketball growing up, and played on a youth team that included former Utah State great Sam Merrill (now with the Milwaukee Bucks) and former BYU standout Zac Seljaas. Despite being well over 6 feet tall, Christensen gave up basketball his sophomore year, then played again as a senior, backing up Washington State-bound Jeff Pollard.
Stringfellow, who is still Bountiful’s baseball coach and athletic director, said Christensen was a serviceable baseball player because he understood the game and his role on the team, but wasn’t a star. As a junior, he was so fast and such a good baserunner that he was used as the speed-up runner on the 2014 Braves team that won the state championship.
As a senior, Christensen earned a starting spot.
“A 6-4, 225-pound kid playing center field,” Stringfellow said. “He could track the ball really well, had an arm just good enough to get the ball where it needed to be. He didn’t hit a lot of bombs, but was a good contact hitter. He was imposing, though.”
‘Something different about football’
Christensen began playing football when he was 7, getting to start a year early because his dad was on the board of Viewmont’s Ute Conference program. A few years later, he moved over to Bountiful’s program.
“I always loved football,” he said. “It was always my favorite sport. I loved everything else, too, but there was something different about football.”
Legendary Bountiful football coach Larry Wall made ninth graders try out for his teams. After tryouts, the Christensens invited many of the players up to their place at Bear Lake.
“I still remember that day,” Doug Christensen said. “All of them but Brady got asked to play with the team. Brady had to play another year of Ute Conference (Little League) football because they didn’t think he was good enough to even play on the sophomore team.”
Said Stringfellow: “He really used that to fuel his fire.”
As a sophomore, Christensen didn’t make the varsity team, instead playing with the other sophomores.
He finally broke through as a junior, getting some varsity experience. He was mostly playing defensive end and tight end when Stringfellow said the offensive line he coached needed a right tackle.
“I volunteered,” Christensen said. “I played it in when I was younger. So that is where it all began. I still played some defensive line, but I felt like offensive line was going to be the best position for me to succeed at the next level.”
He was right.
Making the jump in BYU’s eyes
Stringfellow says Christensen hit the weight room hard — really hard — between his junior and senior seasons, and also hit a growth spurt.
“He literally lifted all the time,” Stringfellow said. “He just got so strong and powerful between his junior and senior year, and then he went to a speed camp where they helped him run a little faster. He could run a 4.7-second 40 his senior year. Just a monster. He beat all of our really fast kids. It was amazing to watch.”
One day, BYU’s Howell visited the school to talk about other prospects when Wall and Stringfellow took him to the gym to watch guys lift weights and go through agility drills.
“Brady was jumping rope like he was Muhammad Ali, and Nick Howell said, ‘Who is that?’ Stringfellow said. “Nick was fascinated by his athleticism. He called Bronco right there and said, ‘You gotta come look at this kid. This kid can help us. … Eventually, Bronco decided to take a chance on him with the last (opening) they had, and he immediately committed to BYU.”
The Christensens were big Utah State fans — Doug Christensen played high school football in Tremonton at Bear River — and were hoping for some interest from the Aggies, but it never came.
“Brady was just a late-bloomer,” Doug said.
Brady Christensen was on his mission in December 2015 when Mendenhall left BYU to coach the Virginia Cavaliers and took several assistant coaches who had recruited Christensen with him. When Kalani Sitake took over in Provo, Doug Christensen says fear crept in that the new coaching staff wouldn’t keep his son because, to be honest, his high school film was good, but not great.
“Luckily they were all on board,” Doug Christensen said. “It has worked out perfectly.”
Proving them wrong in Provo
Having returned from New Zealand only months before the 2017 season started, Brady Christensen redshirted as the Cougars went 4-9 and eventually fired offensive coordinator Ty Detmer and several other offensive coaches. Former BYU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes came in from LSU to replace Detmer, and would immediately begin to make Christensen believe in himself.
“Coach Tuiaki came up to me and said, ‘Bro you are one of the best, you gotta believe it.’ And then coach Empey said the same thing. He said, ‘I believe you are going to be one of the best to ever play here.’ So they saw my potential even before I saw it, and I started to believe them.” — Brady Christensen
Other coaches such as defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, offensive line coaches Mike Empey, Ryan Pugh and Eric Mateos and new offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick — also a Bountiful High product — were instrumental in his development, too, Christensen said.
He said the first time it dawned on him that he could make a career out of playing football came when he was on the scout team in 2017.
“I was playing well against guys like Sione Takitaki and Fred Warner and I was holding my own,” he said. “Coach Tuiaki came up to me and said, ‘Bro you are one of the best, you gotta believe it.’ And then coach Empey said the same thing. He said, ‘I believe you are going to be one of the best to ever play here.’ So they saw my potential even before I saw it, and I started to believe them.”
Christensen won the starting job at left tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2018, was ranked the second best freshman offensive tackle in college football by Pro Football Focus, and was nominated as a Freshman All-America candidate.
As a sophomore, he was named the 12th best offensive lineman in the country by PFF, and fifth-best pass blocker.
“For me, it really cemented that I could play in the NFL my sophomore year when we played Utah,” he said. “I had a really good game against Bradlee Anae and really felt like I played well in that game. That kinda really catapulted me into believing I had a legitimate shot to play in the NFL.”
Midway through his junior year last fall, Christensen started realizing he was probably playing his final season in Provo. On Dec. 30, 2020, he made the “bittersweet decision” to declare for the NFL draft.
“To be honest with you, I am kinda shocked that I made it to this point. I didn’t even think playing Division I football was in the realm of possibilities when I was in high school, and now I am close to the NFL. I never expected myself to be here right now.” — Brady Christensen
“It is about just striking when the iron is hot,” Doug Christensen said. “He would have loved to stay and play, but (scouts) are already beating him up for being 25 when the next season starts. … He got some really good advice from his coaches. It was hard, but I think he always knew in the back of his mind he had to go.”
Some of that advice came from Sitake, who has said that if Christensen were his son, he would tell him to go now.
Fatherhood and a ‘fun’ process
Having married his wife Jordynn in 2019, Christensen became a father on March 16, as baby boy Ledger joined the family. Christensen had been training for pro day and the draft in Texas much of the winter, then returned to Provo before his son’s birth.
He said he’s been getting advice from former BYU offensive lineman John Tait, the 14th overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft who had a 10-year career with the Bears and Chiefs.
The joys and stresses of new fatherhood, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, have made the pre-draft process “kinda crazy” for him, but he is “loving every minute of it.”
He had heard from 25 of the 32 teams in the NFL as of late last week, including his favorite team growing up, the Tennessee Titans.
“My brother gave me Eddie George’s Titans jersey, so I grew up watching the Titans and cheering for them. I have talked to them,” he said. “But really, I would love to play for any team that wants me. … To be honest with you, I am kinda shocked that I made it to this point. I didn’t even think playing Division I football was in the realm of possibilities when I was in high school, and now I am close to the NFL. I never expected myself to be here right now.”
But he is, and this time he knows he belongs.