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Tyler Allgeier set to resume unlikely journey in BYU’s season opener in Las Vegas

After being ‘slept on’ earlier in his career, Cougars’ running back is now a force to be reckoned with

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BYU running back Tyler Allgeier runs for a large gain against the UCF Knights during the Boca Raton Bowl.

BYU running back Tyler Allgeier runs for a big gain against the UCF Knights during the Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. Allgeier and the Cougars usher in their 2021 season Saturday night against Arizona in Las Vegas.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

LAS VEGAS — BYU sophomore Tyler Allgeier isn’t going to start at quarterback this fall for BYU, but if he did, no team would be less surprised than Boise State. The Broncos have already seen too much of the Fontana, California, product at linebacker and running back. Seems like the quarterback spot is the next logical place they might find him.

Allgeier corralled a career-high nine tackles against the 14th-ranked Broncos in 2019 during the Cougars 28-25 upset in Provo

Last year in Boise, after making the switch to full-time running back, he rushed 14 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns, including an 86-yard sprint on the Cougars’ second play from scrimmage in BYU’s 51-17 win over the No. 21 Broncos.

While Allgeier has played three positions during his two seasons in Provo — running back, linebacker and kick returner — his permanent home is firmly entrenched in the backfield as one of college football’s top performers. He takes that with him to Las Vegas Saturday to face Arizona in the season opener for both teams.

To get there, he had to get bigger. Allgeier arrived on campus as a walk-on in 2018 at 183 pounds. 

BYU running back Tyler Allgeier rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2020, is back for more in 2021.

BYU running back Tyler Allgeier looks back to see if he is in the clear during an 86-yard touchdown run against Boise State at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“The strength staff told me to start eating. So, I ate,” he said. “After I put on the pounds, we went to work turning it into muscle.”

Allgeier redshirted that initial season and eventually added 42 pounds. But when he was listed sixth on the running back depth chart, he transitioned to linebacker.

“As a walk-on, you have a different mindset,” he said. “I’ve always been slept on. So, I bet on myself going to BYU and set out to make the most of it. I was willing to do anything to get on the field.”

After that redshirt season and his freshman year, where he played mostly defense andchad had only nine carries at running back, Allgeier arrived at the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu. It is there where he caught a wave that changed his life, and he has been riding it ever since.

With an injury to teammate Lopini Katoa and an already thin backfield, the Cougars called on Allgeier, who had hardly practiced with the offense during the weeks leading up the game.

“It was the biggest moment for me,” he said. “A lot of guys just wish for a chance. This was my chance and I had to make the most of it.”

The genealogy of his good fortune started on a 1-yard carry against Hawaii in the second quarter. He followed it up with a 15-yard run late in the third. On the very next play, Allgeier rushed for 13 more yards. 

In the fourth quarter, he took a handoff from Zach Wilson and exploded downfield for 36 yards and he has been BYU’s featured running back ever since.

“To turn out those yards against a good (Hawaii) defense on such short notice and do it in the manner that looked effortless, was impressive,” BYU running backs coach Harvey Unga said. “I think even when he was a linebacker, Tyler knew in his heart that he was still a really good running back.”

Despite his performance, the Cougars lost that game and Allgeier returned to Provo. The reality of a walk-on student-athlete stared him in the face. He was out of money and figured it may be time to go home to California and try something else.

And then came the reward for all his efforts.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake put him on full scholarship over the Christmas break.

“It was such a big relief!” he said. “Money was tight, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to stay at BYU.”

He made a phone call home to his mother, Ester, to deliver the exciting news. The announcement was greeted with tears and reassurance.

“She was so happy and relieved,” he said. “Even when I signed on at BYU she said, ‘are you sure you want to do this?’”  

Allgeier made the most of his opportunity as a starter at Navy in the 2020 opener on Labor Day night. He took a handoff for the third time on BYU’s first drive and rambled 34 yards for a touchdown en route to a career night for carries (14), yards (123) and touchdowns (2) in BYU’s 55-3 win.

He bookended the season with another career night against Central Florida in the Boca Raton Bowl, rushing for 173 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown in BYU’s 49-23 victory.

“Tyler runs with the feeling that he has the weight of the team on his shoulders, and he doesn’t want to let any of them down,” Unga said. “The biggest thing that drives him is his genuine love and care for others, especially his teammates.”

In between Navy and Central Florida, Allgeier put together a season BYU hasn’t seen since his running backs coach (Unga) wrapped up his career in 2009. Allgeier finished No. 8 in the nation in rushing yards (1,130), No. 10 in rushing touchdowns (13) and No. 25 in yards per game (102.7).

His 7.5 yards per carry ranked No. 7, not far behind Cougar legend Luke Staley, who averaged 8.1 yards per carry in 2001 when he won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.

“I want to do everything I did last year and bump it up and make it 2.0,” Allgeier said. 

When the Cougars take the field Saturday night against Arizona at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Allgeier may very well get the first handoff as BYU looks to establish the run. He will also start his quest to become the first Cougar running back since 2009 to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

Unga knows how important that can be, especially with a young quarterback running the offense. He surpassed 1,000 yards three times while BYU racked up 32 wins between 2007-09. During Allgeier’s first 1,000-yard season, the Cougars went 11-1.

“It opens up everything when we can run like that,” Unga said. “It’s not easy to rush for a 1,000 yards in college, but it eases the burden on the quarterback, the wideouts and the tight end. We saw last year what Zach could do downfield when the linebackers had to stay in the box a little longer because we could run.”

Thanks to the NCAA, Allgeier will get to stay running a little longer, too. And he may make history because of it.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the governing body ruled that last year won’t count against a player’s eligibility. That gives Allgeier three more seasons in Provo and if he maintains his current pace, he will finish 738 yards ahead of Jamaal Williams as BYU’s all-time leading rusher.

Impressive when you consider Allgeier’s playing career began with tackling drills at linebacker — as Boise State can attest.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.