Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
BYU runningback Harvey Unga runs up field at BYU Spring football practice.

PROVO — BYU running back Harvey Unga, who withdrew from school last Friday due to an honor code violation, wants to return to the Cougar football program "in the most desperate way," coach Bronco Mendenhall said Wednesday morning.

"Harvey's first choice, and what he's fighting diligently for in trying to express to the administration at BYU, is that he wants to be back," Mendenhall said while fielding questions from reporters during Wednesday's Mountain West Conference teleconference. "This goes back to the decision he made (last January) to not declare for the (NFL) draft early and stay at BYU.

"He'll be the first in his family to graduate and receive a college degree. He's matured in so many areas over his time here at BYU and he loves our program. ... He wants to be here in the most desperate way. So that it is his hope, that is his intent, and that's what he'd like to do."

Mendenhall explained that the process of Unga's possible return "is still ongoing and I don't have a time frame on when a decision will be reached and how that will affect Harvey. If he's allowed to come back for the fall, obviously that would be something that we'd love to have."

If Unga does not return to BYU, he has other options, Mendenhall said. He could transfer to another school to finish his last few classes in order to graduate. He could enter the NFL supplemental draft this summer.

"So there's a lot of decisions and a lot of things for Harvey and his future. That is my first concern," Mendenhall said.

How would losing Unga affect BYU this fall?

"Anytime you lose the school's (all-time) leading rusher and someone who's been in the system and been a part of so many wins, that's going to be very difficult for us," Mendenhall said. "Nor can we replace that spot in one given year.

"We have some younger players that we liked a lot in the spring, with (true freshman) Josh Quezada being one of them. We also liked J.J. DiLuigi and Bryan Kariya, how they performed in the spring. So I think we have depth and I think we have capable players — basically very similar players that we beat Oklahoma with this past year.

"But again, when you lose Harvey, that changes your football team," the Cougars' coach said. "We're kind of holding on and waiting as well, then starting to project and preparing a lot of different ways in case he's either with us or not with us."

The fact Unga voluntarily withdrew from school demonstrates that he wants to make things right, Mendenhall said.

"It was taking accountability for his actions. Harvey knows and embraces the standards here. He wants the standards here and he is in full support of the things the university asks," said Mendenhall. "Quite frankly, it comes down to just choosing and acting kind of boldly and bluntly that, 'I know this is the best thing to do.' I think it was a sign or token that would make the administration know that, 'I'm going to act before I'm asked to act in this particular case.' "