Successful, or just so-so? Sizing up BYU’s decade of football independence
These were the men and moments that defined the past decade of BYU football
The great, the good, the bad and the ugly of BYU’s first decade of independence



TAYSOM HILL — Career leader in QB rushing yards (2,185) also posted 23 wins as a starting QB in 33 games

Running backs

JAMAAL WILLIAMS — Career leader in rushing yards (3,901) set a single-game record with 286 vs. Toledo in 2016

SQUALLY CANADA — Washington State transfer edged out J.J. DiLuigi for this honor with 1,438 yards, 13 TDs

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Cody Hoffman (2) slips out to fhb reach of Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets cornerback D.J. White (28) during a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013. | Matt Gade, Deseret News

Wide receivers

CODY HOFFMAN — Four-year starter became BYU’s all-time leader in receiving yards, receiving TDs and all-purpose yards

MITCH MATHEWS — Lanky athlete finished a fine four-year career with 152 catches for 2,083 yards and 24 TDs

Offensive linemen

TEJAN KOROMA — Freshman All-American in 2014 started all four years (51 games) and received Iron Man Award

MATT REYNOLDS — Last of a long line of Reynolds brothers at BYU started every game in his four-year career, finishing in 2011 

BRADEN HANSEN — Started in all 49 games of his career, helped Cougars rush for more than 200 yards 14 times

RYKER MATHEWS — Fought through some devastating hip and knee injuries to start in 33 games and earn various national honors

JAMES EMPEY — Named Freshman All-American by FWAA in 2018 and has started in all 26 games of his career to date

Tight end

MATT BUSHMAN — School’s receiving yards leader the past three seasons has brought the position back to BYU

BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah makes a tackle as BYU and Notre Dame play Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 in South Bend. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News


Defensive ends

BRONSON KAUFUSI — Finished standout four-year career ranked No. 3 in tackles for loss with 44 and No. 5 in sacks with 26.5

EZEKIEL ANSAH — Rags-to-riches story didn’t become full-time starter until senior season, but was No. 5 pick in 2013 NFL draft

Defensive tackles

KHYIRIS TONGA — Made 45 of his career 94 tackles in 2019 and recently announced he will return for his senior season

EATHYN MANUMALEUNA — Helped BYU to a No. 13 total defense in 2011, made 51 starts and blocked a potential game-winning field goal

Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Fred Warner (4) celebrates after making a tackle during a game against the UMass Minutemen at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News


KYLE VAN NOY — Perhaps the greatest defender in school history made 226 tackles, including 26 sacks, and also had seven picks

FRED WARNER — Matched Van Noy’s total with seven career interceptions, also made 264 tackles, No. 24 in BYU history

SIONE TAKITAKI — Overcame various off-field issues to lead Cougars in tackles senior year and was drafted by Cleveland Browns

UANI UNGA — Became a tackling machine after transferring from Oregon State, finished with 156 takedowns in two seasons

A decade later, BYU AD Tom Holmoe says going independent in football was the right move, but P5 membership is still the goal
Did BYU’s decade of independence advance, maintain or hinder football?
Brigham Young Cougars defensive back Kai Nacua (12) makes an interception at the one yard line of Boise State as BYU and Boise State play Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News


MICHAEL DAVIS — Started in 30 games, played in 48, and became a starter in the NFL after losing his starting job during senior year at BYU

DAYAN GHANWOLOKU — Played a variety of positions and became a trusted ballhawk with seven interceptions, seven fumble recoveries


KAI NACUA — Had 14 career interceptions, the most at BYU since Derwin Gray, and also recorded 164 career tackles

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DANIEL SORENSEN — Current member of the Kansas City Chiefs had 23 PBUs, eight interceptions in sparkling four-year career at BYU 

Brigham Young Cougars punter Riley Stephenson (99) punts during first half action as BYU plays Idaho in the Cougars’ final home football game on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, in Provo, Utah. | Tom Smart, Deseret News



TREVOR SAMSON — Became BYU’s career leader in field goal percentage at 83.9 after transferring from Fresno City College


RILEY STEPHENSON — Averaged 47.3 yards per punt senior year (2012) and earned AP second-team All-America honors

Return specialist

ALEVA HIFO — Tough call between Hifo and JD Falslev; Hifo’s 15.8 average on punt returns in 2019 gave him edge

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