JD Falslev is in full bloom.
If you're 5-foot-8 and playing major college football, you've got to have an edge, something that somehow makes a difference.
For Falslev, first it's attitude. He'll carry food to the team bus, stripe the field, clean up the locker room, run back suicide punts or just yell from the sidelines. Anything he's told to do, he finds it his mission.
Second, it's the kid's competitive spirit. He has to win. Whether a board game, video game, skins game on a golf course or the playground, all the days of his life he's been crazy competitive.
These are part of the reasons Falslev has become an interesting weapon for the Cougars as they head into the third game of the season against rival Utah on Saturday.
Last Saturday, Falslev wore three hats in BYU's win over Weber State. He was a running back, receiver and punt returner. Anything he's told. He ripped off a 53-yard run from scrimmage, fielded four punts and returned them a combined 70 yards. He also caught a pass for six yards.
"He's got that quick foot shuffle step that punt returners like Vai Sikahema show," said assistant head coach Lance Reynolds. "He's fun to watch and coach."
He's a jack of all trades for BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman right now.
"Any way I can help, I'll help," said Falslev during fall camp in August. "If it's cheering my teammates on, I'll cheer my teammates on."
He doesn't like to talk about individual goals or memories in his career so far as a Cougar but that 67-yard punt return for a touchdown against TCU last year is sure to make his list.
Falslev currently ranks No. 13 in the nation in average yards per punt return.
Something about catching a ball with headhunters barreling down on him just tweaks his competitive juices. He loves it.
"Unlike me, he thrives on pressure situations and that's why he loves to return punts," said his mother, Kaye.
Growing up, he played football, basketball and baseball. He wrestled until the eighth grade. Whatever it took. "As long as I was active, I was just fine," he says.
Back in the second grade, his competitive spirit stood out on the playground during recess. One day his second grade teacher called his mother and said there was a problem.
"No, he gets along with the other kids, he includes them in everything," said the teacher.
"So what's the problem? asked his mother.
"Well, in recess his team always wins," she said.
"Does he always have the same team?"
"No, he does it with different kids on his side," she said.
Kaye: "Does he exclude or pick on anybody?"
"No, he gets along with everybody. If someone gets hurt, he's the first to take them to the office and sit with them to get help."
After the back and forth, Kaye again asked the teacher, "So what's the problem?"
The teacher replied, "Well, now that we've had this conversation, I'm not sure."
Both of Falslev's parents are educators. Apparently their son's teacher was new and unfamiliar with the level at which JD was feisty, highly competitive and driven.
He just had to win. And did.
That was an early indication of just how competitive Falslev's mindset has been all his life.
"I have to be careful of that sometimes because it gets me in trouble," he said.
A guy with an eight handicap in golf, Falslev is well known on his home course, Birch Creek in Smithfield and at Sleepy Ridge Golf Course in Orem where he worked this summer taking care of carts.
Two years ago, Bronco Mendenhall asked Falslev to join him and two teammates playing in a Kidney Foundation of Utah golf tournament at The Country Club, a competition of sorts between Utah's Kyle Whittingham and BYU's Mendenhall to raise money for the cause.
On one particular green, Mendenhall's group had a 12-foot putt and the coach asked Falslev if he could roll it in. "Yeah, I can make that," he replied.
"If you do, I'll play you," said Mendenhall.
Falslev promptly stood over the putt and stroked it into the cup.
Kaye Falslev says what has made her son successful is both the competitive spirit and his compassion.
"Maybe being competitive is enough on the college level. But whether he's an elected leader or not, he always turns out to be a leader and that's because of his compassion. He means it when he wants everyone on his team to be good, that if everyone is an equal threat, nobody can be double-teamed and they can win, either on the scoreboard or execution," said Kaye. "He has an abundance mentality, that there's enough recognition opportunity; that there's enough opportunity, and if everybody fulfills their assignment, they'll all have a good experience. It's true in his athletic life and personal life."13 comments on this story
Someday, her son wants to be a football coach.
A former walk-on at BYU, Falslev is now the proud owner of a grant-in-aid that pays his education. He received that after Mendenhall had seen enough last November and awarded him with a scholarship after Falslev toiled for two seasons without one.
Hunger, attitude, work ethic, competitiveness, it all fell into place in Mendenhall's player matrix.
And yes, getting that piece of paper was a competitive thing too.
That's just the way Falslev rolls.