In the fall of 2010, Kyle Van Noy was an unhappy camper. The promising freshman linebacker from Reno, Nevada, had already sat out the 2009 season following a DUI charge, and despite meeting all of coach Bronco Mendenhall’s requirements to become eligible, he remained on the sideline.
A 35-14 defeat at Air Force was too much to take.
“We switched roles. I used to be the franchise player at BYU. I sat and watched him flourish. I was happy for him. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a hater, but it was a tough pill to swallow for me because of the competitor I am.” — Kyle Van Noy on watching his former teammate Ziggy Ansah thrive in Detroit while he couldn’t get on the field
“I remember a player got hurt in that game and they ended up throwing him back in there because they didn’t trust me to play,” Van Noy told the “Y’s Guys” this week. “That was my last straw. I was done. I was thinking, ‘I’m gonna transfer because this ain’t it.’ This is something I’ve never told anyone.”
Van Noy met with Mendenhall and declared his intention to leave.
“Bronco says, ‘Give me three weeks and if it doesn’t change, I’ll sign your release form and you can go wherever you want,’” Van Noy recalled. “I waited three weeks. He ended up firing (defensive coordinator) Jamie Hill after the Utah State game and then I played against San Diego State. I made three plays in a row and never came off the field after that.”
In time, Van Noy became a star at BYU, which launched him on a journey that included earning a college degree, meeting his future wife, becoming a dad and winning Super Bowls. His is a quest that will one day be on display in the BYU Athletics Hall of Fame.
“It would be awesome. It will be a cool story because it’s someone who believes in second chances that was a second chance,” Van Noy said. “For those who feel like they can’t see the light, I hope they can see the light with me and look at me and say, ‘It doesn’t matter what age I’m at. This kid was headed down a path maybe not to be successful and turned it around and maybe I can do that, too.’”
On getting drafted to the Lions
Detroit selected Van Noy in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. He arrived to see the Lions building their defense around his former BYU teammate Ziggy Ansah, who they drafted the year before.
Ansah walked onto the Cougars as a raw talent with little knowledge about the game. Van Noy and the others worked to get him up to speed, and that included showing him how to put on his uniform.
“You come in (to Detroit) and see one of your best friends in college and he’s the franchise player,” Van Noy said. “I’m thinking, ‘I taught this kid how to play football and I can’t even get on the field.”
The Lions’ style of defense left Van Noy on the bench and battling depression.
“We switched roles. I used to be the franchise player at BYU,” Van Noy said. “I sat and watched him flourish. I was happy for him. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a hater, but it was a tough pill to swallow for me because of the competitor I am.”
On another second chance
“I’ll never forget it. It was Oct. 25, 2016, at 1 o’clock,” Van Noy said. “I got a phone call from the Lions GM (Bob Quin) who told me I was being traded and that he appreciated all I had done for the franchise. Before he hung up, I asked him, ‘Yo, where did I get traded to?’ He said, ‘The Patriots.’ Click. That was it.”
Van Noy was in New England’s training facility at 5 a.m. the next morning and on the practice field that afternoon, where he met his new head coach, Bill Belichick.
“He said, ‘Van Noy!’ and waved me over during a special teams drill,” Van Noy recalled. “Let me tell you something. I always get my guys. You have been one of my guys since you came out of college. I’m sorry I couldn’t get you in the draft, but I gotcha!”
Just like that, after all the ups and downs in Detroit, Van Noy was getting another second chance.
“To have one of the greatest defensive minds to coach football give me that confidence and instill it right away, anything that happened before didn’t matter,” he said. “I had a clean slate, and I took off from there.”
Moments later, Van Noy took the field with the starting defense.
“I’m one-on-one with (running back) James White and I had great coverage on him,” Van Noy said. “The ball whips right past my head. I can feel the air as it goes by my ear hole and somehow White catches it. I turned around and Tom Brady is smiling at me as if to say, ‘Yeah, you are playing with the G.O.A.T. now.’ It was so awesome!”
Van Noy won two Super Bowls with Brady, including the greatest come-from-behind victory in Super Bowl history against Atlanta in 2017. “Tom is like an older brother. It’s just awesome to be part of his journey and help him achieve what he’s wanted to achieve, which is seven Super Bowls.”
On crossing paths with former Cougars
With a growing number of former Cougars in the NFL, they often come face-to-face against each other. As a defender, it’s Van Noy’s job to tackle the likes of Taysom Hill, Tyler Allgeier, Zach Wilson and Jamaal Williams — and have some fun doing it.
“I used to talk a lot of trash when I was younger,” Van Noy said. “As I have grown older, I figured I had to save my energy to get to the next play.”
Most alumni visits take place after the game, but on occasion, the lighthearted Van Noy can’t resist.
“I didn’t say anything to Tyler during our game, but we talked after. I saw Danny (Sorensen) and Taysom during the preseason. That was cool. I talked with Taysom a lot,” Van Noy said. “I played against Jamaal when he was on the Packers. It was fun talking trash with him. I poked him in the ear hole and put my finger up his nose. When Fred (Warner) runs onto the field, I’ll run out late and bump him and say, ‘Watch where you are going!’ It’s fun to play with friends and teammates like that.”
On free agency
Van Noy becomes a free agent March 15. He said there are several Super Bowl contenders interested in his talents, but he will have to wait and see what happens.
During the run-up to last month’s Super Bowl, Van Noy worked as an analyst for NFL Network.
“It’s something I really enjoy. I believe that’s what I’m going to do in the next chapter as my career ends,” he said. “I’ve still got a lot of juice in the tank though. What (they do) is not easy, even though some people who are armchair analysts or armchair quarterbacks think it’s easy. I want them to get off the couch with the remote and come try it. They would be stuttering quite a bit.”
On Big 12 prep
BYU kicked off its first week of spring practice this week ahead of the Cougars’ first season in the Big 12. For Van Noy, the spring is where he perfected his craft.
“I always took it as a chance to get better in the pass game,” he said. “It’s where I worked on understanding zone defenses, understanding where I can take chances, reading the quarterback’s eyes and moving with him.”
Van Noy believes increased opportunities with name, image and likeness (NIL) is an area where BYU must improve to attract the necessary talent.
“Kalani (Sitake) deserves it,” he said. “He’s been a heck of a coach when he’s had talented players.”
Van Noy also wants to see more heart, something he traveled to Provo to express during a face-to-face meeting with the team before last year’s game against East Carolina.
“I was sick of watching good players not playing hard enough and representing those who had come before them and that sacrificed everything to play at this school,” he said. “They weren’t playing with enough heart. They lost that weekend, but you could see a difference in how they played together and cheered for each other. It was cool to watch that group of men who ended up coming together and going to a bowl game.”
Kyle and Marissa Van Noy (a former Miss Utah) live in Los Angeles with their two young children, Trae and Giavanna.
“Marissa is the best partner I could ever have. She sacrificed her career for mine,” Van Noy said. “She could have been one of the biggest models in the world. All her friends are models. She gave up that opportunity to be my biggest support system. I wouldn’t be where I am without her.”
Van Noy is 32 — old enough to know better, but young enough to still be taught a thing or two, especially from his kids.
“For me I think it’s a little different because I’m adopted and it’s the first time I’ve met someone who has any DNA like me, any personality like me,” Van Noy said. “So, the joy I get to experience is seeing my son achieve something, whether it’s as little as potty training. The joy we got when he finally got it — I had him over my shoulder like we won a football game running around while my wife was jumping up and down with our daughter. For him to be so proud, that’s what it’s all about.”
“It used to be everything to me. It still means a lot, but my family means more. It used to be football, faith and family. It’s changed a lot. My life revolves around them.” — Kyle Van Noy
As for football, it is still a high priority, but it’s no longer at the top. Trae and Giavanna have taught Van Noy “that it’s not everything. It used to be everything to me. It still means a lot, but my family means more,” he said. “It used to be football, faith and family. It’s changed a lot. My life revolves around them.”
For Van Noy, so much of what he has become can be traced back to a decision to stay at BYU and make the most of a second chance even when his untamed spirit wanted to bolt.
“I’m grateful,” he said. “It was good for me to be in that environment, and it was good for other people. I was different. I have a little bit of zest. I say my opinions and I’m not afraid. I think some people are petrified of that.”
Van Noy’s persona will serve him well in the broadcast booth, but for now his focus is still on the field and finding a new team to play for. Whoever it is will get a seasoned family man with a championship pedigree — a far cry from the unhappy camper who sat in Mendenhall’s office seeking an early exit.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.