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‘Best to wear it’: Here are top Cougars who have donned jersey Nos. 1 through 19

Deseret News will pick the best BYU and Utah football players to wear all 99 numbers, 20 at a time, in a series that launches today with some of BYU’s all-time greats

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Who is the best BYU football player to wear No. 6? Running back Luke Staley is the pick from the Deseret News in our “Best to Wear It” series launching this month.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Editor’s note: First in a series that pegs the best player to don every jersey number in BYU football history.

PROVO — In September 2017, BYU’s football program retired the jersey numbers of three former All-Americans — quarterbacks Marc Wilson and Robbie Bosco and running back Luke Staley.

All three players wore No. 6 during their playing days, which made it rather convenient because school officials didn’t have to choose the best among the three, and also because it took just one more number away from those available on a yearly basis.

Previously, only six other Cougars had had their jersey/numbers retired: Eldon Fortie (No. 40), Marion Probert (No. 81), Steve Young (No. 8), Gifford Nielsen and Ty Detmer (No. 14) and Jim McMahon (No. 9).

So Wilson, Bosco and Staley share the title as best to wear No. 6, and Detmer and Nielsen share No. 14 bragging rights.

But what if someone had to choose just one?

The Deseret News has you covered. Today we are launching a project — or series of stories — in which we will eventually name the best BYU football players to wear each number, from one to 99. We will do this in five installments, beginning today with Nos. 1 through 19.

We will do the same for the University of Utah, alternating articles between the rivals until we reach the best No. 99 for both schools.

Here are our choices for BYU’s top players from No. 1 to No. 19:

No. 1: Omarr Morgan, defensive back

Right out of the chute, we had a tough call to make — Morgan or several offensive stars? Morgan joined the Cougars after consecutive All-America seasons at El Camino (California) College and put together two brilliant seasons in Provo, making five interceptions and 11.5 pass breakups in 1996 and earning first-team All-WAC honors in 1997. He played 11 seasons in the Canadian Football League, mainly with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Also considered: Brian McDonald, Todd Watkins, Jordan Pendleton, Zach Wilson.

No. 2: Cody Hoffman, wide receiver

This was one of the easier choices of the first 19 (the remaining four segments will include 20 players each), as Hoffman is BYU’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. Discovered out of tiny Crescent City, California, by coach Bronco Mendenhall, Hoffman finished his four-year career with 260 catches for 3,612 yards and 33 touchdowns. Undrafted, Hoffman played in the CFL for the Montreal Alouettes and Ottawa Redblacks. Also considered: Austin Lee, Jason Walker, Matt Hadley.

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Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Kyle Van Noy (3) celebrates a stop as BYU and Texas play Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 at LaVell Edwards stadium.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

No. 3: Kyle Van Noy, linebacker

Another fairly easy pick, Van Noy is arguably the best defensive player in school history, with 226 tackles, 27 sacks, 32 quarterback hurries, seven interceptions and five forced fumbles in a spectacular four-year career at BYU. Named to five All-America teams after his senior season and was the FBS Independent Defensive Player of the Year. Drafted by the Detroit Lions in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Van Noy recently signed a four-year, $51 million deal with the Miami Dolphins. Also considered: Michael Reed, K.O. Kealaluhi, Brian Gray, Fahu Tahi, Rodney Thomas

No. 4: Fred Warner, linebacker

Another easy choice, considering Warner is shining in the NFL as much as he shined at BYU. The San Marcos, California, product led BYU in total tackles his final two seasons and finished with 264, No. 24 in school history. Taken by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Warner recently played in Super Bowl LIV and intercepted a pass thrown by Patrick Mahomes. Also considered: Jernaro Gilford, Tyler Anderson, Chris Ellison, Uona Kaveinga.

No. 5: Derwin Gray, defensive back

A tough call between Gray and fellow DB Kyle Morrell, Gray gets the nod here because of a better professional football career. He made 193 tackles and 13 interceptions in a four-year BYU career. Drafted in 1993, Gray played for the Colts for five years and the Panthers for one year. Currently lead pastor of Transformation Church in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area. Also considered: Kyle Morrell, Dayan Ghanwoloku, Alani Fua, Jonathan Pittman.

No. 6: Luke Staley, running back

As mentioned in the lead, this might be the most difficult pick of all 99. Staley stands above on the strength of winning the Doak Walker Award in 2001 and finishing that phenomenal season with 1,580 yards rushing, 319 receiving and 28 touchdowns. A seventh-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions, Staley never appeared in an NFL regular-season game, due to knee injuries. Also considered: Marc Wilson, Robbie Bosco, Curtis Brown, James Dye, McKay Jacobson.

No. 7: Taysom Hill, quarterback

Arguably the best all-around athlete in BYU football history, Hill began his career wearing No. 4, but changed to No. 7 to honor his deceased older brother, Dexter. Despite sustaining four season-ending injuries, Hill still ranks No. 4 in career total offense behind only Ty Detmer, Max Hall and John Beck. Undrafted in 2016, currently playing a variety of positions for the New Orleans Saints. Also considered: Glen Kozlowski, John Walsh, Micah Hannemann, Preston Hadley, Brian Logan.

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With about 30 seconds to play, BYU’s Steve Young takes a pass and heads for the goal line in the 1983 Holiday Bowl against Missouri.

Deseret News Archives

No. 8: Steve Young, quarterback

Young’s No. 8 is retired for a reason. He threw for more than 8,000 yards, rushed for more than 1,100 yards and also caught a touchdown pass in the 1983 Holiday Bowl. Oh, and he also got a law degree, then went on to the NFL and had a Hall of Fame career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers. Also considered: Matt Bellini, Mike Rigell, John Van Der Wouden.

No. 9: Jim McMahon, quarterback

Another no-brainer, with McMahon’s number having been retired in 2014. Or is it that easy? Many regard Austin Collie as the best receiver in school history. McMahon threw for more than 10,000 yards and 89 touchdowns, while also leading the Cougars to their first bowl win, the 1980 Holiday Bowl. In the NFL, he won a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears. Also considered: Austin Collie, Nathan Miekle, Daniel Sorensen, Jordan Leslie, Dennis Simmons, J.C. VonColln, 

No. 10: Lee Johnson, kicker/punter

The kicker on BYU’s national championship team in 1984, Johnson went on to an 18-year career in the NFL, playing for the Oilers, Bengals, Browns, Patriots, Eagles and Vikings. He’s currently a member of the BYU athletic department, working with the Cougar Club and in development. Also considered: Matt Allen, Sean Covey, JJ DiLuigi, Brad Martin, Mitch Mathews.

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Former BYU receiver and all-American Mark Bellini (11) catches a pass.

Mark Philbrick, BYU

No. 11: Mark Bellini, wide receiver

Not an easy pick, with Brandon Doman also deserving. Bellini caught 148 passes for 2,413 yards and 21 touchdowns in a solid four-year career — not quite matching his running back brother Matt Bellini’s numbers, but impressive nevertheless. Also considered: Manase Tonga, Dan Hansen.

No. 12: John Beck, quarterback

Some pretty good quarterbacks have worn this jersey number for the Cougars, and John Beck stands out as the best. Beck’s career started slowly, but he was deadly accurate in 2005 and 2006 and concluded his career as BYU’s second all-time leading passer with 11,021 yards and 79 TD passes. Also considered: JD Falslev, Tanner Mangum, Kai Nacua, Steve Sarkisian, Gary Sheide, David Mills.

No. 13: Jonny Harline, tight end

Like Beck, Harline was instrumental in getting coach Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure in Provo off to a decent start. The Orem native made several All-America teams his senior season (2006), and finished with 1,788 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns, including one of the most memorable game-winning TD catches in school history against Utah. Also considered: Francis Bernard, Riley Nelson, Micah Simon, Nathan Soelberg.

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Ty Detmer runs out of the pocket against the Aztecs of San Diego State in San Diego on Nov. 25, 1989.

Associated Press

No. 14: Ty Detmer, quarterback

BYU’s Heisman-winning quarterback could claim to being the best player in school history. The two-time All-American broke too many school and national passing records to list before enjoying an eight-year career in the NFL. Also considered: Gifford Nielsen, Virgil Carter, Margin Hooks, Jeff Wilcox.

No. 15: Max Hall, quarterback

Hall doesn’t usually make lists of BYU’s greatest quarterbacks, but all he did was win. He compiled 32 victories as a starter at BYU, most in school history, with just seven losses. Famous for his anti-Utah rant, Hall engineered some of the greatest wins in program history, beating No. 3 Oklahoma and UCLA 59-0 in an epic beatdown. Also considered: Michael Davis, Alema Harrington, Aleva Hifo, Hema Heimuli, Marc Lyons.

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Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Sione Takitaki (16) celebrates his sack against the East Carolina Pirates Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Provo. BYU beat ECU 45-38.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

No. 16: Sione Takitaki, linebacker

This is a close call between Takitaki and running back Ronney Jenkins, but we will go with the defensive ace because he had a longer career Provo. Takitaki’s turnaround from troubled teenager to team leader is well-documented, and he finished with 237 tackles and 14.5 sacks before embarking on an NFL career with the Cleveland Browns. Also considered: Harvey Langi, Ronney Jenkins

No. 17: Andy Boyce, wide receiver

Boyce’s career didn’t get off to a blazing start, but he eventually became a go-to guy with some of the best hands and route-running skills in school history. Often catching passes from Ty Detmer, Boyce hauled in 81 aerials for 1,250 yards and 13 TDs in 1990. Also considered: Ryan Hancock, Moroni Laulu-Pututau, Aaron Roderick.

No. 18: Eric Drage, wide receiver

Another receiver who helped Detmer win the Heisman, Drage ensured there would be no drop-off at receiver in 1991 and went on to post some of the best numbers for a pass-catcher in BYU history. He finished with 157 catches for 2,967 yards and 27 TDs. Also considered: Rod Long, David Lauder, Michael Shelton.

No. 19: Chris Farasopoulos, running back

Known as the “Galloping Greek” from his high school days in Southern California, Farasopoulos played defensive back and returned punts and kickoffs in addition to lining up at halfback. He set a WAC record for average yards returned per kickoff at 27.2 before Hawaii’s Chad Owens broke it years later. Farasopoulos played in the NFL for four seasons with the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints. Also considered: Devon Blackmon, Matt Braga.

Up next: Best to wear Nos. 20 through 39