Dick Harmon: Kariya exemplifies spirit of student athlete label

Published: Friday, Nov. 18 2011 8:00 p.m. MST

Brigham Young Cougars running back Bryan Kariya (33) runs with the ball during the first quarter of a football game against San Jose State at the Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011. BYU won 29-16.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

PROVO — Bryan Kariya will walk up to university president Cecil O. Samuelson during the traditional team blanket ceremony honoring seniors at BYU's final home game today and he'll take the fancy cloth and move on with class.

It will be the walk of a respected captain.

Kariya's story is representative of many of BYU's senior class, 19 guys who have made big impacts off and on the field. If you find a guy who doesn't like Kariya, he must hate mothers, apple pie and Christmas.

Kariya's biggest career moments came in BYU's win over Oklahoma in 2009 when Harvey Unga couldn't play. He's a very strong, spirited running back, a local guy whom former offensive coordinator Robert Anae once called the "heart and soul" of BYU's offense.

Thing is, while Kariya has inspired his teammates with his work ethic, his quiet leadership and example in practice, it is his academic prowess, the actual accomplishments as a student athlete, where he's knocked it out of the park.

Last year Kariya was the only running back from a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school to earn Academic All-America recognition. It is expected he'll earn that honor for the second time in days to come and he could make the elite national honor team when it is announced on Dec. 8.

His father is Japanese but lived his entire life in the United States. Kariya speaks a little Japanese, which he took classes in during high school, but he chose another Asian language to master.

Kariya speaks Mandarin Chinese and has been tested by the Chinese government to certify that he can speak and read that difficult language at a ranked level, a useful tool if he is to ever fill a dream to work in China someday.

"I didn't want to put that language in the closet and never speak it again after my mission," said Kariya, who made Chinese his major. "It was awesome to speak in another language and I loved it. The way the world is changing, I thought it would benefit me in the future. Perhaps my wife and I will go to China someday and teach English, or I might do dentistry in China. It might be that I simply run into somebody and need to speak their language."

Kariya graduated from BYU this past August. He's been hanging around classrooms just for fun, taking classes that will help him with his chosen profession, dentistry. He took the Dental Admission Test (DAT) and passed it with a score of 20, good enough to be in the 80th percentile.

He finished interviewing for dental school admissions last month and has applications at Oklahoma, Louisville, San Francisco State University, Iowa, UNLV and Virginia Commonwealth. The day before BYU leaves for the Hawaii game, he'll find out which ones accepted him.

Dental school will cost about $300,000. I asked him who's going to foot that bill. "I don't know. It will either be either me or the government, through the military. It is very costly."

He will find a way, however.

Kariya said the old Asian stereotype of hard work ethic that was drilled into him has helped him in football and his studies. It's an attitude where you work hard daylight to sundown.

"I've tried to apply it in my life and I've used it in my life to push through tough times. For me, I've seen my grandma and the way she worked in her life and I wanted that as a big part of my life, and I take great pride in working very hard."

Kariya's final football work in LaVell Edwards Stadium ends tonight in the Cougars' final home game.

In a big way, he epitomizes what it means to be a student athlete.

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