Harvey Unga has a real task at hand this spring, summer, and fall — finding a replacement for the nation’s most productive, point-producing running back, Tyler Alleiger.

Allgeier, the former walk-on, came to Provo as a diamond in the rough and will leave BYU’s program as one of the school’s all-time greats. The respect he’s earned from teammates, coaches and fans is off the charts.

Bleacher Report has Allgeier ranked No. 38 in the upcoming NFL draft, the third running back taken after Michigan’s Kenneth Walker ( 26th),  and Iowa’s Breece Hall (36th).

Now, Unga is all about finding a replacement from among Lopini Katoa, Miles Davis, Jackson McChesney, Sione Finau, and others. BYU just signed senior transfers Christopher Brooks (California) and Houston Heimuli (Stanford).

Unga said he was blessed to have worked and coached Alleiger. It isn’t lost on many observers that Allgeier reminds them of Unga in his playing days. Allgeier set BYU’s single-season rushing record at 1,606 yards, surpassing Luke Staley’s effort in 2001.

“It was fun, but his success had a lot to do with the job done by the offensive line, wide receivers, and everybody busting their butts and doing their job,” Unga said. “He’s not scoring all those touchdowns without those guys.”

Unga said he’s still trying to figure out who will step up and how they’ll be used. 

“We have guys who have shown glimpses of what they can do. Tyler worked very hard to get where he was on our team. He literally came from nowhere and made his mark,” said Unga, hinting that the next guy will hopefully do the same, as far as just stepping up.

“It’s my job to coach them up and develop them.”

Asked to describe the personality and atmosphere of his team room and what made it tick, Unga said there is one word that he has on the board, and it is the foundation of what he asks and wants of everyone in the room.

That word is selfless.

“It sounds weird but selfless; that’s one of the biggest things we preach in our room is being selfless,” Unga said. “This game isn’t won or about one single guy. It’s about everyone doing their part for us.

“I always tell our guys if they do their part, everyone else is going to do theirs and it all comes back around. I appreciate that about our room. Everybody is bought into that idea.”

It was the backbone of Allgeier’s work.

“Selfless is one thing, the other thing is being versatile (running, blocking, catching). Whenever someone was called up, they stepped up and did their part,” Unga said. “I take pride in making sure we are the best-blocking groups in the country, whether it is run blocking, pass blocking or catching the ball out of the backfield. 

“I’m working to keep all of them from just being one-dimensional backs. They need to be all-purpose backs.”

In transfers Brooks and Heimuli, Unga says he is excited for what they bring to the room and team because they have been around the block, are experienced, mature and know how to work.

“I love those guys,” Unga said. “They are great, great people. Great character guys. I get a good vibe of how they are team-type guys, as far as their skills and their challenges and stuff. I’m excited for them. I think they both bring a lot to the table. They are really, really good.

“Chris is a great runner. He does a lot of great things. And then for Houston, he has the same thing, a healthier version of Masen Wake. He’s athletic, strong, fast and really smart with a high football IQ.  He is just a good, solid leader.”

Related
Will Utah, BYU, USU transfer portal additions turn into gold?
BYU adds pair of grad transfer running backs in Christopher Brooks and Houston Heimuli

Unga just finished his second season as a full-time member of Kalani Sitake’s football staff.  As a Cougar player, he set the career rushing record of 3,455 yards in three seasons, averaging 5 yards per carry. 

He was taken in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL supplemental draft by the Chicago Bears. As a graduate assistant in 2016 with Sitake, he has coached running backs, receivers and the offensive line.

He stays humble about his coaching track record, even with work with Allgeier and Jamaal Williams on his resume.

“I’m still learning. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning,” said Unga. “They're so many different things and different nuances in the game that I learned each year, different tricks, but I love it.

“I love working and coaching for Kalani and Aaron Roderick, and it has been a huge blessing for me and my family. I’m grateful Kalani has given me this shot, and I’ve tried to make the most of it and do the best I can.  

“I’ll continue to learn and grow. There are parts of it I’m still struggling with and trying to get a grasp on, but I love the job. I love being around the team and players and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

During an interview with Unga on Friday, he was on his way to a Salt Lake City hospital to pay his respects to the family of former Utah running back Matt Asiata, whose son Ephraim is fighting for his life after being shot (the suspect is a 14-year-old). 

The incident cost the lives of two of his friends, 15-year old Paul Tahi and 14-year old Tivani Lopati. All were football players at Hunter High School, and the tragedy has crushed the Polynesian community in Utah.

“It kills me,” said Unga, a Tongan.

 “When I saw the names and heard about the whole thing, my heart dropped and I felt sick to my stomach. Having kids now and just putting myself in their shoes, I can’t imagine what they’re going through. Just that feeling of kind of helplessness, like you can’t do anything about it. It kills me.”

In talking of it, suddenly the planned interview about his job replacing Allgeier seemed kind of insignificant.

It’s a reminder of how precious yet fragile all of life can be.