College football is just around the corner and the BYU Cougars should have an excellent running game once again. After a solid freshman campaign, Jamaal Williams took a huge step forward and was able to put up one of the best statistical seasons by a running back that the Cougars have ever had. With more expected from the junior phenom in 2014, it is the perfect time to recognize the best seasons by a back before he takes another shot at them.
When doing these rankings, what each player did on the field in the running and passing game as well as what he meant to the offense, in general, was factored in.
Here is a look at the 25 best seasons by a running back ever at BYU
All stats and award information from BYUCougars.com.
25. Lakei Heimuli, 1984
In his first of three special seasons in the BYU backfield, Heimuli averaged five yards a carry on his way to a team-leading 796 yards and nine scores on the ground. He was also a major weapon through the air with 31 receptions for 242 yards and another touchdown as the Cougars ran the table to earn their only National Championship. His best game of the season came in a 48-0 win over New Mexico when he rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
24. Jamal Willis, 1992
Even though the Cougars struggled to keep a quarterback healthy in ’92, they still had a very successful season behind a very effective rushing attack. Willis led the ground game when he became the first BYU back to go over 1,000 yards rushing since Pete Van Valkenburg did it in 1972. He finished with 1,004 yards and 11 touchdowns on 204 carries to go along with 16 catches for 156 yards. His best game of the year came in a 35-0 win over New Mexico when he carried the ball 16 times for 149 yards and three touchdowns.
23. Harvey Unga, 2009
It wasn’t the most productive season for Unga, but it was still good enough to land on this list. In his third season as the starting running back for BYU, he went over the thousand-yard mark on the ground for the third consecutive season with 1,087 yards on 208 carries and 11 touchdowns. he also added 16 receptions for 121 yards and another score in his final season on the field for the Cougars. His best game of the season came in a win over UNLV when he rushed for 149 yards and three scores.
22. Marcus Whalen, 2002
Whalen only started one full season at BYU and he put up some impressive numbers in the process. He carried the ball 181 times for a team-leading 918 yards and six touchdowns. He also added 27 receptions for 203 yards for the 5-7 Cougars. His best game of the season came in a 35-32 win over Hawaii when he rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns to go along with three catches for 32 yards.
21. Brian McKenzie, 1997
With the loss of Ronney Jenkins, McKenzie was the only real threat that BYU had on the ground in ’97 and he produced in a big way. McKenzie tallied 1,004 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 15 grabs for 123 yards for the 6-5 Cougars. His best game of the season came in a 49-39 win over Tulsa when he carried the ball 23 times for 187 yards and two touchdowns.
20. J.J. Di Luigi, 2010
Di Luigi never quite reached the heights that were anticipated when he came to Provo, Utah out of high school, but he still did some pretty impressive things when he had the ball. His best year by far with the Cougars came in ’10 when he led the team in rushing yards (917 on 178 carries), touchdowns (9) and receptions (45 for 443 yards). His best game of the season came in a 24-21 win over San Diego State that helped to right the ship for the Cougars. That day, he carried the ball 22 times for 134 yards and a touchdown while adding three receptions for 23 yards.
19. Kip Jackson, 1969
Jackson was most of the offense for the 6-4 Cougars in ’69. In fact, his combined 1,052 yards were good for more than 40 percent of the BYU offense. He led the team with 791 yards and two touchdowns on 209 carries. He also finished with a team-high 25 receptions for 261 yards and another two scores.
18. Matt Bellini, 1988
Even though Bellini finished second on the team in rushing behind Fred Whittingham, his ’88 season makes the list because he was the ultimate dual-threat. He ended the season with 488 yards and seven touchdowns on 98 carries to go along with 51 receptions for 786 yards and four more scores. Those numbers were good enough to earn second-team all-WAC honors. His most impressive game of the season came in a 31-18 win over TCU when he made nine catches for 202 yards and a touchdown to go along with another score on the ground.
17. Peter Tuipulotu, 1991
Like Bellini, Tuipulotu was a great asset as both a running back and a receiver out of the backfield. The ’91 season was his best as a Cougar. That season, he led the team with 619 yards and six touchdowns on 125 carries on the ground. He also finished second on the team with 41 receptions for 587 yards and another two scores to earn second-team all-WAC honors.
16. Harvey Unga, 2008
The 2008 season was a great one for the BYU offense. Max Hall had two dominant weapons to throw the ball to in Austin Collie and Dennis Pitta while Unga handled most of the work on the ground. Unga carried the ball 240 times for 1,132 yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with 42 receptions for 309 yards and four more scores to earn second-team all-MWC honors. One of his best games of the season came in a 48-24 loss to Utah when he carried the ball 15 times for 116 yards (7.7-yard average) and two touchdowns.
15. Jeff Blanc, 1974
Blanc had an impressive campaign in ’74 as a sophomore. He led the team in rushing with 784 yards and six touchdowns on 199 carries. He also had a major impact on the passing games with 32 receptions for 442 yards and four more scores. One of his best games of the year came in a 15-13 loss during the first game when he totaled 165 yards on the ground.
14. John Ogden, 1966
While Virgil Carter and Phil Odle led the Cougars through the air, Ogden led the offense on the ground. Ogden earned all-conference first-team in the WAC for the second straight season after he carried the ball 204 times for a conference-leading 906 yards and four scores. He also made one catch for six yards and another score during the 8-2 season. His best game of the year came in a 38-0 win over Pacific when he rushed for 204 yards.
13. Lakei Heimuli, 1985
As good as he was in 1984, Heimuli was even better in ’85. He led the Cougars in rushing for the second consecutive season with 857 yards on 188 carries and 14 touchdowns. He also made a big jump in the passing game and came away with a team-leading 66 catches for 459 yards to earn first-team all-WAC honors. His biggest rushing game of the season came in a 38-28 win over the University of Utah when he accounted for 164 yards.
12. Jeff Blanc, 1975
Blanc earned first-team all-WAC honors after he carried the ball 216 times for 984 yards and nine touchdowns. He also added a pair of touchdowns and 158 yards on 15 receptions for the 6-5 Cougars. His best game of the season came in a 33-20 win at Wyoming when he carried the ball 36 times for 215 yards and three scores.
11. Lakei Heimuli, 1986
After impressive seasons in 1984 and ’85, Heimuli saved his best for last for the ’86 season. He led the team in rushing for the third straight season with a career-high 966 yards and seven touchdowns on 230 carries. He also had another big year in the passing game with 41 receptions for 407 yards and another score. One of his most dominant performances of the season came in a 35-21 win over Utah when he carried the ball 33 times for 171 yards and two touchdowns to go along with four catches for 44 yards.
10. Jamaal Williams, 2013
Even though Williams didn’t find the end zone as much as he did as a freshman, he did show that he could put up huge numbers in the running game. For the season, he finished second on the team with 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns on 217 carries ever though he missed a game because of an injury. He also added 18 catches for 125 yards. One of his best games of the season came in a 28-23 win over Nevada when he carried the ball 15 times for 219 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown run.
9. Curtis Brown, 2006
Brown led the Cougars in rushing for the consecutive season and cracked the thousand yard barrier for the second year in a row as BYU finished the season with an 11-2 record and a Mountain West Conference championship. He finished the season with 1,010 yards and seven touchdowns on 201 carries to go along with a team-high 62 receptions for 566 yards and three more scores. His best game of the season came in a 38-8 win over Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl when he carried the ball 17 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns to go along with seven catches for 55 yards.
8. Weldon Jackson, 1958
Jackson led the Skyline conference in rushing and finished seventh in the entire country, according to Sports-reference.com. That is quite a feat considering he didn’t even have the most carries on his own team (that distinction went to Nyle McFarlane with 129). Jackson finished the ’58 season with 698 yards and six touchdowns on 101 carries for the 6-4 Cougars. His 6.9 yards-per-carry was good enough for third highest in the nation.
7. Ronney Jenkins, 1998
Jenkins was a welcomed addition back to the Cougars in ’98 after a year away and proved how valuable he was on the field. He finished the season as the leading rusher with 1,307 yards and 13 touchdowns on 252 carries. He also added 34 receptions for 349 yards and two more scores to earn second-team all-WAC Pacific Division. His best game of the season came in a 46-43 win over San Jose State when he registered 31 carries for 250 yards and four touchdowns.
6. Casey Tiumalu, 1983
Tiumalu was one of the best players on a dominant BYU that finished the season with an 11-1 record. He finished the season with a team-high 851 yards and six touchdowns on 139 carries (6.1 yards per carry). He was also the team leader with 60 receptions that went for 583 yards and three more scores. One of his best games of the season came in a 37-35 win over UCLA when he rushed for 137 yards.
5. Jamal Willis, 1994
Willis finished his time at BYU as the Cougars’ all-time leading rusher after a monster senior season that earned him first-team all-WAC honors. He led BYU in rushing for the second time in three seasons with 1,042 yards and 12 touchdowns on 204 carries. What set the ’94 season apart, however, was his ability to catch the ball when he registered 33 receptions for 525 yards (second on the team) and two more scores. His best game of the season came in a 49-47 win over New Mexico when he carried the ball 29 times for 204 yards and two touchdowns.
4. Curtis Brown, 2005
Although the Cougars struggled to a 6-6 record, Brown turned in one of the best seasons a running back has ever had at BYU. He finished with a team-high 1,123 yards and 14 touchdowns on 210 carries. He also added 53 receptions (second on the team) for 454 yards and two more scores to earn first-team all-MWC recognition. His best game of the season came in a 62-41 win over Air Force when he registered 25 carries for 219 yards and four touchdowns as well as four catches for 22 yards.
3. Harvey Unga, 2007
Unga had big shoes to fill with the departure of all-time leading rusher Curtis Brown and that is exactly what he did. After red-shirting in 2006, Unga stepped right in and showed there would be no drop off at the running back position. He surpassed any single-season rushing total that Brown put up with 1,227 yards and 13 touchdowns on 244 carries. He was also a star catching the ball out of the backfield with 44 receptions for 655 yards and four more scores. His best game of the season came in a 48-27 win over San Diego State when he totaled 23 carries for 161 yards and three touchdowns to go along with three catches for 29 yards and another score.
2. Pete Van Valkenburg, 1972
Van Valkenburg wasn’t much of a threat catching passes out of the backfield, but his ’72 rushing total lasted at BYU for nearly three decades. That year, he led the nation in rushing yards with 1,386 on 232 carries. He also added 12 touchdowns on the ground to go along 10 catches for 98 yards and another score to earn first-team all-WAC and third-team All-America by the Associated Press, according to BYUCougars.com. His best game of the season came in a 38-27 win over Long Beach State when he carried the ball 19 times for 247 yards and three touchdowns.
1. Luke Staley, 2001
Even though Staley missed three games in ’01, he still managed to do what no other BYU running back ever has, win the Doak Walker Award as the best running back in the nation. That year, he finished second in the nation with 1,582 yards on 196 carries (8.1 yards a carry). To go along with his massive yardage total on the ground, Staley led the nation in rushing touchdowns (24) and total touchdowns (28). He also tallied 32 catches for 334 yards and four scores. His most impressive two games of the season came against Utah State and Colorado State. In a 54-34 win over the Aggies, he carried the ball 23 times for 207 yards for four touchdowns as well as registering four catches for 44 yards and another score. In a 56-34 win over the Rams, he totaled 196 yards and five touchdowns 22 carries to go along with three receptions for 28 yards.