With names such as McMahon, Detmer, Bosco and Young at the helm, BYU has long been known for its aerial attack. For that reason, many seem to forget how many great rushers the Cougars have had over the years. Now that Robert Anae is once again offensive coordinator, there could be many more.
With that in mind, today we take a look back and rank the 15 best rushers in BYU history.
Yards, touchdowns and yards per carry were a few factors in this ranking, but I also looked at style and substance, power and speed, nimbleness and the ability to break tackles. This list is meant to be based only on a player’s ability as a rusher and not his total game.
There are more than just running backs that make this list. Restricting the ranking would short-change the great running quarterbacks at BYU. A list like this is not complete without them.
Here's my breakdown of the top 15 BYU rushers of all time.
Years at BYU: 1987-91
Tuipulotu spent four solid seasons in Provo averaging 5.5 yards every time he touched the ball. Tuipulotu finished his career with more than 1,500 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 1980-83
Young was runner-up for the Heisman trophy his senior year at BYU. One of the reasons he was so close to winning was his ability to make plays with his legs.
During Young’s three years on the field, he rushed for almost 1,100 yards and 18 touchdowns. Not bad considering sacks count against your rushing yards.
"Steve Young brought a different elect to BYU's offense," said former BYU running back Alema Harrington on 1280 the Zone.
"They were able to see the potential in Steve Young who now is obviously an NFL hall of famer, that his potential was through the roof if they allowed him to do what he did best which is to be an elusive scramble type of quarterback."
Years at BYU: 2007-11
A lot was expected of Di Luigi following his outstanding high school career. He didn’t ever live up to those lofty expectations, but Di Luigi was the leading rusher in two different seasons and finished his BYU career with more than 1,700 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.
""There was a lot of hype surrounding JJ coming out of Northern California when he arrived at BYU," said former BYU running back Alema Harrington on 1280 the Zone.
Alema's co-host Ben Criddle, said that although eh didn't live up to the hype. Di Luigi is an underrated rusher.
"Out of the top 20 rushers, there are only six guys with better yards per carry than him," Criddle said.
"I don't think J.J. Di Luigi gets enough love for what his were contributions on the field of play."
Years at BYU: 1956-58
Jackson led the Cougars in rushing in back-to-back seasons and held the record for the longest run from scrimmage by a Cougar for more than 35 years.
Jackson’s best year came in 1958 when he rushed for almost 700 yards to lead the Skyline Conference while averaging a whopping 6.9 yards per carry.
Years at BYU: 1996-97
McKenzie only spent two seasons as a Cougar but definitely made the most of his time there. He rushed for just under 2,000 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. McKenzie also found the end zone 23 times as a rusher.
Years at BYU: 1996-98
It’s hard to say if Jenkins would be sitting at the top of this list had he not had Honor Code issues twice, but he would be very close.
In the two years he managed to stay in school, Jenkins ran for more than 2,000 yards and 24 rushing touchdowns. Even more impressive, Jenkins spent only one of those seasons as a starter.
Years at BYU: 1964-66
In each of his three seasons as a Cougar, Ogden led the Western Athletic Conference in rushing. He finished his career with almost 2,400 rushing yards.
Years at BYU: 1960-62
Fortie wasn’t a running back, but did lead the Cougars in rushing twice as the starting quarterback. In his senior year, Fortie rushed for an astounding 1,149 yards and was named an All-American. He still holds the BYU single game rushing record, which he set with 272 yards against George Washington.
Years at BYU: 1983-86
When Heimuli’s BYU career was over, he left Provo as the Cougars' all-time leading rusher.
Heimuli was a two-time all-WAC selection at running back and helped lead the Cougars to their only national championship. During his four years at BYU, Heimuli rushed for 30 touchdowns and 2,815 yards, including bowl games.
"The interesting thing about Lakei was that he was a very underrated rusher," said former BYU running back and teammate Alema Harrington on 1280 the Zone.
"We used to joke around that he was smuggling coconuts in his calves, he had calves the size of coconuts and was an extremely difficult runner to bring down."
Years at BYU: 1973-76
Blanc spent three of his four years in Provo as the Cougars' starting running back and made the most of his opportunity. He left BYU as its all-time leader in carries, rushing, scoring and touchdowns.
Blanc finished his career with 2,718 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 1991-94
Willis was the featured back for only two of his four years in Provo, but he still has a very impressive résumé. He finished his career with 35 rushing touchdowns and almost 3,000 yards on the ground, leaving BYU with his name atop both lists.
"On the goal line, with the leaping athleticism, the frame, Jamal was a tall running back so he could fall forward and gain three yards," said former BYU running back Alema Harrington on 1280 the Zone.
Years at BYU: 2002-06
Brown led BYU in rushing in each of his last three seasons in Provo, topping the 1,000-yard mark as a junior and senior. He was named first team all-MWC in each of those 1,000-yard seasons.
Brown helped lead the Cougars to an 11-2 record and a No. 16 ranking in the final AP poll his senior year. He finished his career with more than 3,200 yards on the ground and 31 rushing touchdowns.
Years at BYU: 1969-72
“Fleet Pete” was the leading rusher for BYU in each of his last three seasons. His breakout year, however, came as a senior under new coach LaVell Edwards when Van Valkenburg gained 1,386 yards on the ground, winning the NCAA rushing title.
Years at BYU: 2006-10
The choice between number one and two on this list was very difficult. If you look strictly at yards, Unga would be number one.
Unga is currently BYU's all-time leading rusher with more than 3,400 yards, averaging five yards per carry. Unga rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons in Provo, a BYU record, to go along with 36 touchdowns on the ground.
Years at BYU: 1999-2001
Staley lands atop the list of great BYU running backs for one reason: his award-winning junior season.
Staley scored 17 rushing touchdowns between his freshman and sophomore years but went crazy as a junior. He finished the year second in the NCAA in rushing yards, second in yards per carry and first in rushing touchdowns. For his efforts, Staley won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s most outstanding running back and was a Consensus First Team All-American.
Staley still ranks first all-time in yards per carry in the MWC and second in rushing touchdowns. He ran for 2,493 yards, averaging 6 yards per.
"There's a lot of awards that I would say yeah BYU could win that award, but if you told me they've got a chance to win a Doak Walker award, I would say I don't think so, But Luke Staley changed all of that and was an incredible college running back," said former BYU running back Alema Harrington on 1280 the Zone.