LIKE SO MANY quarterbacks before him, Riley Jensen left Provo unhappy. He felt shortchanged. The Cougars hadn't given him a chance. Didn't they realize their best quarterback might be standing on the sideline right under their noses and now was leaving town?!
Jensen had stayed at BYU just one semester before realizing he was never going to get a chance to play, never mind what the coaches were telling him. It wasn't going to happen with Kevin Feterik and Paul Shoemaker on the roster."If I wanted to watch BYU football, I would've bought tickets," he said, and hit the road. He transferred to Utah State, where he ran the scout squad for a year before finally getting the chance he wanted. Jensen, a senior who will be 25 in December, is a starting Division 1 quarterback for the first time in his life, and a pretty good one at that.
In last Saturday's triple-overtime loss to New Mexico, Jensen threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns. He also narrowly missed upsetting Utah after one of his would-be touchdown passes was dropped by a receiver.
"I just kind of outlasted everybody," says Jensen, whose sense of humor and patience served him well to get this far. His first Division 1-A job came five years after he left Cottonwood High, with detours to Snow College, France (a church mission) and BYU.
The Cougars were his first choice. What quarterback doesn't want to play for the Quarterback Factory? But what most of them fail to realize is that the odds of winning such a coveted job are overwhelming, and some of them end up going elsewhere. The BYU Quarterback Factory has produced almost as many good quarterbacks for other schools as it has for BYU (see list).
The Cougars have had so many good quarterbacks they have good ones to spare. Such as Ralph Martini. When he came along in the '80s, the Cougars were so loaded at quarterback and short at tight end that they made him a tight end for a season. Martini wound up throwing for nearly 4,000 yards one season - for San Jose State.
Other former BYU quarterbacks: Brock Spencer started for Montana State. Jeff Duva started for Hawaii. Gym Kimball started for Utah State.
The Cougars have so many ex-quarterbacks running around that they run into them from time to time. When they play San Jose State later this season, the Spartan quarterback will be Brian Vye, another former Cougar QB.
The quarterbacks keep coming. Jensen, after an All-American year at Snow College, even turned down scholarship offers from Utah State, Kansas State and Boise State to go to BYU without a scholarship in the spring of 1997.
"They said I would be given a chance to start and get a scholarship in the fall, neither of which happened," says Jensen. After spring practice, he met with three different coaches. "They told me I didn't have it," he said. They also told him he didn't have a scholarship.
Jensen asked and received his release. Remember all those coaches he turned down to go to walk on at BYU? "I had to swallow my pride and call them back," he says. Only USU's John L. Smith would take him this time. As a transfer, Jensen had to sit out a year, although he could participate in practice (he was voted USU's Scout Team Player of the Year).
Smith left after the season to coach Louisville "and I had to prove myself all over again," says Jensen.
Under new coach Dave Arslanian, Jensen had to compete with three other quarterbacks in Logan's version of a controversy. Ultimately, his perseverance paid off, but his BYU gamble proved costly. His one semester at BYU cost him one year of eligibility. He's applying for another year with the NCAA, but he's not optimistic.
"At least I'm getting a year out of it," he says. "I'm having fun. I have no complaints."
But he does have soreness. Everywhere. Neck. Back. Ribs. Stomach. In the middle of the week, he was still recovering from his encounter with New Mexico's Blitzkrieg defense. Against the Lobos, he got to attempt a whopping 54 passes - not even the BYU quarterback gets to do that these days. But he paid for it. The 6-foot, 205-pound Riley was sacked four times and hit another 30 times or so.
"I'm still sore," Jensen said on Tuesday night. "The bigger guys can absorb it more, I guess."
As for his on-again, off-again career, he says, "It's been fun. I'm not complaining at all."
On the wall of his Logan apartment, there's a poster. THERE'S MORE TO LIFE THAN FOOTBALL (BUT NOT MUCH).
"I've been doing this football thing almost 14 years," says Jensen. "I love it."