Ranking the best running backs in BYU history

While the BYU signal callers get most of the love in national circles, BYU has had more than its fair share of impressive running backs. Some where great rushers or pass catchers while others were great blockers who had a nose for the end zone. The best of the best could do it all and helped make the Cougars successful.

Here is my list of the best Cougar running backs in school history.

Stats and national rankings from Sports-reference.com. All-conference and All-American information from BYUCougars.com.

H.M. Scott Pettis (1979-1982)

After starting his career as a walk-on, Pettis made a huge impact on some very good BYU teams. His best season came as a junior in 1981 when he ran for 499 yards and five touchdowns on 94 carries while adding 48 receptions for 490 yards and four more scores.

For his BYU career, he had 149 carries for 899 yards and 10 touchdowns to go along with 86 catches for 807 yards and five more scores.

H.M. Mark Atuaia (1991, 1994-96)

While he was never the biggest weapon on the team, Atuaia was always a huge part of the Cougars offensive success. His most productive season came as a senior in 1996 when he rushed for 365 yards and four touchdowns, He also added 28 catches for 304 yards and two more scores.

For his BYU career, he carried the ball 301 times for 1,247 yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with 68 receptions for 668 yards and four scores.

H.M. Marcus Whalen (2000-03)

While he didn’t make a huge statistical impact during all his years at BYU, Whalen had one very productive year. That came as a sophomore in 2002 when he led the Cougars with 918 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He also managed 27 receptions for 203 yards. His 1,121 yards from scrimmage were good enough for sixth place in the MWC that season.

For his BYU career, he carried the ball 264 times for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns to go along with 36 catches for 264 yards.

H.M. Kip Jackson (1968-1970)

Like Whalen, Jackson only had one really big year for the Cougars, but it was good enough to deserve a mention. His best season came as a junior in 1969 when he led the Cougars with 791 rushing yards on 209 carries and scored two touchdowns. He added 25 catches for 261 yards and two more scores.

For his BYU career, he had 312 carries for 1,180 yards and seven touchdowns to go along with 42 receptions for 408 yards and three scores.

H.M. Kelly Smith (1980, 1983-85)

While he spent his time at BYU playing all over the field, he did enough during his time as a running back to deserve recognition. His best season came as a junior in 1984 when he averaged 6.9 yards per carry on his way to 347 yards and six touchdowns. He also caught 46 passes for 598 yards and six more scores. His 12 touchdowns were good enough for third in the WAC.

For his BYU career, he rushed for 408 yards and six touchdowns to go along with 95 receptions for 1,128 yards and eight scores.

H.M. Eddie Stinnett (1982-83)

While he never got to carry the load for the BYU ground game during his two seasons, he sure knew what to do when he got the ball. His most productive season came as a senior in 1983 when he averaged 8.6 yards per carry on his way to 475 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He was also a huge threat in the passing game with 50 receptions for 458 yards and another score.

For his BYU career, he carried the ball 101 times for 742 yards and nine touchdowns to go along with 64 catches for 585 yards and two more scores.

H.M. Kalin Hall (1992-93)

Splitting time with one of the best backs in school history limited Hall’s production, but he still made a huge impression during his two seasons in Provo. As a junior in 1993, he rushed for 742 yards and four touchdowns. A year later he finished sixth in the WAC with nine rushing scores.

For his BYU career, he carried the ball 251 times for 1,309 yards and 13 touchdowns to go along with 31 receptions for 338  yards and two scores.

25. Waymon Hamilton (1980-1983)

While the Cougars had plenty of options during his time at BYU, Hamilton was the one who found the end zone the most. His best season came as a sophomore in 1981 when Led the WAC in touchdowns and rushing touchdowns. That season he carried the ball 96 times for 394 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with 32 receptions for 387 yards and two more scores.

For his BYU career, he had 218 carries for 1,064 yards and 29 touchdowns. He added 70 receptions for 819 yards and three scores.

24. J.J. Di Luigi (2007-2011)

While the production never really matched the hype he received coming out of high school, Di Luigi was a very good back for the Cougars. His best season came as a junior in 2010 when he earned second-team all-MWC. That season, he rushed for 917 yards and eight touchdowns while catches 45 passes for 443 yards and another score.

For his BYU career, he carried the ball 352 times for 1,797 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with 96 catches for 990 yards and five more scores.

23. Manase Tonga (2005-07, 2009)

Tonga never put up huge stats, but he made a big difference for the Cougars in all aspects of the game. He was a great blocker who could make plays in the running and passing game. His most productive season came as a junior in 2007 when he carried the ball 88 times for 305 yards and eight touchdowns while chipping in with 27 receptions for 248 yards.

For his BYU career, he had 178 carries for 678 yards and 16 touchdowns to go along with 85 receptions for 799 yards and six more scores.

22. Scott Phillips (1977-1980)

While he never had a monster year in the ground game, Phillips made nice contributions every season he was on the field for the Cougars. His most productive year came as a senior in 1980 when he carried the ball 50 times for 330 yards while making 60 catches for 689 yards and seven touchdowns.

For his BYU career, he had 212 carries for 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns to go along with 131 receptions for 1,551 yards and 11 scores.

21. Fred Whittingham (1984, 1987-89)

Whittingham was another back who could get it done on the ground and as a receiver. His most productive season came as a senior in 1989 when he carried the ball 109 times for 582 yards and eight touchdowns. He also chipped in with 34 catches for 465 yards and three more scores.

For his BYU career, he had 351 carries for 1,580 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with 97 receptions for 1,015 yards and five scores.

20. Hema Heimuli (1991-95)

While he was on the roster with Kalin Hall and Jamal Willis, Heimuli still provided the Cougars with two big seasons. His most productive year came as a junior in 1994 when he had 126 carries for 552 yards and four touchdowns. He added 40 receptions for 456 yards and six more scores.

For his BYU career, he carried the ball 329 times for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with 115 catches for 1,272 yards and 10 scores.

19. Peter Tuipulotu (1987-1991)

While the Cougars had plenty of talented backs on the roster during his time at BYU, Tuipulotu led the rushing attack for two straight seasons. He had a very good season in 1990 when he finished fifth in the nation with 6.5 yards per carry. That year, he also finished third in the WAC with nine rushing touchdowns. A year later, he had 125 carries for  619 yards and six touchdowns to go along with 41 receptions for 587 yards and two more scores.

For his BYU career, he carried the ball 277 times for 1,528 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also added 82 catches for 965 yards and five scores.

18. Todd Christensen (1974-77)

While he never got full-time touches in the running game, Christensen was fantastic catching the ball out of the backfield. One of his most productive seasons came as a senior in 1977 when he earned first-team All-WAC. That year, he had 79 carries for 290 yards and three touchdowns while making 50 receptions for 603 yards and five more scores.

For his BYU career, he carried the ball 276 times for 1,072 yards and eight touchdowns to go along with 158 catches for 1,619 yards and 13 scores.

17. Homer Jones (1979-1980)

Even though his raw numbers look like much, Jones did some impressive things during his two years with the Cougars. His best season came as a junior in 1979 when he finished seventh in the nation with 7.3 yards per carry and led the WAC in receptions. That season, he carried the ball 75 times for 546 yards and seven touchdowns while catching 46 passes for 404 yards and four more scores to earn first-team all-WAC.

For his BYU career, he had 107 carries for 709 yards and nine touchdowns to go along with 78 receptions for 795 yards and six scores.

16. Eric Lane (1979-1980)

Like Jones, Lane spent two seasons with the Cougars and was a huge piece to some very good teams. He led the WAC in rushing touchdowns during both his seasons and finished eighth in the nation in touchdowns from scrimmage in 1980. His most productive season came as a junior in 1979 when he had 94 carries for 595 yards and 12 touchdowns while recording 39 receptions for 477 yards and another score.

For his BYU career, he carried the ball 190 times for 1,062 yards and 22 touchdowns to go along with 82 catches for 904 yards and five scores.

15. Brian McKenzie (1996-97)

While McKenzie only spent two seasons on the field in Provo, both of them were memorable. He led the team in rushing and had at least 11 touchdowns each season. His most productive season came as a senior in 1997 when he 218 carries for 1,004 yards and 12 touchdowns. He added 15 receptions for 123 yards.

For his BYU career, he carried the ball 385 times for 1,954 yards and 23 touchdowns to go along with 23 catches for 212 yards.

14. Naufahu Tahi (1999, 2002-05)

While his overall numbers don’t compare to some of the players already on the list, the reason why he is this high is because he was also an incredibly gifted blocker. His best season came as a senior in 2005 when he had 97 carries for 497 yards and six touchdowns. He also manged 41 catches for 375 yards and another score.

For his BYU career, he carried the ball 326 times for 1,358 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with 81 receptions for 730 yards and five scores.

13. Weldon Jackson (1956-58)

While his numbers aren’t massive, what Jackson did in the context of when he played was enough to prove that he was a great back at BYU. His best season came as a senior in 1958 when he finished third in the nation with 6.9 yards per carry and seventh in rushing yards. That year, he carried the ball 101 times for 698 yards and six touchdowns.

For his BYU career, he had 292 carries for 1,449 yards and nine touchdowns to go along with 14 receptions for 81 yards.

12. Jamaal Williams (2012-current)

While he has already done some really nice things during his time at BYU, Williams will vault up this list if he has a good senior year. His most productive season to this point came as a sophomore in 2013 when he carried the ball 217 times for 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns. He also totaled 18 receptions for 125 yards.

To this point in his BYU career, he has 492 carries for 2,526 yards and 23 touchdowns to go along with 53 catches for 487 yards and another score.

11. Casey Tiumalu (1982-83)

Tiumalu might not be the most recognizable name to BYU fans, but he was a great back during his two seasons. His most productive season came as a senior in 1983 when he finished eighth in the nation in yards some scrimmage with 1,434 and was named first-team all-WAC. That year, carried the ball 139 times for 851 yards and three touchdowns as well as catching 60 passes for 583 yards and three more scores.

For his BYU career, he had 249 carries for 1,516 yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with 80 receptions for 766 yards and five scores.

10. Ronney Jenkins (1996-98)

Even though Jenkins played just two seasons before he left, he is one of the best backs the Cougars have ever seen. His best season came as a junior when he led the WAC in rushing yards as well as yards from and touchdowns from scrimmage. That year, he carried the ball 252 times for 1,307 yards and 13 touchdowns while adding 34 receptions for 349 yards and two more scores.

For his BYU career, he had 380 carries for 2040 yards and 24 touchdowns to go along with 48 receptions for 538 yards and five scores.

9. Matt Bellini (1986-1990)

While he wasn’t used as a traditional running back, but Bellini made some huge contributions coming out of the backfield as a Cougar. He finish on the all-WAC first or second-team his last three years on campus and earned honorable mention All-American honors multiple seasons. His most productive season came as a sophomore in 1988 when he carried the ball 98 times for 488 yards and seven touchdowns as well as catching 51 passes for 786 yards and four more scores.

For his BYU career, he had 214 carries for 931 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with a then BYU record 204 receptions for 2,635 yards and 15 scores.

8. John Ogden (1964-66)

Ogden did some amazing things during his three seasons on the field at BYU. He led the WAC in rushing yards for three consecutive seasons and earned first-team all-WAC during his junior and senior seasons. His most productive year came as a senior in 1966 when he carried the ball 204 times for 906 yards and four touchdowns.

For his BYU career, he had 535 carries for 2,376 yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with two receptions for 30 yards and a score.

7. Jeff Blanc (1973-76)

Blanc was the first great dual-threat back the Cougars had. He earned first-team all-WAC in his last two seasons and finished as the BYU career leader in rushing yards and touchdowns. His most productive season came as a sophomore in 1974 when he carried the ball 199 times for 784 yards and six touchdowns while catching 32 passes for 442 yards and four more scores.

For his BYU career, he had 625 carries for 2,718 yards and 21 touchdowns to go along with 74 receptions for 886 yards and eight scores.

6. Lakei Heimuli (1983-86)

Another one of the impressive dual-threat backs, Heimuli was first-team all-WAC in his last two seasons and left BYU as one of the leading rushers in school history. His most productive season came as a junior in 1985 when he finished sixth in the nation in rushing touchdowns and ninth in receptions. That year, he carried the ball 188 times for 857 yards and 14 touchdowns while catching 66 passes for 459 yards.

For his BYU career, he had 605 carries for 2,710 yards and 30 touchdowns to go along with 139 receptions for 1,123 yards and two scores.

5. Pete Van Valkenburg (1969-1972)

After two solid years, Van Valkenburg gave BYU one of the special seasons by a back in school history as a senior in 1972. That year, he led the nation in rushing with 1,386 yards to go along with 12 touchdowns even though he wasn’t even in the top 10 in carries. He also finished second in yards from scrimmage to earn first-team all-WAC and AP third-team All-American.

For his BYU career, he carried the ball 456 times for 2,392 yards and 24 touchdowns to go along with 25 catches for 280 yards and two scores.

4. Jamal Willis (1991-94)

Willis had two great years during his time as a Cougar. He was the first BYU back to cross the 1,000-yard plateau on two occasions and finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns. His best season came as a senior in 1994 when he earned first-team all-WAC and finished top 10 in the nation in yards and touchdowns from scrimmage. That year, he carried the ball 204 times for 1042 yards and 12 touchdowns as well as catching 33 passes for 525 yards and two more scores.

For his BYU career, he had 594 carries for 2,970 yards and 35 touchdowns to go along with 77 catches for 1,095 yards and five scores.

3. Curtis Brown (2002-06)

Brown was a do everything back during his time in Provo. He was the first player to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and earned first-team all-MWC twice. His most productive season came a s a junior in 2005 when he rushed for 1,123 yards and 14 touchdowns while catching 53 passes for 454 yards and two more scores.

He finished his BYU career, with 641 carries for 3,221 yards and 31 touchdowns to go along with 157 catches for 1,309 yards and five scores.

2. Harvey Unga (2006-2009)

When Unga was on the field, he was one of the most dominant backs BYU fans have ever seen. During his time as a Cougar, he won MWC freshman of the year, was second-team all-MWC as a sophomore and first-team all-MWC as a junior. His most productive statistical season came as a freshman in 2007 when he carried the ball 244 times for 1,227 yards and 13 touchdowns while catching 44 passes for 655 yards and four more scores.

For his BYU career, he carried the ball 696 times for a school record 3,455 yards and 36 touchdowns to go along with 102 catches for 1,085 yards and nine scores.

1. Luke Staley (1999-2001)

Staley did three things at BYU that set him apart from all other running backs. He won the MWC offensive player of the year award, was a consensus first-team All-American and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s most outstanding running back. All of those honors came as a junior in 2001 when he lead the nation in rushing touchdowns (24) and touchdowns from scrimmage (28). He also finished second nationally in rushing yards (1,596), yards per carry (8.1) and yards from scrimmage (1,930).

For his BYU career, he had 418 carries for 2,507 yards and 41 touchdowns to go along with 86 catches for 1,000 yards and seven scores. His 48 touchdowns are still a school record.

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