BYU’s legacy, where college football is concerned is with their quarterbacks. There have been countless All-Americans, Davey O’Brien and Sammy Baugh winners and even a Heisman Trophy winner. These are all great accomplishments for the school and their fantastic quarterbacks, but none of this would’ve happened without great wide receivers, tight ends and pass catching running backs. In this three part series, I look back and analyze the players at each of these positions to decide who the best of the best in Cougar history are.
PART 1: The Running Backs
Note: the running backs are ranked only by their abilities in the receiving game. It has nothing to do with what they did as rushers or pass blockers. There stats also include bowl games.
Coming up with a list of only 15 guys was very difficult because there have been so many great receivers out of the back field. In fact, I finished with a tie at the 15 spot so we actually have 16 guys. With that being said I thought I would quickly mention the guys who just missed the cut. Scott Pettis, Waymon Hamilton, Eddie Stinnett, J.J DiLuigi and Jeff Blanc were all effective dual threat backs at BYU and helped the Cougars win a ton of games.
15t. Peter Tuipulotu- Peter finished his Cougar career with 82 receptions and just under a 1000 yards receiving. His best year came as a senior when he caught 41 balls for 587 yards and 2 touchdowns.
15t. Casey Tiumalu- Casey played two seasons in Provo and was a big piece of two WAC championship teams. As a senior Tiumalu finished 4th in the WAC in receptions with 60 and almost 600 yards receiving.
14. Homer Jones- Jones shared the backfield in his two years with many great receiving backs but managed to make this list because of his remarkable junior season. In 1979 Jones led the WAC in receptions with 50, finished 4th in receiving touchdowns and was 9th in receiving yards. Not bad for a part timer.
13. Jamal Willis- Willis didn’t catch many passes out of the back field as an underclassman but as a senior caught 33 passes for 525 yards and 2 touchdowns. His yards per catch average of 15.9 placed him 10th in the conference. For his career Jamal caught 77 balls for 1095 yards and 5 touchdowns.
12. Fred Whittingham- Whittingham had 100 catches for over 1000 yards in his last 3 seasons at BYU. His best year came as a senior when he caught 38 passes for over 500 yards and 3 touchdowns.
11. Dustin Johnson- Johnson had two really good seasons in Provo. In those 2 years he caught 63 passes for 858 yards and 4 touchdowns.
10. Luke Staley- The best rusher in BYU history was also very effective catching passes. He had at least 26 catches every year he played at BYU finishing with 86 receptions, 1000 yards and 7 touchdowns in only 3 years.
9. Harvey Unga- in Unga’s three seasons as a Cougar he caught over 100 balls for almost 1100 yards and 9 touchdowns. His best season came as a redshirt freshman when he had 44 receptions for 655 yards and 4 touchdowns. He was top 10 in the MWC in 3 receiving categories that year.
8. Hema Heimuli- Hema played all four seasons at BYU and each year he improved his numbers as a receiver. As a freshman he only caught 11 passes for 134 but by the time he was a senior those numbers more than tripled as he caught 46 passes for 511 yards and 3 touchdowns. For his Career, Heimuli finished with 115 receptions for almost 1300 yards and 10 touchdowns.
7. Lakei Heimuli- the older Heimuli was an absolute beast in his 4 years in Provo, finishing his career with 153 catches for over 1200 yards. His best season came as a junior when he caught 76 balls which was good for 5th in the nation in receptions.
6. Curtis Brown- Brown didn’t catch too many passes out of the backfield until his junior year but that season he was one of John Beck’s favorite targets. The next year Curtis even led BYU in receptions. In his last 2 seasons he caught 115 passes for over 1000 yards and 5 touchdowns. When his career was all said and done he finished with 157 receptions for over 1300 yards.
Our next two backs played together in the same backfield for 2 seasons and both put up monster numbers.
5. Scott Phillips- Phillips played for BYU from 1977 to 1980 and finished his Cougar career with 133 receptions for almost 1600 yards. In 1979 he finished top 10 in the WAC in four receiving categories and in 1980 he led the WAC and was 6th nationally in receptions.
4. Eric Lane- Lane only spent 2 years in Cougar blue but both were very successful. Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon loved getting Lane the ball as he caught 91 passes for just shy of 1000 yards and 6 touchdowns in his 2 seasons. Eric finished top 10 in the WAC in receptions and receiving yards as a junior while landing in the top 10 in receptions and receiving touchdowns as a senior.
3. Todd Christensen- Christensen started all four seasons he spent in Provo and is one of the Cougars all-time greats. He led BYU in receiving 3 straight seasons and finished his career with 152 receptions for almost 1600 yards and 15 touchdowns.
2. Kelly Smith- in two seasons as a Cougar Kelly caught 105 passes for over 1200 yards and 9 touchdowns. Smith was a huge piece of BYU’s only national championship team finishing 3rd in the WAC in receptions with 56, 7th in receiving yards with 686, and 3rd in receiving touchdowns with 7. He could have fought for the top spot had he played more than 2 seasons in Provo.
1. Matt Bellini- Bellini never caught less than 50 passes in his 4 seasons as a Cougar, finishing his career as BYU’s all-time leader in receptions with 214 and is currently 3rd. He finished in the top 10 of the WAC in every major receiving category at least once including receptions every single year. Bellini’s 2700 plus receiving yards are still 6th on BYU’s all-time list. Not Bad for a running back who finished with almost 1000 yards rushing as well.