There is a moment before every BYU football game that is undefeated.

It’s when the Cougars file out of the locker room in the southeast corner of LaVell Edwards Stadium and gather under the tunnel where smoke machines fill the area with blue vapor. A thunderous roar rises from 60,000 fans as the videoboard countdown reaches zero. With a crack of a drum, the marching band splits to create a pathway to the battlefield.

“It’s hard not to get emotional and start crying. When you are a player, it’s just hard. Even as a coach, when I walk down there (to the tunnel), I just want to burst into tears. It’s such a cool feeling.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake

It’s time.

Fireworks shoot into the sky as the group of young student-athletes charge into one of the most pristine settings in college football.

“It’s a surreal feeling,” said Brian Logan, a former BYU defensive back (2009-10). “Every single time I ran out I felt like I was floating. The moment was magical.”

The frenzy doesn’t last very long, but it leaves a feeling that endures forever — especially for those under the helmets.

“It’s a mixture of adrenaline, excitement, and nervous energy, said Chad Lewis, tight end (1993-96). “The fact that you get to do it as a team in football is the coolest part for me — a whole bunch of guys that have worked their guts out together get to take the field and prove their worth.”

Setting the scene

Prize fighters in Las Vegas spend time and energy choreographing the “ring walk.” The grand arrival is the only thing they control. Their departure depends on what transpires during the fight. They might leave dressed in glory or lying on a stretcher.

To borrow words from business tycoon Edward Lampert, “The entrance strategy is actually more important than the exit strategy.”

David Almodova, BYU assistant athletic director for marketing and promotions, is in the business of entrance strategies. He and his talented crew spend each offseason exploring new ways to bring the Cougars onto the field.

“We want organized chaos. We want LES to be at its peak as far as fans being vocal and loud to welcome our team out,” Almodova said. “You want the team feeling 100% supported. It lifts their spirits and gives them energy to go compete for 60 minutes. It’s that peak moment we are trying to create in the venue.”

On special occasions, Almodova may order a military flyover or skydivers to help set the tone. While the experience is different for everybody, there is one common denominator all agree on — taking the field before a game at LES is awesome.

Every. Single. Time.  

“I remember my first time and I remember every time after that,” said coach Kalani Sitake, running back (1994, 1997-2000). “There is just nothing like being in front of BYU fans, feeling their spirit and excitement.”

The locker room

The grandiose moment when BYU takes the field begins before the Cougars step foot out of the locker room.

“As you sit in the locker room, you can hear the fans stomping their feet,” said Curtis Brown, running back (2002-2006). “The vibration in our locker room was so strong that your heart couldn’t help but want to catch up with the beat. That’s when the nerves would kick in and guys are headed to the bathroom one last time.”

For Brandon Ogletree, the pregame wait was always worth it.

“Hearing the fans stomp on the metal bleachers and the band playing was always surreal,” said Ogletree, linebacker (2008-12). “Growing up my whole life as a BYU fan and being able to run out of the same tunnel as all of the BYU legends who built the program and laid the foundation was always the coolest thing ever for me.”

BYU players take the field against Washington State in Provo Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

After what must feel like an eternity in the locker room, someone finally yells, “Let’s go!”

“You open that door that leads to the tunnel and hear the fans going nuts. The place is rocking,” said David Nixon, linebacker (2003, 2006-08). “You only get to do that six times a year. If you play four years, that’s only 24 times in your career. Considering all the work and effort that goes into each game, it’s awesome to feel the payoff when those emotions kick in as you are about to take the field.”

Harvey Unga, running back (2006-09), had to first wipe the sleep from his eyes.

“Before each game I took a quick nap in my locker, which was frowned upon by some coaches,” said Unga with a laugh. “It would help me to calm my nerves because the moment I walked down the tunnel to get on the field, I’m not even sure what to call the feeling — controlled chaos?

“There was the crashing of the band playing the fight song, the screaming 65,000 fans, and my heart beating out of my chest. But my mind felt calm and ready as soon as I looked up to see where my mom and dad were sitting.”

Austin Collie savored the moment.

Saturdays were the best days of the year,” said Collie, receiver (2004, 2007-08). “Being able to come through the tunnel with a packed house was what every player looked forward to.”

Derwin Gray felt like a rock star about to take the stage.

“As I walked out of the locker room, the beat of my heart matched the rolling roar of the crowd,” said Gray, defensive back (1989-92). “Not only does the stadium shake, but my heart would. It was ‘Go Time!’ It was time to ball!”

The run out

The explosion of fireworks overhead triggers the alumni flag bearers who lead the charge onto the field.

“I always felt invincible running out, that there was no way we could be beat,” said Brandon Doman, quarterback (1998-2001). “There truly was a sense of pride and gratitude in representing my teammates, family and all the fans watching. The only problem is that the run into the stadium peaked the adrenaline, and I always had to find a way to take an early hit in the game so I could settle down.”

Dennis Pitta arrived in Provo as a walk-on, but he finished as an All-American and was inducted into the BYU Athletics Hall of Fame last year.

“The feeling of running out of the tunnel and into the stadium is difficult to describe,” said Pitta, tight end (2004, 2007-09). “There is just no comparison. The atmosphere is electric. The experience is like no other.”

For Logan, a junior college transfer, taking the field at LES was a sign of validation.

“This is kind of your last chance where you work a little harder and you don’t take things for granted because of where you have been,” Logan said. “I tried to soak in every moment because I knew what it was like to play in front of 12 fans, my parents included. I always made sure when I ran out to scan the entire stadium to soak up every fan I could see and hear all the noise they were making. Those two things made me feel like I was walking on water.”

The run out was “next level” for Nixon, who played at the next level.

“I’d get goosebumps. There’s nothing better. It’s unlike anything,” Nixon said. “I would put that at BYU above any NFL experience I had running out with the team.”

As a player and now the head coach, the pregame ritual of taking the field for Sitake is nothing short of a tear-jerker.

“It’s hard not to get emotional and start crying. When you are a player, it’s just hard. Even as a coach, when I walk down there (to the tunnel), I just want to burst into tears. It’s such a cool feeling,” Sitake said. “So many wonderful people have been through that. You remember all the sacrifices, the things we have done, the things we have done as a church, as a football program, and as a school. It’s a good reminder of how far we have come and grateful we should be.”

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Old school

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe was among the last Cougars to run onto the field of the old Cougar Stadium in 1981 and he was among the first to charge onto the green grass after the expansion to 65,000 seats in 1982.

No matter where his pregame duties take him, Holmoe always finds himself on the field in time to watch the new group of Cougars run out into Almodova’s orchestrated madness.

“I actually like the feeling better now,” said Holmoe, defensive back (1978-82). “As a BYU football alum, it is emotional for me to stand on LaVell’s field and recall how moments on that field changed my life. It’s sacred ground to me. I feel it every time, whether I’m all alone in LES, at a game, a practice or even while attending Stadium of Fire.”

Waiting for their moment

For transfers Kedon Slovis and Aidan Robbins, the run out on Sept. 2 is something they can’t wait to experience for themselves.

“I expect an out-of-body experience,” said Robbins, a transfer running back from UNLV who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season. “I’ve never been to a BYU game. I’ve only heard about how great it is. I can’t wait to see it for myself and get that experience of everybody yelling and screaming B-Y-U! I just can’t wait to see all that royal blue and white. I’m just excited.”

The last time Slovis ran onto the field at LES was in 2019 as the starting quarterback for USC. After three years with the Trojans and last season at Pittsburgh, he is eager to lead BYU into the Big 12 and his journey will begin with the run out against Sam Houston.

“There is a lot of excitement around the building. There is a lot of excitement surrounding the fan base, our alumni and supporters,” said Slovis, who comes to Provo with 37 career starts and over 9,000 passing yards. “I think everyone feels it, it’s not just us. (The run out) is a unifying thing. I’m excited. I expect to see a lot of fans out there, obviously, with playing in the Big 12, everybody is excited about getting going.”

First of many firsts this fall

BYU will take the field to a lot “firsts” in the fall. They will take the field as a Power Five program against Sam Houston. They will take the field in their Big 12 home opener against Cincinnati, and they will take the field in the home finale against Oklahoma in the Sooners first (and maybe the only) visit to Provo.

Taking the field is the fun part. Defending it is another story, but it’s a challenge BYU has spent 12 years as an independent preparing for. The new day begins Sept. 2 with a crack of a drum, the parting of the band, fireworks in the air (and maybe a few jets) and the thunderous roar of a sold-out crowd welcoming their beloved Cougars back to the battlefield.

No one knows how many games BYU will win, but if history is any indicator, the pregame run out will always remain undefeated — especially for those under the helmets.

BYU football players take the field for football against Northern Illinois in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. | Ravell Call, Deseret News

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 is a play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.