I never thought about my size because I've always been such a fierce competitor. I didn't really care about the disadvantages, I just wanted to prove myself on the field. I just want to execute the best I know how and make it impossible for a coach not to play me. I wouldn't say it's been a downfall that I've been short; it's just something I've had to deal with. —JD Falslev
PROVO — Standing just 5-foot-8, junior wide receiver JD Falslev is the shortest player on BYU's roster.
But he can remember a time when — believe it or not — he was the biggest on his team. In seventh and eighth grade, Falslev had to lose 10 pounds because he was the biggest kid on his team. He was one of the tallest players on his team as a high school freshman.
"Then I showed up my sophomore year and I was the smallest one," Falslev said. "Growing up, I was always the tallest kid. My dad would always tell me, 'Be careful how you treat other people, because there will be day when they catch up.' And they caught up."
While Falslev stopped growing at a young age, he has managed to adapt. And, despite his small stature, he has made a big impact for the Cougars.
"I never thought about my size because I've always been such a fierce competitor," said the former walk-on who prepped at Sky View High School in Cache Valley. "I didn't really care about the disadvantages, I just wanted to prove myself on the field. I just want to execute the best I know how and make it impossible for a coach not to play me. I wouldn't say it's been a downfall that I've been short; it's just something I've had to deal with."
Falslev is one of quarterback Riley Nelson's favorite targets, though he is overshadowed by the Cougars' big and tall receivers like Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo, who stand 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-3, respectively. When Hoffman was asked Friday about wide receivers on the team that can dunk a basketball, he quipped, "JD, I don't know if he can touch the net."
Falslev, who weighs 184 pounds, may not be able to touch the net, but he can catch passes, run the ball, and return kicks.
"I think he can be effective out of the backfield, he can be effective out of the slot, he can be effective as a returner and he can be an effective a ball carrier, as long as he can hold up," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "We hope to wear him out."
Since last season, Falslev has forged a reputation for being a receiver Nelson looks to on third-down situations. In last Thursday's scrimmage, he caught a touchdown pass from Nelson on third-and-13.
"Though he isn't very big, he makes up for it because he always creates separation," Nelson said. "He's never got a guy right on his back. Sometimes it's hard for me to see him and sometimes I have to move in the pocket to find a lane to throw it to him. But he always seems to be open. That's a nice weapon to have in your offensive arsenal."
Falslev thrives on being a player that can swing the momentum for his team. Last season against TCU, BYU trailed 35-13 late in the third quarter when he returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown, sparking a bit of a rally, although the Cougars ultimately fell to the Horned Frogs.
"It was a moment that in the game we weren't firing on all cylinders," Falslev remembered. "It gave us a little hope. I wouldn't say I'm a 'game-changer.' I'll let other people label it however they would like to label it. But I like to be able to boost up the morale and energy of the team when it's down. Riley does a wonderful job of that himself. There's a lot of guys on this team that do that."
The way Nelson sees it, Falslev is the embodiment of what BYU football represents.
"His first year here he was nicknamed 'Little Scrappy.' That's kind of how he is," Nelson said. "A lot of guys embrace that and personify that type of thing. We're not a lot of five-star dudes who were highly touted. A lot of us — though most of us haven't walked on like JD and earned a scholarship — a lot of us feel that way, like we get overlooked a lot, that we win with scrap and heart and grit, and not so much how many stars we were given out of high school."
Falslev had no stars on his resume out of high school, and no scholarship. But now, Falslev is a key contributor on the Cougar offense.
"It's fun to be a guy that can be looked up to — well, looked down to, but looked up to," he said, laughing. "It's fun."
Falslev may be small, but his impact is not.
BYU CAMP REPORT
Day 8: The Cougars practiced in shells Friday morning and then held an afternoon session that was closed to the media.
Standouts: Wide receiver Cody Hoffman hauled in two touchdown passes from quarterback Riley Nelson during 11-on-11 work.
Injuries: Defensive lineman Tui Crichton (quad contusion), defensive lineman Ian Dulan (back), and tight end Marcus Mathews (illness) were all held out of practice Friday.
Overheard: "I made a mistake and they handled it accordingly. And now I'm back." — Hoffman, on returning after missing four days of practice for disciplinary reasons.