BYU’s legacy, where college football is concerned, is with their quarterbacks. BYU's football history is littered with All-Americans, Davey O’Brien and Sammy Baugh winners as well as a Heisman Trophy winner.
While these accomplishments are great, none of those awards would have been earned without great wide receivers, tight ends and pass-catching running backs.
In a three part series, I look back and analyze the players at each of these positions to decide who the best of the best in Cougar history are, beginning with the running backs.
The running backs are ranked only by their abilities as receivers. My ranking has nothing to do with what they did as rushers or pass blockers. Their stats also include bowl games.
Coming up with a list of only 15 players was very difficult because there have been so many great receivers out of the backfield.
Those who just missed the cut still deserve mention. Scott Pettis, Waymon Hamilton, Eddie Stinnett, J.J. DiLuigi and Jeff Blanc were all effective dual-threat backs at BYU and helped the Cougars win many games.
Years at BYU: 1987-91
Tuipulotu finished his Cougar career with 82 receptions and just under 1,000 yards receiving. His best year came as a senior when he caught 41 passes for 587 yards and two touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 1982-83
Tiumalu played two seasons in Provo and was a big piece of two WAC championship teams. As a senior, Tiumalu finished fourth in the WAC in receptions with 60 and almost 600 yards receiving.
Years at BYU: 1979-80
Jones shared the backfield with many great receiving backs in his two years but made this list because of his remarkable junior season. In 1979, Jones led the WAC in receptions with 50, finished fourth in receiving touchdowns and was ninth in receiving yards. Not bad for a part-timer.
Years at BYU: 1991-94
Willis didn’t catch many passes out of the back field as an underclassman. As a senior, however, he caught 33 passes for 525 yards and two touchdowns. His yards-per-catch average of 15.9 placed him 10th in the conference. For his career, Willis caught 77 passes for 1,095 yards and five touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 1984, 1987-89
Whittingham had 100 catches for more than 1,000 yards in his last three seasons at BYU. His best year came as a senior when he caught 38 passes for more than 500 yards and three touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 1999-2001
The best rusher in BYU history was also very effective at catching passes. He had at least 26 catches every year he played at BYU, finishing with 86 receptions, 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns in only three years.
Years at BYU: 2006-10
In Unga’s three seasons as a Cougar, he caught more than 100 balls for almost 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns. His best season came as a redshirt freshman when he had 44 receptions for 655 yards and 4 touchdowns.
He was top 10 in the MWC in three different receiving categories that year.
Years at BYU: 1991-95
Heimuli played four full seasons at BYU, and he improved his numbers as a receiver each year. As a freshman, he only caught 11 passes for 134 yards, but by the time he was a senior, those numbers had more than tripled.
As a senior, Heimuli caught 46 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns. For his career, Heimuli finished with 115 receptions for 10 touchdowns and almost 1,300 yards.
Years at BYU: 1983-1986
The older Heimuli was an absolute beast in his four years in Provo, finishing his career with 153 catches for more than 1,200 yards. His best season came as a junior when he caught 76 passes, good for fifth in the nation in receptions.
Years at BYU: 2002-06
Brown didn’t catch many passes out of the backfield until his junior year, but that season he was one of John Beck’s favorite targets. The next year, Brown led BYU in receptions.
In his last two seasons he caught 115 passes for more than 1,000 yards and 5 touchdowns. By the time his career was done, he finished with 157 receptions for more than 1,300 yards.
The next two backs played together in the same backfield for two seasons and both put up monster numbers.
Years at BYU: 1977-80
Phillips finished his Cougar career with 133 receptions and almost 1,600 yards receiving. In 1979, he finished in the top 10 in the WAC in four receiving categories, and in 1980, he led the WAC and was sixth nationally in receptions.
Years at BYU: 1977-80
Lane only spent two years in Cougar blue, but both were very successful.
Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon loved getting Lane the ball. He caught 91 passes for just slightly less than 1,000 yards and six touchdowns in his two seasons.
Lane finished top 10 in the WAC in receptions and receiving yards as a junior and finished in the top 10 in receptions and receiving touchdowns as a senior.
Years at BYU: 1974-77
Christensen started all four seasons he spent in Provo and is one of the Cougars' all-time greats. He led BYU in receiving three straight seasons and finished his career with 152 receptions for almost 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 1980, 1982-85
While only a running back for two seasons at BYU, Smith caught 105 passes for more than 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns.
Smith was a huge piece of BYU’s only national championship team, finishing third in the WAC in receptions (56), seventh in receiving yards (686), and third in receiving touchdowns (7).
Smith began his career at BYU as a walk-on receiver in 1980, but didn't see the field until 1984 when he was switched to the backfield. Smith could've fought for the top spot had he been switched to running back earlier.
Years at BYU: 1986-90
Bellini never caught less than 50 passes in his four seasons as a Cougar, finishing his career as BYU’s all-time leader in receptions with 214. Since the end of his career, two other receivers have passed him, leaving him currently in third place.
Bellini finished in the top 10 of the WAC in every major receiving category at least once, and was top 10 in his conference in receptions every single year. Bellini’s more than 2,700 receiving yards are still sixth on BYU’s all-time list.
Not bad for a running back who ended his career with almost 1,000 yards rushing as well.