‘Best to wear it’: Top BYU football players to wear jersey Nos. 40-59. Did Kyle Whittingham make the cut?
Deseret News continues to pick the best BYU and Utah football players to wear all 99 numbers, 20 at a time, in this fifth installment of our 10-part series
Editor’s note: Third in a series that pegs the best player to don every jersey number in BYU football history.
PROVO — So we’ve reached the third installment of our “Best to Wear It” for BYU football series, and the choices are getting somewhat easier after running backs, receivers and some standout linebackers dominated the first two installments.
In this installment, which is players who wore Nos. 40 through 59, we start seeing some offensive and defensive linemen enter the picture. In some cases, some fairly obscure players earned the pick because, frankly, there weren’t a lot of great ones at certain numbers.
Garrick was a standout offensive lineman, while Whittingham was a top-notch linebacker who didn’t play a lot his first two seasons at BYU, but then became the Western Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year his senior season.
Tough call. You will have to read to the end to see who we picked.
Here are our choices for BYU’s top players from No. 40 to No. 59:
No. 40: Eldon Fortie, quarterback/running back
Born in 1941, fittingly, “The Phantom” became the first BYU football player to be named a first-team All-American. Fortie led the nation in total offense for eight weeks his senior season before finishing second to Oregon State’s Terry Baker with 1,963 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was more of a runner than a passer out of BYU’s single wing offense, and accounted for 41 TDs in a three-year career before getting his number retired. Also considered: Nyle McFarlane, Dewey Favero, Francis Magleby.
No. 41: Leon White, linebacker
A huge part of BYU’s 1984 National Championship team, White was a bit undersized at 220 pounds but made up for that with remarkable sideline-to-sideline speed that endeared him to Cougar fans. He finished with 18 career sacks, then went on to a lengthy career in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers. Also considered: Bryan Kehl, John Betham, Coleby Clawson, Matt Putnam, Glen Redd, Spencer Reid, Uani Unga.
No. 42: Reed Nilsen, offensive lineman
Inducted into the BYU Hall of Fame in 1976, Nilsen was known as the Cougars’ “Iron Man” because he missed only six minutes of play in three seasons of football at BYU. He was a three-time all-conference center and linebacker, but also lettered in track and wrestling and was a two-time heavyweight wrestling champion. He served in the U.S. Navy and earned a Purple Heart during World War II. Also considered: Michael Alisa, Shawn Doman, Steve Haymond, Dana Wilgar, Tim Nowatzke, Gabe Reid.
No. 43: David Nixon, linebacker
Highly recruited out of College Station, Texas, Nixon continued BYU’s reputation for outstanding linebacker play and finished with 275 tackles, 12 sacks and three interceptions. Now an analyst for BYUtv, Nixon has a sister, Emily, who is married to former BYU QB Taysom Hill. Also considered: Bob Ashdown, Wes Homolik, Jherremya Leuta-Douyere, Robert Parker, Bill Schoepflin, Eddie Stinnett.
No. 44: Rob Morris, linebacker
A first-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts after making 237 tackles and nine sacks in his BYU career, Morris was known as the “Freight Train” in Provo and BYU officials handed out promotional freight train whistles to tout him for All-America honors his senior season. A knee injury cut short an outstanding NFL career after eight seasons. Also considered: Tom Lahmann, Ed Lamb, Mike Mills, Brandon Ogletree, Remington Peck, Mike Tanner.
No. 45: Harvey Unga, linebacker
The Timpview High product became BYU’s career leader in rushing yards with 3,455 in just three seasons and held the record until Jamaal Williams broke it in 2016. Just named BYU’s running backs coach, Unga was a Doak Walker candidate and played briefly in the NFL for the Chicago Bears. Also considered: Doug Adams, Rocky Biegel, Mike Eddo, Jeff Holtry, Tyler Beck.
No. 46: Shay Muirbrook, linebacker
One of the top defenders on BYU’s Cotton Bowl-winning 1996 team, Muirbrook was the Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year his senior season the Defensive MVP of the Cotton Bowl. He made 342 tackles and 20.5 sacks in his career and had a brief NFL career after signing with the Oakland Raiders in 1997. Also considered: Tom Holmoe, Curg Belcher, Colby Bockwoldt, Dick Legas, Kelly Poppinga.
Tom Holmoe says linebacker Shay Muirbrook, and not himself, is best BYU football player to wear No. 46.— Jay Drew (@drewjay) July 20, 2020
No. 47: Todd Shell, linebacker
It takes a lot to beat out a BYU product who was a first-round NFL draft pick, but Shell gets the nod over Ziggy Ansah because he had a longer, more productive career in Provo. Shell, from Mesa, Arizona, became a three-year starter and was an AP All-American in 1983. Shell played linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers and coached in the Arena Football League. Also considered: Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, Paul Walkenhorst, Terrance Hooks, Scott Giles, John Neal, Zac Stout.
No. 48: Tomasi Laulile, defensive line
This isn’t the strongest number in BYU history, obviously, but Laulile showed plenty of promise his sophomore and junior seasons before missing the 2017 season for academic reasons. He totaled 39 tackles and six sacks and also returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown against Utah State in 2015. Also considered: Jameson Frazier, Brian Hansen.
No. 49: Brady Poppinga, linebacker
Started as a freshman in 2001 and earned all-Mountain West Academic honors, then became an all-league performer his junior and senior seasons. Shifted from defensive end to outside linebacker his senior year and finished third on the team in tackles with 79. Picked in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers and played in the league for eight seasons. Also considered: Eddie Green, John Ramage, Jadon Wagner, Payton Wilgar.
No. 50: Bart Oates, offensive lineman
This is another tough one, as Trevor Matich and Mel Olson also had outstanding careers at BYU. Oates gets the nod, after shining for the Cougars in 1977 and then from 1980 through 1982. After a lengthy career with the New York Giants that saw him win Super Bowl titles in 1987 and 1991, Oates was inducted into the BYU Hall of Fame in 1992. Also considered: Trevor Matich, Regan Hansen, Shad Hansen, Blake Murdock, Mel Olson.
No. 51: Justin Luettgerodt, linebacker
A transfer from Foothill (California) Junior College who prepped in Gladstone, Oregon, Luettgerodt made the most of his two seasons in Provo. As a junior he made 26 tackles before suffering a season-ending injury against New Mexico. As a senior he ranked second on the team with 72 tackles and was named the team’s linebacker of the year. Also considered: Ladd Akeo, Shane Hunter, Josh Lowe, John Raass.
No. 52: Aaron Wagner, linebacker
Not only is Wagner the best No. 52 in BYU football history, he just might be the best Canadian to ever don the Cougar blue. Wagner, from Lethbridge, Alberta, transferred from Washington State and went on to make 90 tackles and an interception in a two-year career and was especially effective as a senior in 2006. Also considered: Trajan Pili, Ken Serck, Russell Tialavea.
No. 53: Isaiah Kaufusi, linebacker
Our first current player to make the list, Kaufusi enters the 2020 season as a senior with 121 career tackles to his credit. The former Brighton High star and son of former Utah star Jeff Kaufusi has also made four interceptions and a sack. He has six uncles and 11 cousins who have played college football. Also considered: Tom Sorensen, Dave Taylor, Bill Wright.
No. 54: Lance Reynolds Jr., offensive lineman
The first of the four sons of former Cougar player and coach Lance Reynolds Sr., to play for BYU, Lance Reynolds Jr. was a mainstay on the offensive line in 2004 and 2005. He was named the team’s offensive lineman of the year in 2005 and earned All-Mountain West Conference second-team honors. Also considered: Derik Stevenson, Parker Dawe, Duane Johnson, Merrill Taliauli, Teag Whiting, Cary Whittingham.
No. 55: Eathyn Manumaleuna, defensive lineman
Timpview High product broke the record for games played at BYU (54) and became a Phil Steele All-Independent First-Team selection in 2013. Finished with 128 tackles and 5.5 sacks and blocked a field goal against UCLA to preserve a Las Vegas Bowl win over the Bruins. Also considered: Justin Ena, Steve Facer, Kevin Nicoll, Orrin Olsen, Jeff Rhea.
No. 56: Tejan Koroma, offensive lineman
Koroma gets the nod over Travis Hall, who had a longer NFL career, because he was more decorated in college, having started in all 51 games as a four-year starter. Named to the 2017 Pro Football Focus All-America Second Team his senior season, helped BYU run for an average of 196 yards per game. Also considered: Lloyd Eldredge, Ed Kehl, Travis Hall, Jared Leavitt, Shaun Nua.
No. 57: Robert Anae, offensive lineman
Before he was a two-time offensive coordinator for BYU, Anae was one of the best offensive linemen to go through the school. Anae backed up Bart Oates and Trevor Matich early in his career, then got his chance to shine in 1984 and was part of the Cougars’ national championship team. He’s now Virginia’s offensive coordinator. Also considered: De’Ondre Wesley, Richard Hobbs,
No. 58: Chris Hoke, defensive lineman
Before spending his entire 11-year NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hoke was a mainstay on BYU’s defensive line and recorded 141 tackles and 14 sacks in his career. Hoke retired from the NFL in 2012 and has worked as a postgame analyst for a Pittsburgh TV station. His son, Nathan Hoke, recently committed to play for BYU. Also considered: Steve Kaufusi, Uriah Leiataua, Robert Stephens,
No. 59: Craig Garrick, offensive lineman
The brother of Provo mayor Michelle Kaufusi was a second-team All-WAC pick as a junior in 1983 and a first-team All-WAC selection and honorable mention All-American in 1984 while anchoring the offensive line on BYU’s national championship team. Garrick died in 2002 at the age of 41. Also considered: Famika Anae, James Johnson, Rich Kaufusi, Eddie Keele, Kyle Whittingham.