None of BYU's famed quarterbacks would’ve succeeded without great wide receivers, tight ends and pass-catching running backs. In part two of this three-part series, I look back and analyze the best tight ends in BYU history.
Coming up with a list of 15 guys wasn’t all that difficult. A large separation exists between the good tight ends and the great tight ends at BYU. Ranking them, however, was a different story entirely.
Before beginning, an honorable mention must go to Mike Pistorius (1971-1973). He was the Cougars’ first real weapon at tight end catching passes. In his short stint in Provo, Pistorius caught 53 passes for almost 800 yards.
The tight ends are ranked only by their abilities in the receiving game — it has nothing to do with their abilities as blockers. The stats also include bowl games.
Here's my breakdown of the 15 best pass-catching tight ends in BYU football history, beginning with Daniel Coats.
Jay Yeomans is a deseretnews.com contributor based out of Sandy, Utah.
Years at BYU: 2002-2006
Coats had a promising freshman year (30 catches for 378 yards and four touchdowns), which most Cougar fans thought would lead to a remarkable career. Although Coats ended up in the NFL, it wasn’t because of his ability to catch passes. His freshman year was his best by far, as he only managed to catch 56 passes for almost 600 yards and five touchdowns his last three years in Provo.
Years at BYU: 1997-2001
Jolley didn’t see much action until his senior season, but when he got on the field, he made the most of his chances. As a senior, he caught 32 passes for 492 yards and seven touchdowns, finishing top 10 in the MWC in catches, yards per catch and touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 2005-2009
I still remember George busting down the seam and catching the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to beat archrival Utah back in 2009. I’m sure that was one of his best days on the football field as a Cougar, but that’s not the only thing he accomplished during his time at BYU. During the three seasons George got on the field, he caught 70 passes for 827 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 1993-1996
Although never spectacular, Lewis was very consistent during his time at the Y. He never caught more than 37 balls in a season but still finished his career with 111 catches for almost 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 1986, 1989-1992
Rex only got significant time as a junior and senior. As a senior he was seventh in the WAC in receptions and receiving yards while finishing sixth in receiving touchdowns. For his career, Rex caught 87 passes for more than 1,200 yards and seven scores.
Years at BYU: 1985-1988
Handley saw action in three seasons as a Cougar, having his best season as a junior. He led BYU in receptions and yards to go along with three touchdowns. Handley finished his BYU career with 97 catches for 1,244 yards and five scores.
Years at BYU: 1991, 1994-1996
Mili came to BYU as a wide receiver but left as one of the top 10 tight ends of all time. In his four-year career, Mili caught 125 passes for more than 1,700 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 1985-1986
Molini’s best year came in 1985 when he was third on the team in receptions with 66 and second on the team in receiving yards with 869. Both numbers also landed him fifth on the WAC charts that year. For his time in Provo, Molini caught more than 100 balls for almost 1,400 yards and five touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 1974-1978
Thompson had two seasons as a starter in Provo but he made the most of both of them. As a favorite target of Gifford Nielson, Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon, he caught 71 passes for 1,162 yards and 13 touchdowns.
As a senior, Thompson was top 5 in the WAC in receiving yards, yards per reception and receiving touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 1979-1981, 1983-1984
Mills saw very little action on the field until his senior year. That season, he helped lead the Cougars to its only football national title. During the 1984 season, Mills caught 71 passes for 1,126 yards and seven touchdowns. Those numbers placed him third in the nation in yards receiving and fourth in receptions.
Mills was named first-team All-American by Athlon Magazine.
The decision between four and five was excruciatingly tough for me. It pitted two tight ends that made two of the most impactful BYU touchdown catches of all time. In the end the, Miracle Bowl catch won.
Years at BYU: 2004-2006
Harline only spent three seasons as a Cougar but managed to forge a legacy that will last a lifetime in the eyes of Cougar (and Ute) fans everywhere.
In the last regular-season game of his career Jonny caught seven passes for 118 yards and three touchdowns. The last touchdown was an 11-yard pass from John Beck with no time left, as BYU shocked Utah on the Utes' home field.
As a senior, he finished first in the MWC in touchdown catches and receiving yards. If that wasn’t enough, Harline was named first-team All-American by five different publications. He finished his BYU career with 121 receptions for almost 1,800 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 1976-1980
For any Cougar fan, Brown’s senior season was unforgettable — especially his last play.
After coming back from a 20-point deficit with four minutes to go in the 1980 Holiday Bowl, BYU was down to its final play when Brown came down with a 41-yard touchdown catch with no time remaining to beat SMU.
If that’s all you remember from his outstanding career, let me refresh your memory. As a senior, Brown led the nation with 15 touchdown catches (which is still a BYU record), and was third nationally in receiving yards.
Years at BYU: 1987-1990
Smith had two seasons of more than 1,100 yards receiving and was consensus All-American in 1990 as one of Ty Detmer’s main targets. He finished his career with 11 100-yard games and more than 2,400 yards receiving to go along with eight touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 2004, 2007-2009
Pitta is BYU’s all-time leader in receptions and is third all time in receiving yards, regardless of his position. He was top 5 in the Mountain West Conference in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in each of his last three seasons on campus. As a senior, Pitta was consensus All-American.
Years at BYU: 1980-1983
Hudson was a two-time consensus All-American who ended his career as the NCAA’s all-time leader in receiving yards by a tight end, with 2,484. He managed to break that record even though he missed the last four games of his senior year due to injury. Hudson is also BYU’s touchdown leader by tight ends with 22.