‘Best to wear it’: Top BYU football players to wear jersey Nos. 20-39 (Sorry, Kalani)
Deseret News continues to pick the best BYU and Utah football players to wear all 99 numbers, 20 at a time
Editor’s note: Second in a series that pegs the best player to don every jersey number in BYU football history.
PROVO — The best player to ever wear No. 34 for the BYU football team grew up in Hawaii, always dreamed of playing for the Cougars and idolized legendary coach LaVell Edwards.
Sorry Kalani Sitake, it isn’t you.
That honor in the Deseret News’ continuing “Best to wear it” series goes to former standout linebacker Kurt Gouveia, who lined up for the late Edwards from 1982-85 and went on to have a 13-year career in the National Football League.
Sitake, of course, wore No. 34 in 1994 and 1997-2000 and is currently BYU’s head coach, having succeeded Bronco Mendenhall in 2016.
In this installment of a five-part project, we pick the best BYU football players to wear Nos. 20 through 39. The best of this crop? Probably BYU’s all-time leading rusher, Jamaal Williams of the Green Bay Packers, who wore No. 21 in Provo.
There’s also outstanding tight end Dennis Pitta (No. 32), phenomenal receiver-running back Reno Mahe (No. 20), kick return aces Golden Richards (No. 22) and Vai Sikahema (No. 23) and running back-tight end Todd Christensen (No. 33), who had one of the better NFL careers of any former BYU player out there.
Here are our choices for BYU’s top players from No. 20 to No. 39:
No. 20: Reno Mahe, wide receiver
A Brighton High product who was known as “junior” and played running back his first season in Provo, Mahe transferred to Dixie State College after the 1998 season, then returned and shined in 2001 and 2002 before a lengthy NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles. As a receiver, Mahe caught 174 passes for 2,205 yards and was also a valuable punt and kick returner. Also considered: Craig Bills, Daniel Coats, Brian McKenzie, Scott Phillips, Casey Tiumalu.
No. 21: Jamaal Williams, running back
One of the most popular players, and personalities, to ever don the Cougar blue, Williams holds multiple rushing records at BYU, including single-game (286 yards vs. Toledo) and career (3,901 yards) marks. He returned for his senior season in 2016 after taking 2015 off for personal reasons and teamed with quarterback Taysom Hill to give the Cougars the best one-two rushing punch in the country. Also considered: Rex Berry, Larry EchoHawk, Dick Felt, Troy Long, Tim McTyer, Talon Shumway, Kelly Smith.
No. 22: Golden Richards, wingback
A Granite High product, Richards wore No. 22 in honor of his childhood hero, receiver Bob Hayes of the Dallas Cowboys. Many say Richards was just as fast as the speedy Hayes. Richards, whose brother, Doug, was an all-conference basketball player for the Cougars, transferred to Hawaii after two seasons in Provo, but still made his mark. As a junior he was first in the nation in punt return yardage, while leading the team in receiving on a run-first offense. Also considered: Andrew Rich, Casey Boyett, Squally Canada, Mark Autaia, Mike Salido.
No. 23: Vai Sikahema, running back
Before becoming the first Tongan to ever play in the NFL and an Area Seventy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sikahema mostly shined as a punt returner for the Cougars. In the NFL, he was a special teams standout for the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers. Sikahema twice played in the Pro Bowl (1986 and 1987). Also considered: Zayne Anderson, David Tafuna, Travis Uale.
No. 24: Kalin Hall, running back
The father of current BYU quarterback Jaren Hall, Kalin Hall was the NJCAA Player of the Year in the junior college ranks at Dixie State College before transferring to BYU. He finished a two-year Cougar career with 227 carries for 1,241 yards and 11 touchdowns and was an honorable mention All-WAC performer. Also considered: Algernon Brown, Tony Crutchfield, Austin Kafentzis, Bill Ring, Bob Roberts, Spencer White.
No. 25: Quinn Gooch, defensive back
From the same high school (Sabino) that produced current BYU tight end Matt Bushman, Gooch wasn’t a household name in Provo and probably never will be, but he did have a stellar four-year career for the Cougars in the mid-2000s. Gooch finished with 159 tackles and six interceptions and was an Academic All-American. Also considered: Steve Christensen, Lane Hale, Teu Kautai, Kent Tingey.
No. 26: David Miles, wide receiver
Another number that has not produced a lot of standouts at BYU is No. 26. Miles, a gangly receiver from Santa Rosa, California, caught 54 passes for 907 yards and seven touchdowns in his career, which spanned five years and included a medical redshirt in 1984, the year the Cougars won the national championship. Also considered: Mark Allen, Rhett Almond, George Harris, Steve Ogden, CJ Santiago, Rodney Wilkerson.
No. 27: Trevor Samson, kicker
Yes, the best player to wear No. 27 in BYU history really was a kicker. A transfer from Fresno City College, Samson became one of the most accurate kickers in school history, all while battling a liver disease that required a transplant when he was young. Samson made 26 of his 31 field goal attempts and 114 of 118 PATs in two years at BYU. Also considered: David Foote, Gavin Fowler, Owen Pochman, Joe Semanoff, Beau Tanner.
No. 28: Pete Van Valkenburg, running back
Known as “Fleet Pete” in his four-year Cougar career, Van Valkenburg led the nation in rushing in 1972, averaging 138.6 yards per game. He played a few years in the NFL and CFL. Also considered: Dustin Gabriel, Adam Hine, Mike Russell.
No. 29: Jamal Willis, running back
Another of the greatest RBs in BYU history, the 6-foot-3 Willis came to Provo from Las Vegas and left with 564 carries, 32 touchdowns and 2,848 yards to his credit. His game-winning touchdown run against Notre Dame remains a program highlight. Also considered: Luke Ashworth, Mike Chronister, Derek McLaughlin, Brent Nyberg, Marion Tree.
No. 30: Brian Mitchell, defensive back
Not only did he make 120 tackles and 14 interceptions in an outstanding four-year playing career at BYU in the 1980s, Mitchell returned in 1994 and was the Cougars’ defensive backs coach for 11 seasons before moving on to Texas Tech in 2006. He’s currently coaching at North Carolina State. Also considered: Jeff Blanc, Jared McLaughlin, Patrick Mitchell, Michael Wadsworth.
No. 31: Rodney Rice, defensive back
Recruited out of Merced Junior College, Rice became one of the top defensive backs in BYU history, making 11 interceptions and 60 tackles in two seasons. Rice was named an AP Honorable Mention All-American following the 1988 season and played for two years in the NFL. Also considered: Chris Bolden, Brad Clark, Jonny Linehan, Sae Tautu,
No. 32: Dennis Pitta, tight end
A former walk-on out of Moorpark, California, Pitta continued BYU’s tradition of excellence at the tight end position and ranks as one of the best players, at any position, to don the Cougar blue. He had 221 catches for 2,901 yards and 21 touchdowns in his career in Provo. Also considered: Dustin Johnson, Homer Jones, John Ogden, Peter Tuipulotu, Marcus Whalen.
No. 33: Todd Christensen, running back
Before he shined for the Oakland Raiders as a tight end, Christensen played fullback for the Cougars from 1974-77 and surpassed the 1,000 rushing yards, on 260 carries. He was an AP All-American in 1977 and went on to a lengthy broadcasting career when his playing days ended. Christensen died during liver transplant surgery in 2013 at the age of 57. Also considered: Craig Bozich, Aaron Francisco, Waymon Hamilton, Bryan Kariya, Paul Lasike, Thor Salanoa, Fred Whittingham.
No. 34: Kurt Gouveia, linebacker
Because he backed up another great LB his first two seasons in Provo, Todd Shell, Gouveia’s college career didn’t start quickly. But it ended with a bang, as the Hawaiian recorded 110 tackles and 9.5 sacks his junior and senior seasons. Gouveia appeared in 184 NFL games and was a member of two Super Bowl-winning teams in Washington, D.C. Also considered: Kayle Buchanan, Brandon Heaney, Kalani Sitake,
No. 35: Lakei Heimuli, running back
Before Jamaal Williams, Harvey Unga and Curtis Brown came along, Heimuli was one of the leading ball-carriers in BYU history with 2,710 yards on 605 carries from 1983-86. A member of BYU’s 1984 national championship team, Heimuli played one season in the NFL for the Chicago Bears. Also considered: Donny Atuaia, Matt Bauman, Brayden El-Bakri, Cameron Jensen.
No. 36: Bob Davis, linebacker
One of the top tackling machines in BYU history, Davis tallied 227 takedowns in his tumultuous career and was a third-team AP All-American in 1989. Also considered: Todd Herget, Eric Lane, Eddie Sampson, Markell Staffieri.
No. 37: Vic So’oto, linebacker
Recruited out of the San Diego area as a tight end by Bronco Mendenhall, So’oto jumped to the defensive side and was part of some of Mendenhall’s best defenses . He made the All-MWC first team in 2010 and is now defensive line coach at USC. Also considered: Jon Burbidge, Alema Fitisemanu, Jeff Lyman, Ethan Pochman, Justin Sorensen.
No. 38: Matt Payne, kicker
A starting punter and kicker in all four of his years at BYU, Payne was known for some bone-jarring tackles on special teams as well as his kicking prowess. He made 55 field goals in his career, on 74 attempts, while also handling kickoff and punting chores. Also considered: Butch Pau’u, Mitch Payne, Jesse Sowards,
No. 39: Ian Dulan, defensive lineman
Dulan gained some notoriety, along with fellow defensive lineman Russell Tialavea, when they decided to forego their next football season after three seasons to go on missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Dulan made 51 tackles and 5.5 sacks before his mission, but injuries derailed his career upon his return. Also considered: Cole Miyahira, Iona Pritchard.