PROVO, Utah — Kyle Van Noy's career at Brigham Young was nearly derailed before it started because of a stupid mistake.
Now there's a chance it will end a year early — after his junior season — if NFL scouts who have been checking out the playmaking linebacker convince him that jumping to the pros is a better option than another year in college.
That said, Van Noy acknowledges Saturday's game against lowly Idaho (1-8) could be his finale at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"That's why you try to play every game like it's your last," Van Noy said.
Last year, Van Noy became the only FBS player to record a statistic in every major defensive category: tackle, tackle for loss, sack, interception, pass breakup, quarterback hurry, forced fumble, fumble recovery, blocked kick and touchdown. This year, with three regular-season games remaining and then a likely trip to the Poinsettia Bowl, Van Noy needs only a fumble recovery to complete the cycle again for BYU (5-4).
All this from a player who wasn't even sure he'd be back after undergoing major reconstructive shoulder surgery this offseason, a situation that left him scared.
"I didn't think I was going to be able to come back just because of how severe it was," Van Noy said.
He stuck with the therapy, always keeping in mind the big picture where eventually he'd be able to hit with two healthy shoulders.
"It wasn't easy. I wasn't happy. But I'm here where I am now ... playing on two good shoulders," he said.
Van Noy has had his share of head-turning plays for a defense whose goal is to finish the season ranked No. 1 nationally (the Cougars are fourth now).
Against Utah State (8-2), he chased down athletic quarterback Chuckie Keeton on third-and-3 and stopped him short of the first down in a hard-fought 6-3 victory against a bowl-bound Aggies team whose only other loss was by two points in Wisconsin.
"The closing speed he had on him and the range he has on the field was just incredible," BYU outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga said.
Van Noy leads the team with 12½ tackles for loss, 7½ sacks, eight quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles.
Poppinga, who played in the NFL in 2008 and went to Super Bowl XLIII with the Arizona Cardinals, knows what it takes to play in the pros.
"We've had our talks and there's things he needs to work on before he can take it to the next level," Poppinga said. "The main thing is physicality against the run. Not that he's bad. What the NFL is looking for is play after play of dominating the guy in front of you."
Van Noy did that at McQueen High School in Reno, Nev., and could have gone just about anywhere afterward. LSU, Oregon, Nebraska, UCLA, Arizona State, California, Colorado, Nevada and Washington all wanted him.
He chose BYU, only to see his decision fall apart the weekend before signing day in February 2009 when he was cited in his hometown for driving under the influence.
Van Noy stuck with his plans, sending in his letter of intent along with a personal apology to coach Bronco Mendenhall, asking for a shot to play for a team he thought would make him a better player and person.
He'd get that shot, but the journey hasn't been easy.
Van Noy didn't play in 2009 while he took care of his off-field issues. Then after being allowed to early-enroll in January 2010, he barely saw the field early in his freshman season.
"It was really frustrating and I didn't understand why," he said.
When Mendenhall finally put him in, Van Noy said he was "humble-ized" again, realizing he wasn't as good as he thought. "The film doesn't lie," he said.
So he worked harder.
Three years later, Poppinga sees a more humble, coachable player, one who has served as a mentor to rising star Ezekiel Ansah.
"This goes for a lot of kids who come in so highly recruited," Poppinga said. "They think they know it all and have been told their whole career how great they are."
Last year, Van Noy led the team with 15 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He did much of his damage despite playing with a torn labrum suffered against TCU in late October with four games remaining.
"He's one of the toughest players I have ever coached," Mendenhall said, noting Van Noy didn't' mention the injury until after the season. "If you don't ask him, he's not going to tell you because he loves to play and isn't going to come out of a game no matter how hurt he is."
Mendenhall called Van Noy's transformation off the field just as remarkable.
"He is absolutely honest and trustworthy," said Mendenhall, whose heart-to-heart in 2010 helped the player and coach forge a relationship that Van Noy describes as "cool."
"He makes mistakes like the rest of us, but who he has become is something to be proud of. I have been and am lucky to work with him."
The question is for how long.
"I get asked about it every day, so you do think about it," Van Noy said of jumping to the NFL.
After the season he'll discuss his options with family members and coaches.21 comments on this story
"I also want to do what's right for the team, too," said Van Noy, who is convinced he made the right choice in sticking with BYU. "Anyone can say what they want. I should have gone Pac-12, should have gone SEC, Big 12. But I'm happy where I'm at."
He may be tempted to stay knowing next year's schedule includes a rematch with Notre Dame, one of three BYU losses this year that came by a combined seven points.
BYU defensive back Preston Hadley, one of 24 seniors who will play their final home game Saturday, believes Van Noy will return.
"I think he likes it a lot here," Hadley said. "I can't see anyone who would want to cut their time short here."