Jeff Benedict: Once in honor code trouble, Van Noy almost didn't come to BYU

The only reason the star is a Cougar is because he desperately wanted to be one

Published: Thursday, Sept. 12 2013 8:05 a.m. MDT

Editor's note: This is the third of three excerpts taken from "THE SYSTEM: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football," by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian.

At the same time it was recruiting Kyle Van Noy, BYU was in the hunt to land Manti Te’o, another Mormon who was the nation’s top high school linebacker. The prospect of Te’o and Van Noy playing side by side had put BYU in position to have the best linebacking corps in the country. Although Van Noy didn’t have as much fanfare as Te’o, Mendenhall had concluded he had just as much talent. Van Noy was a bit smaller — six feet three inches and 209 pounds. But in terms of raw athleticism, he was actually faster and quicker. He ran the forty in 4.5, and he started both ways. While leading his team to a state title and a perfect 14-0 record as a senior, he terrorized quarterbacks and caught thirty-five passes for 731 yards and eighteen touchdowns on offense. On defense he made seventy-nine tackles, fourteen sacks and forced six fumbles.

“With Kyle all you had to do was watch a couple series of film and you knew,” said Mendenhall. “I thought very early on that there was no limit on how good he could be.”

On January 10–11, 2009, Te’o and Van Noy both made their official visits to BYU. Every detail had been considered to persuade Te’o to join Van Noy by committing to BYU. Even his cousin Shiloah, already a member of the team, had been assigned to be Manti’s host for the weekend. But things didn’t quite turn out as planned.

At the end of the visit Van Noy reaffirmed his commitment to BYU, pledging to sign with the Cougars on National Signing Day. “I didn’t want to go to a school where I knew I’d face challenges and temptations,” he said. “I knew I needed an environment like BYU.”

But before Te’o left Provo, he met with Mendenhall. The conversation was cordial and respectful. But BYU stopped recruiting Te’o after that weekend. Two weeks later, Te’o called Mendenhall a couple days before National Signing Day to say he was going to Notre Dame.

Later that day Mendenhall also got an unexpected call from Van Noy. “I messed up,” Van Noy began, his voice cracking. Mendenhall took a deep breath. “I got arrested,” Van Noy continued.

Mendenhall felt sick.

It happened the night before. Van Noy had been out and got arrested for drunk driving. He was underage. So the case would be disposed in juvenile court. But Mendenhall had a policy that prohibited him from offering scholarships to players who weren’t living in compliance with the honor code. He didn’t make exceptions— not even for the best recruits.

“You understand you can’t come to BYU under these circumstances?” Mendenhall asked.

Van Noy was silent.

“Kyle, I love you just the same,” Mendenhall told him. “I’ll release you from your commitment to BYU.”

More silence.

“You can choose any of the schools that were recruiting you,” Mendenhall said. “My guess is that they will want you in a second.”

“But that’s not what I want,” Van Noy said.

Mendenhall didn’t expect that. “I was absolutely ready to release him at that point because of the honor code,” Mendenhall explained. “I told him I’d help him go anywhere he wanted to go. But he kept saying he wanted to come to BYU.”

Mendenhall wasn’t optimistic. But he told Van Noy to give him the rest of the day to explore options. They agreed to talk again later.

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