PROVO — Every time sophomore Kyle Van Noy slips his No. 3 jersey over his shoulder pads, he considers it a privilege.
It's symbolic of both his journey to BYU, and his journey at BYU.
The Cougar outside linebacker had worn No. 3 his entire football career, ever since Pop Warner ball. "That's my number," Van Noy said.
But that all changed when he arrived in Provo. If there's one thing that coach Bronco Mendenhall despises, it's a sense of entitlement. So instead of No. 3, Van Noy donned No. 45 last season as a freshman.
"I guess I worked hard for this number 3," said the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder from Reno, Nev. "That's a good thing we have here. You work hard for the number you have. I had to earn it. It's kind of an accomplishment for me because coach Mendenhall said, 'If you work hard and do the right things on and off the field, then it works out for you.' It means more than just a number to me. It means how I got here and what I've gone through. It's more than the number 3 to me."
Van Noy verbally committed to BYU and Mendenhall in 2008, but just days before national signing day in February, 2009, he was involved in a DUI incident that postponed his enrollment until January, 2010. During that year, he had to regain Mendenhall's trust.
Van Noy's first season at BYU featured some tough times — including a brief suspension during the spring of 2010 — as he's tried to adjust to the school, and to college football in general.
He's in a much better place now, both on and off the field.
"I'm going through a process of maturing and being humble and understanding the game more," Van Noy said. "It's more love for the players and building trust. It's great when you have the confidence of your teammates and the coaches are giving you confidence. When you want to be the best — which is what I want to be, the best — you go into the film room more to get that football IQ off the charts, at the college level and at the next level."
A week into fall camp, Mendenhall has had high praise for Van Noy. "The most impressed I've been with any player defensively in terms of conditioning and play-making so far is Kyle Van Noy," he said last week.
Outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga is amazed by the changes Van Noy has made.
"He's matured so much from this time last year until now. He's like a totally different kid," Poppinga said. "But he's got a ways to go in certain things. He has come a long way, though. The way that it's helped him play better on the field is by maturing off the field and now he's maturing on the field. He's taking care of things in the class room. He's a 3.0 student. It's all coming together for him, in all aspects of his life. If he continues to stay humble, and teachable and eager to learn, he's going to be one of the best ever. The potential for that guy is really the sky. He's played really well the first six days of practice. I've been very impressed with him."
Supremely gifted athletically, Van Noy relied heavily on that athleticism a year ago. Playing in every game, starting twice, he recorded 36 tackles and was third on the team with 7.5 tackles-for-loss, including a pair of sacks. Van Noy also had two forced fumbles, two quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery. That fumble recovery, at Colorado State, resulted in a touchdown as he picked up the ball and raced into the end zone.
"That was a good play," Van Noy recalled with a smile. "(Cornerback) Corby (Eason) had a big hit and I saw the ball and I scooped and scored, like in practice. We practice it all the time. When you do it in practice, it usually translates to the field."
Having played wide receiver in high school, Van Noy plays defense with an offensive mindset. He wants to create havoc for opposing offenses, and he wants to get into the end zone.
"I'm an offensive player on defense. I'd rather go for the ball than for the big hit because what matters the most is that we get stops and have the ball," he said. "Whether that's scoring touchdowns on defense, it makes a big difference. As a defensive player, the ball is just as much ours as it is theirs. That's how I look at it."
With a year of experience in the program, Van Noy is looking to make even more of an impact this season.
"Last year it was more of me thinking I was ready to play. In reality, I wasn't," he said. "I wasn't up to speed with everything. Everything was new to me. But I was never treated as a freshman. I was looked at differently because I had to learn both (outside linebacker positions). I felt like I could play. Getting experience helped me a lot to ease my way into that starting spot and then rotating both positions helped out a lot. I feel I can be more of a playmaker this year. I'm trying to play at a higher level."
And he'll be playing with a lower number — 3. It serves as a reminder of what he's been through. For Van Noy, wearing that jersey is simply a privilege.