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Jeff Benedict: The real reason Kyle Van Noy returned for his senior season

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 17 2013 6:30 p.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Kyle Van Noy (3) flies for San Diego State Aztecs quarterback Adam Dingwell (6) during the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series that details the playing career and life of BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy.

Last year, I was on the sideline for the BYU-Utah game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. But I wasn’t there to cover the game. I was there to watch Kyle Van Noy.

Specifically, I was looking for moments or situations that define him. The first one came hours before kickoff. When BYU’s bus arrived and the players entered the stadium, very few fans were inside. But a few took the opportunity to greet the players with colorful expletives. One heckler was particularly obnoxious. “Welcome to hell, boys,” he said, waving a Ute flag.

Van Noy cranked up the volume on his iPod, looked straight ahead and kept on walking.

Few adults have the experience of being cursed by random strangers. Most wouldn’t take too kindly to it. Van Noy uses it as a motivator. He went out and played one of his best games. That, of course, prompted one fan behind Utah’s bench to rain expletives on him when he came off the field after registering a sack. Van Noy took a seat alone on the bench, looking straight ahead, ignoring the noise.

The second moment came at the end of the game. The final play had to be replayed twice on account of fans running onto the playing field. After BYU's game-tying field goal attempt hit the goal post, a scene of utter chaos played out on the field. Thousands of fans celebrated. There was pointing, taunting, shouting.

BYU players got caught up in the in-your-face atmosphere, too. Even coach Bronco Mendenhall almost got into a physical altercation with an aggressive Ute fan. But Van Noy stood silent in the midst of the swirl, his helmet under his arm. It was as if he were someplace else, impervious to all that was going on around him. Finally, I asked how he managed to keep his composure.

“I hate losing,” he said. “I hate losing more than anything. I hate losing at tic-tac-toe. So words can’t describe how I feel right now. But win or lose, I’m grateful to be part of this university. I’m grateful to be alive. That’s all that matters. Not many people in the world get to know what it’s like playing the game of football.”

Then he headed for the locker room.

In the post-game press conference, he faced reporters. “Talk about the finish,” one of them said. “Was that as crazy as anything you’ve been a part of?”

“In my life?” Van Noy said, flashing a smile. “No.”

“On the field?” the reporter said.

“Yes.”

Heading into the final quarter of the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl, BYU trailed San Diego State 6-3 and the game was on track to go down as one of the most boring bowl games in the history of college football. Then Riley Nelson threw a goal-line interception. On the BYU sideline one of the coaches screamed: “We need a turnover! We need a turnover!”

On San Diego’s first play after taking possession, the quarterback dropped back to pass from his own end zone. Blowing past his man, Van Noy left his feet and went lateral. Fully extended, he hit the quarterback just as he began to bring his arm forward, jarring the ball loose. From his knees, Van Noy scooped up the ball just as Ziggy Ansah landed on him. Touchdown BYU.

A few minutes later, Van Noy picked off a pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. In a span of nine minutes he scored more touchdowns than both teams combined up to that point. His play earned him player-of-the-game honors.

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