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 2: The Tight Ends
Note: the tight ends are ranked only by their abilities in the receiving game. It has nothing to do with their abilities as blockers. There stats also include bowl games.
Coming up with a list of 15 guys wasn’t all that difficult because there is a large separation between the okay tight ends and the great ones at BYU. Ranking them however was a different story entirely. Before I begin the list I need to mention Mike Pistorius. He was BYU’s first real weapon at tight end catching passes. In his short stint in Provo, Mike caught 53 passes for almost 800 yards more than 40 years ago.
15. Daniel Coats- Coats had a promising freshman year (30 catches for 378 yards and 4 touchdowns), which most Cougar fans thought would lead to a remarkable career. Although Coats ended up in the NFL it wasn’t because of his ability to catch passes. His freshman year was his best by far as he only managed to catch 56 passes for just under 600 yards and 5 touchdowns his last three years in Provo.
14. Doug Jolley- Jolley didn’t see much action until his senior season but when he got on the field he made the most of his chances. As a senior, Doug caught 32 passes for 492 yards and 7 touchdowns finishing top 10 in the MWC in catches, yards per catch and touchdowns.
13. Andrew George- I still remember George busting down the seam and catching the game winning touchdown pass in overtime to beat archrival Utah back in 2009. I’m sure that was one of his best days on the football field as a Cougar but not the only thing he accomplished during his time at BYU. During the 3 seasons George got on the field he caught 70 passes for 827 yards and 11 touchdowns.
12. Chad Lewis- although never spectacular Lewis was very consistent during his time at the Y. He never caught over 37 balls in a season but still finished his career with 111 catches for almost 1400 yards and 10 touchdowns.
11. Byron Rex- Rex only got significant time as a junior and senior. As a senior he was 7th in the WAC in receptions and receiving yards while finishing 6th in receiving touchdowns. For his career, Byron caught 87 passes for more than 1200 yards and 7 scores.
10. Darren Handley- Handley saw action in 3 seasons as a Cougar having his best season as a junior. He led BYU in receptions and yards to go along with 3 touchdowns. Darren finished his BYU career with 97 catches for 1244 yards and 5 scores.
9. Itula Mili- Mili came to BYU as a wide receiver but left as one of the top 10 tight ends of all-time. In his 4 year career, Itula caught 125 passes for over 1700 yards and 11 touchdowns.
8. Trevor Molini- Molini’s best year came in 1985 when he was 3rd on the team in receptions with 66 and 2nd on the team in receiving yards with 869. Both numbers also landed him 5th on the WAC charts that year. For his time in Provo, Trevor caught more than 100 balls for almost 1400 yards and 5 touchdowns.
7. Tod Thompson- Thompson had 2 seasons as a starter in Provo but he made the most of both of them. As a favorite target of Nielson, Wilson and McMahon Tod caught 71 passes for 1162 yards and 13 touchdowns. As a senior Thompson was top 5 in the WAC in receiving yards, yards per reception and receiving touchdowns.
6. David Mills- Mills saw very little action on the field until his senior year where he helped lead the Cougars to their only football national title. During the 84 season David caught 71 passes for 1126 yards and 7 touchdowns. Those numbers placed him 3rd in the nation in yards receiving and 4th in receptions. He was named to the Athlon Magazine All-American 1st team for his efforts.
The decision between 4 and 5 was excruciatingly tough for me. It pitted the tight ends with 2 of the most impactful BYU touchdown catches of all-time. In the end the Miracle Bowl catch won out.
5. Jonny Harline- Harline only spent 3 seasons as a Cougar but managed to forge a legacy that will last a lifetime in the eyes of Cougar (and Ute) fans everywhere. In the last regular season game of his career Jonny caught 7 passes for 118 yards and 3 touchdowns. The last touchdown was an 11 yard pass from John Beck with no time left, as BYU shocked Utah on the Utes home field. As a senior Jonny finished first in the MWC in touchdown catches and receiving yards. If that weren’t enough, Harline was name 1st team All-American by 5 different publications. He finished his BYU career with121 receptions for almost 1800 yards and 17 touchdowns.
4. Clay Brown- for any Cougar fan Clay Brown’s senior season was unforgettable, especially his last play. After coming back from a 20 point deficit with 4 minutes to go in the 1980 holiday, BYU was down to its final play when Brown came down with a miraculous 41 yard touchdown catch with no time remaining to beat SMU. If that’s all you remember from his outstanding career let me refresh your memory. As a senior, Clay led the nation with 15 touchdown catches (which is still a BYU record), and was 3rd nationally in receiving yards.
3. Chris Smith- Smith had 2 seasons of over 1100 yards receiving and was consensus All-American in 1990 as one of Ty Detmer’s main targets. Chris finished his wonderful career with 11 100 yard games and over 2400 receiving to go along with 8 touchdowns.
2. Dennis Pitta- Pitta is BYU’s all-time leader in receptions and in 3rd all-time in receiving yards regardless of position. Dennis was top 5 in the MWC in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in each of his last 3 seasons on campus. As a senior, Pitta was consensus All-American for his efforts.
1. Gordon Hudson- Hudson was a 2 time consensus All-American who ended his career as the NCAA’s all-time leader in receiving yards by a tight end with 2484. Gordon managed to break the record even though he missed the last 4 games of his senior year with injury. Hudson is also BYU’s touchdown leader by tight ends with 22.