PROVO If it wasn't for a last-minute change of heart a few years ago, Harvey Unga would be lining up in Utah's backfield on Saturday instead of BYU's.
The Cougars, of course, are thrilled they landed the redshirt freshman running back, who, with 909 rushing yards on the season, needs only 91 to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. He has also hauled in 37 passes for 573 yards and scored a total of 12 touchdowns.
Unga is looking forward to his first game against the Utes.
"They're a great team. I can't wait to play them," he said. "It's going to be a fun game. It's a great university, and they have great players and great coaches."
As a star at Timpview High during the 2004 season, Unga was in the middle of an intense in-state recruiting battle. He originally picked Utah before ultimately selecting BYU.
"You make decisions in your life, and my decision was to come to BYU," he said. "Obviously, I'm happy with the decision that I made."
In the wake of the Utes' glorious Fiesta Bowl 2004 season, and the Cougars' third straight losing campaign, which resulted in Gary Crowton's resignation, Unga verbally committed to then-new U. coach Kyle Whittingham in January 2005.
Just days before national letter-of-intent signing day, however, Unga called Whittingham and informed him that he had decided to go to BYU. "It was the toughest thing I've ever done," Unga said at the time.
Unga began second-guessing his commitment to Utah a week after he made it. His uncle, former BYU and Philadelphia Eagle star Vai Sikahema, advised him not to rush his decision and to write down the pros and cons of playing at each school. Among the factors included the opportunity to play with Timpview teammates Stephen Covey, Luke Ashworth and Matt Reynolds at BYU and the school being a better fit.
"The (BYU) coaches were all great with me," Unga said on signing day 2005. "They fought for me and helped me out with my decision."
Recently, Unga told a local newspaper that Whittingham was "upset" when he informed him that he had decided to sign with BYU. Unga said Whittingham told him that the Cougars would switch him to linebacker and that he would regret his decision. Unga added that BYU's coaches supported him regardless of where he opted to play, which solidified his choice to stay in Provo.
Asked about those events on Tuesday, Unga, in keeping with the Cougars' approach this week of downplaying the rivalry in media interviews, said, "I really don't remember the entire thing. I'm just grateful to be here."
Unga delayed his enrollment to BYU until 2006 to deal with personal issues. Last season, he suffered an injury early on and ended up redshirting. Once fall camp started last August, Unga was the star of every scrimmage."It became very clear, as our defense was having a very difficult time stopping him running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield, we believed he would be able to do that against any opponent," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "During fall camp, I knew he would have a very good season."
E-mail: [email protected]