The 15 best rushers in BYU history

BYU has long been known in college football circles for their aerial attack, with such names as McMahon, Detmer, Bosco and Young at the helm.  What many fans seem to forget because of that, are how many great rushers the Cougars have had over the years.  With the change back to Robert Anae as offensive coordinator I’m sure there will be many more.  Having that in mind, I’ve decided to look back and rank the 15 best rushers in BYU history.  When I decided on who makes the list and where they should fall I looked at a number of things.  Yards, touchdowns and yards per carry were a few of the things but I also looked at style and substance, power and speed, nimbleness and the ability to break tackles. It is important to note that this list is based only on a player’s ability as a rusher and not their total game.  As you will see, there are more than just running backs that make the list. That would short change the great running quarterbacks at the Y. and you can’t have a list like this without them.

15. Peter Tuipulotu (1987-1991) – Tuipulotu spent four solid seasons in Provo averaging 5.5 yards every time he touched the ball.  Tuipulotu finished his career with more than 1,500 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns.

14.  Steve Young (1980-1983) – Young was the runner up for the Heisman trophy his senior year at BYU.  One of the reasons he was so close to winning the Heisman was his ability to make plays with his legs.  During Young’s three years on the field he rushed for almost 1,100 yards and 18 touchdowns.  Not bad considering sacks count against your rushing yards.

13.  J.J. Di Luigi (2007-2011) – A lot was expected out of Di Luigi following his outstanding high school career.  He didn’t ever live up to those lofty expectations but J.J. was the leading rusher in two different seasons and finished his BYU career with more than 1,700 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.

12.  Weldon Jackson (1956-1958) – Jackson led the Cougars in rushing in back to back seasons and held the record for the longest run from scrimmage by a Cougar for over 35 years.  Weldon’s best year came in 1958 when he rushed for almost 700 yards to lead the Skyline Conference, while averaging a whopping 6.9 yards per carry.

11.  Brian McKenzie (1996-1997) – McKenzie only spent two seasons as a Cougar but definitely made the most of his time there.  Brian rushed for just under 2,000 yards to go along with a 5.1 average per carry.  He also found the end zone 23 times as a rusher.

10.  Ronney Jenkins (1996-1998) – It’s hard to say if Jenkins would be sitting at the top of this list had he not had honor code issues twice but he would be very close.  In the two years he managed to stay in school, Ronney ran for more than 2,000 yards and 24 rushing touchdowns.  What’s even more impressive is that Jenkins spent only one of those seasons as a starter.

9.  John Ogden (1964-1966) – In each of his three seasons as a Cougar, Ogden led the Western Athletic Conference in rushing. He finished his career with almost 2,400 rushing yards to his credit.

8.  Eldon Fortie (1960-1962) – Fortie wasn’t a running back but did lead the Cougars in rushing twice as the starting quarterback.  In his senior year, Eldon rushed for an astounding 1,149 yards and was an All-American.  He still holds the BYU single game rushing record witch he set with 272 yards against George Washington.

7.  Lakei Heimuli (1983-1986) – when Heimuli’s eligibility was over, he left BYU as the Cougars all-time leading rusher.  Heimuli was a two time all WAC selection at running back and helped lead the Cougars to their only National Championship.  During his four years at BYU,  Heimuli rushed for 30 touchdowns.

6.  Jeff Blanc (1973-1976) – Blanc spent three of his four years in Provo as the Cougars starting running back and made the most of his opportunity.  Blanc left BYU as its all-time leader in carries, rushing, scoring and touchdowns (All of those records have since been broken).

5. Jamal Willis (1991-1994) – while Willis was only the featured back two of his four years in Provo he still put up a very impressive résumé.  He finished his career with 35 rushing touchdowns and almost 3,000 yards on the ground leaving BYU with his name atop both lists.

4.  Curtis Brown (2002-2006) – Brown led BYU in rushing in each of his last three seasons in Provo, topping the 1,000 yard mark as a junior and senior.  He was named first team all-MWC in each of those 1,000 yard seasons.  Brown helped lead the Cougar to an 11 and two record and a 16 ranking in the final AP poll his senior year.  Brown finished his career with more than 3,200 yards on the ground and 31 rushing touchdowns.

3.  Peter Van Valkenburg (1969-1972) – “Fleet Pete” was the leading rusher for BYU in each of his last three seasons.  His breakout year however came as a senior under new coach LaVell Edwards when Van Valkenburg gained 1,386 yards on the ground to win the NCAA rushing title.

2.  Harvey Unga (2006-2010) – the choice between number one and two on this list was very difficult.  If you look strictly at yards Unga would be number one.  He is current  BYU all-time leading rusher with more than 3,400 yards on five yard a carry.  Unga also rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his three seasons in Provo to go along with 36 touchdowns on the ground.

1.  Luke Staley (1999-2001) – Staley lands atop the list of great BYU running backs for one reason, an award winning junior season.  Staley scored 17 rushing touchdowns between his freshman and sophomore years but went crazy as a junior.  He was second in the NCAA in rushing yards and yards per carry and was first in rushing touchdowns.  For his efforts, Staley won the Doak Walker award as the nation’s most outstanding running back and was a Consensus first team All-American.  Staley still ranks first all-time in yards per carry in the MWC and second in rushing touchdowns.

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