A social media influencer in 2023 has a lot of power when it comes to the present and the future. Companies pay a handsome wage for a person to do, say, or wear just the right things to sway a targeted demographic.

When it comes to football influencers, eight BYU alums, past and present, have changed the game for the better. They took the campus mantra of “Enter to learn, go forth to serve” literally and their fingerprints are all over America’s most celebrated sport.

There is no shortage of former Cougars who have contributed much to the game, but these are the “Elite Eight” in an order that is open for debate.

No. 8 Jamaal Williams (2012-14, 2016)

Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams celebrates following a game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Green Bay, Wis. The Lions won 20-16. | Matt Ludtke, Associated Press

The sociology graduate not only established BYU’s all-time rushing record (3,901 yards), but Jamaal Williams has also transformed into a media darling in the NFL. Last year, the outspoken Pokémon enthusiast ran for a career-best 1,066 yards and led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns. As he was doing it, Williams broke Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders’ single-season touchdown record that had stood alone in Detroit since 1991.

The ringleader of his own joyful circus, including 135.6K Twitter followers, left the Lions for a three-year, $12-million deal in New Orleans where his wide smile and energetic persona will reunite with former BYU teammate Taysom Hill at this week’s mandatory minicamp.

No. 7 Fred Warner (2014-17)

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner (54) reacts prior to the NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023, in Philadelphia. | Chris Szagola, Associated Press

Fueled by his exercise and wellness degree, and a run of good health, Fred Warner is redefining what an NFL linebacker can do. His speed and versatility make him a constant threat to sack the quarterback while also allowing him to hold his own in pass coverage.

In five seasons with San Francisco, Warner has amassed 411 solo tackles, 25 tackles for loss and four interceptions. He had seven tackles and an interception in a Super Bowl LIV defeat against Kansas City.

Warner’s $95-million contract extension with the 49ers in 2021 made him the highest paid linebacker in the NFL. He’s currently No. 3.

No. 6 Taysom Hill (2012-16)

New Orleans Saints tight end Taysom Hill warms up wearing a T-shirt in support of Damar Hamlin before a game between the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. | Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

Going from an undrafted free agent to a player who transformed how teams run an offense has been the wild ride of Taysom Hill. The finance grad single-handedly made Swiss Army knives cool again.

Hill’s ability to pass, catch, run, tackle and block has every general manager searching for a prototype. Last season, Hill became the first player since the NFL-AFL merger in 1966 to have 10 career passing touchdowns, 10 touchdown receptions and 10 rushing touchdowns.

The branding he left on the Texas Longhorns in 2013 and 2014 will forever have its mark in BYU lore. In two games, Hill combined for 358 yards rushing and six touchdowns as the Cougars outscored the Longhorns 81-28. BYU and Texas face each other for the first time since the Hill-era on Oct. 28.

Hill is one year into a four-year contract extension with the Saints worth $40 million.

No. 5 Brian Billick (1974-76)

Team Kai head coach Brian Billick, center, walks along the sideline during the second half of the Hula Bowl NCAA college football game against Team Aina, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. | Phelan M. Ebenhack, Associated Press

Originally signing at Air Force but transferring to BYU after learning his 6-foot-5 frame was too big to fly jets, Brian Billick settled in as All-WAC tight end for LaVell Edwards. After graduating in public relations, Billick worked as a grad assistant for Edwards before setting his sights on the NFL.

In 1995, he became the first BYU alum to win a Super Bowl as a head coach when Baltimore defeated the New York Giants 41-7 in Super Bowl XXXV. Billick won 85 games over nine seasons and was inducted into the Ravens Ring of Honor in 2019.

No. 4 Kyle Whittingham (1978-81)

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and QB Cam Rising listen to an official as Utah and Penn State play in the 2023 Rose Bowl.
Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham and Utah Utes QB Cameron Rising (7) listen to a official as Utah and Penn State play in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

No BYU alum has impacted the defensive side of the ball more than Kyle Whittingham. The All-WAC Defensive Player of the Year (1978) took his undergraduate degree in educational psychology and his master’s degree in professional leadership and turned the University of Utah into a defensive juggernaut.

As head coach since 2005, Whittingham also oversaw the Utes’ conversion to Power Five football as a member of the Pac-12. The former BYU grad assistant is now the longest-tenured head coach in the conference (17 years) with 154 career victories, including back-to-back appearances in the Rose Bowl.

Is Utah’s Kyle Whittingham approaching LaVell Edwards’ rarefied air?

With an annual salary of $6.83 million, Whittingham is the second highest paid coach in the Pac-12, one spot ahead of Colorado’s Deion Sanders ($5.9 million) and behind USC’s Lincoln Riley ($9 million).

Five former members of Whittingham’s staff at Utah are now at BYU — head coach Kalani Sitake, defensive coordinator Jay Hill, linebackers coach Justin Ena, defensive tackles coach Sione Po’uha and offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick.

No. 3 Steve Young (1980-83)

Former NFL quarterback Steve Young greets Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) before game against the New York Giants Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. | Mark LoMoglio, Associated Press

Before there were the NFL’s mobile threats of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, there was Steve Young. The accounting and international relations grad, and later, BYU Law School grad, showcased a unique ability to win games with both his left arm and pair of legs.

Not only did Young juke his way through the collapse of the United States Football League, but he also survived his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Eventually, the 49ers called and threw him a lifeline. After waiting patiently as back-up to legendary Joe Montana, Young took his place among the elite with an MVP performance in Super Bowl XXIX.

The current broadcaster, venture capitalist and philanthropist, with a net worth over $200 million (Forbes), is enshrined in the NFL, College Football and BYU halls of fame.

No. 2 Mike Leach (1979-83)

Current football players enter the memorial service for their late Mississippi State football coach Mike Leach, at Humphrey Coliseum on the university’s campus in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022. Leach died, Dec. 12, 2022, from complications related to a heart condition at 61. He was in his third year as head coach. | Rogelio V. Solis, Associated Press

Having never played football at BYU, the fact that Mike Leach is among the Elite Eight Cougar influencers of all time speaks volumes about his unprecedented path.

An injury in high school kept Leach off the field, but not out of the game. He studied the Edwards offense from the stands and eventually worked his way into the film room to learn firsthand from quarterbacks Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Young and offensive coordinator Doug Scovil.

Leach’s BYU experience helped him become famous when he rolled out the Air Raid Offense and put it on display at Texas Tech, Washington State and Mississippi State. It was during his game-changing run when traditional running schools like Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, and Georgia altered their old school attack for anything that resembled Leach’s spread offense.

The wizard died on Dec. 11, 2022, but his influence on the game is alive and well.

No 1. Andy Reid (1978-80)

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid speaks as President Joe Biden welcomes the Kansas City Chiefs to the White House in Washington, Monday, June 5, 2023, to celebrate their championship season and victory in Super Bowl LVII. | Susan Walsh, Associated Press

For a junior college player that didn’t have BYU on his wish list and didn’t play a whole lot when he got to Provo, Andy Reid evolved into the program’s top influencer of all time.

Edwards recruited Reid from Glendale, California, because he really wanted his friend Randy Tidwell and he thought by offering both, they would come. He was right. Reid watched McMahon run an offense that caught his attention, and he soaked it in.

After graduating in physical education, Reid stayed at BYU as a grad assistant during Young’s junior season in 1982 before launching into a coaching full time.

Andy Reid on BYU’s Big 12 move: ‘I look forward to watching them’

His LaVell-like style of integrity, compassion and humor has served him well. Reid’s 247 NFL victories is one shy of Dallas Cowboys legend Tom Landry for No. 4 all-time — a record he can match when his Kansas City Chiefs host Detroit in the season opener on Sept. 7.

Reid’s 22 playoff victories are No. 2 all time. He has won 10 conference titles and appeared in four Super Bowls — winning two of them — including February’s victory against Philadelphia — his former team.

His $12-million salary, per NBC Sports, ranks him as the sixth highest paid coach in the NFL and Reid’s coaching tree has as many branches as his favorite Tommy Bahama shirts have colors.

Five current NFL head coaches once worked for Reid as an assistant — Sean McDermott (Bills), John Harbaugh (Ravens), Doug Pederson (Jaguars), Ron Rivera (Commanders) and Todd Bowles (Buccaneers).

Together, Reid, Leach, Young, Whittingham, Billick, Hill, Warner and Williams are the Elite Eight when it comes to BYU’s undergraduate influencers on the game of football. What’s even more impressive is most have done it without Twitter, Instagram or TikTok.

Williams and his Pokémon army is an exception.

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.