Riley Nelson is the only BYU quarterback with starting experience at the collegiate level, but there is actually a current BYU player with more collegiate quarterback starts on his resume.
His name is Dalin Tollestrup, who in 2006 was Canada's Freshman of the Year while taking snaps and making eight starts for the University of Calgary. Yet even as a promising Canadian collegiate career began, Tollestrup harbored a dream to play at BYU — something he was hoping to do coming out of Raymond (Alberta) High School. Securing a recruiting visit to Provo was a step in that direction.
"The recruiting trip was everything a kid dreams of," Tollestrup said. "Not many players from Southern Alberta get that opportunity."
Tollestrup's visit was less memorable, however, for BYU's new head coach.
"I don't remember him whatsoever," says Bronco Mendenhall, who also acknowledges he was unaware of the Tollestrup family name's connection to BYU.
Dalin's uncle Phil is reputed to have scored the first points in the Marriott Center as a Cougar hoopster in the early '70s, while Phil's brother Tim was a rival player at Utah State.
"Growing up, it was always basketball, basketball, basketball," says the younger Tollestrup, who lost his high school hoops senior season to a shoulder injury suffered during his final prep football campaign.
That injury and BYU's crowded quarterback situation were factors that delayed Tollestrup's plans to play in Provo. He instead won the starting signal-caller's job at Calgary, where he set a school freshman record for passing yards and won the Peter Gorman Trophy as the country's top rookie.
His position coach and Calgary's offensive coordinator, Greg Vavra, says Tollestrup "would have had an excellent career as a college quarterback in Canada. He was one of those rare players that I thought had the ability to be a Canadian-trained QB for a CFL team. You just don't find guys with his foot speed and skill-set very often."
Tollestrup followed his freshman season with an LDS mission to El Salvador, but upon his return, he opted to leave Canada and the comforts of the quarterback position to walk on at BYU.
"My whole life is about reaching for the highest you can get," Tollestrup said. "I always had that in the back of my heart: 'What could have been if I had gone down to BYU?' I don't know if I could live with not at least trying to make something happen and giving it a shot."
Tollestrup gave it a shot as a scout team wide receiver in 2009. According to Mendenhall, "he was fast and athletic. He just tried really hard, had a great attitude, and a really bright personality. He was very eager and capable."
Tollestrup's performance in the fall earned him a spot at spring practice in 2010.
"We moved him to field corner, and he started making plays," Mendenhall said. "It's one thing to have a position change; it's another thing to start making plays there. And he started making plays."
Currently, Tollestrup is fighting for reps behind starter Brian Logan and backups Robbie Buckner and DeQuan Everett. Mendenhall says the 6-foot-1, 175-pound sophomore "has earned the team's respect by what he's done since he's been here. He has earned his way into our plans; most likely he'll be a heavy contributor on special teams, at least."
Will he stick with the program? "I think so," says the Cougars' head coach.
Vavra admits he's "disappointed" that Tollestrup has given up a potential starring role north of the border for walk-on status in the States, but Tollestrup himself has no regrets about leaving "Cowtown" for "Cougar Town."
"You have to come down and prove yourself; you just come down here as a 'nobody,' " he said. "At Calgary, I was handed a lot of stuff and didn't have to work for it. It's been an awesome learning experience just to have to come in and push myself to see how much I can make of myself.
"I've got nothing to lose and everything to gain."
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