Jason Olson, Deseret News
BYU assistant head coach Lance Reynolds, center, poses for a portrait with his sons Houston, left, and Matt, right, after a recent practice.

PROVO — When it comes to family and football, Lance Reynolds considers himself blessed.

As the BYU assistant head coach/running backs coach helps oversee practices every day, two of his sons are out on the field with him. While they don't work together directly — Matt and Houston Reynolds are offensive linemen — they're carrying on a family tradition and striving to build the Cougar football program.

"To have them here with me is a very unusual pipedream that happened for us," Lance Reynolds said.

Reynolds' two older sons, Lance Jr., and Dallas, also played for the Cougars — which is something special for their dad, who was an offensive lineman at BYU in the 1970s and has been an assistant here since 1983. "It's super-rewarding, to have your kids come and play at the same place you played," Lance Reynolds said.

Yet the Reynolds clan isn't the only one with long-standing connections to the program. Like every year, the Cougar roster is dotted with players who have strong bonds to BYU athletics.

The 2009 Cougars feature six sets of brothers on the roster, including the Reynolds boys. But the ties run deeper than that. More than 30 players have relatives — grandfathers, fathers, sons, brothers, cousins, or even a wife, sister or mother — who are, or have been, involved in BYU athletics.

It's a phenomenon that's quite unique to the LDS-owned school.

"Because of the religious background, our circle of players and athletes and recruits cross over more than at most places," Reynolds said. "We have a lot of families that have had kids play here or dads or brothers or cousins. ... That's one of the things that makes us a little different.

"The bulk of our kids are way committed to the place. It helps us in team unity, in commitment, in the weight room, in a lot of ways. We obviously would like to keep that thing alive and have players here who carry on that tradition. It's a good thing."

Wide receiver Matthew Edwards is the grandson of legendary coach LaVell Edwards. Linebacker Jordan Atkinson's dad played for BYU, and his grandpa was BYU's head coach in the 1950s. Wide receiver McKay Jacobson's mother, Hally, was a Cougar cheerleader and his sister, Jeniel, is a current BYU cheerleader. Offensive lineman R.J. Willing's wife, Emi, plays softball for the Cougars.

Though coach Bronco Mendenhall didn't play at BYU, his dad, Paul, and his older brother, Mat, did. He agrees that these family links are a bonus for the program.

"I think it makes it more meaningful to those who are coming after brothers or fathers to play here," said Mendenhall, whose cousin's boys, Zeke and Zane Mendenhall, are on the team. "It adds a different level of commitment, which ultimately helps us with our consistency over the long haul."

Lance Reynolds' sons spent a lot of time around the program growing up, but he didn't spend much time talking about BYU football at home. His sons were heavily recruited out of high school, but he stayed out of that process, maintaining the role of father rather than coach.

"I told the (coaches at BYU), I was going to be their dad and somebody else at BYU was going to have to recruit them. I didn't want to be in the position of recruiting my kids. ... There were a couple of guys I thought we might lose in that process of recruiting. It's kind of weird when you're sitting in your house and have a coach from another school talking to you about going there."

Defensive lineman Brett Denney's dad, Craig, played for BYU, as did older brothers Ryan and John.

"I grew up watching BYU football and I had opportunities to look at other schools," Brett said. "BYU has the whole package. It's a great school, a great football program and a great environment that caters to our faith. It's just the whole tradition here, the spirit here. Players grow up knowing about this place."

Cougar players say they like talking about their football ancestry with their teammates.

"We definitely recognize that and so do our parents," Denney said. "My dad will say, 'I used to play with him, that's his boy.' "

Tight end Andrew George's father was a track athlete at BYU.

"It was a program that I always followed. I think it's similar for other guys as well," George said. "There's such strong ties to BYU, alma mater ties. I don't know that parents are forcing their kids to go to BYU or anything, but I think it's just kind of ingrained in us early that BYU is a great place and it's where we want to be."

Linebacker Jordan Pendleton, whose father, Kirk, was a wide receiver for the Cougars in the 1980s, had a different recruiting experience. Surprisingly, Pendleton didn't grow up as a BYU fan. He loved Michigan instead.

"Once I committed here," he said, "it was kind of weird because I never pictured myself playing down here."

While he feels like he is holding the family torch at BYU, he added, "I feel like I'm just being myself. It's good to follow in my dad's footsteps, but at the same time, I'm being my own person. That my dad played here was never a thing that got me to come here. It was my choice. It didn't influence me at all. Obviously, my parents are happy that I'm 30 minutes away from them, so they can come watch me play."

Still, Pendleton recognizes that part of BYU's program is all in the family. ... "There's a lot of guys with dads who played here," he said. "It's funny coming here and meeting people that their dad played with my dad. It's pretty unique and cool."

Last season, those connections became even more interwoven for Pendleton when his sister, Brooke, married former BYU star wide receiver Austin Collie. Collie's dad, Scott, and Kirk Pendleton played together, and were roommates, in the 1980s. On Jordan Pendleton's first day of fall camp a couple of years ago, his mom and sister were on campus watching, as was Scott Collie. After practice, Austin and Brooke met.

"Later, Scott texted my mom and said, 'My son wants your daughter's number so he can take her out,' " Jordan said. "They went out one time and they hit it right off."

Not long after that, Pendleton and Collie became brothers-in-law. Of course, it's well-publicized that BYU quarterback Max Hall and tight end Dennis Pitta are also brothers-in-law.

"It's a funny place," Brett Denney said. "A couple of years back, (linebacker) Markell Staffieri married (quarterback) John Beck's little sister. We used to joke around about how it really is a 'Band of Brothers' (a motto the program has used for several years). We kind of marry into that."

The family pipeline is certain to continue in the future. For instance, offensive coordinator Robert Anae's son, Famika, will join the program after he finishes his mission. Defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi's son, Bronson, has verbally committed to the Cougars and is expected sign with BYU in February.

Beyond that?

"My brothers both have little boys. What if they come to play here?" Brett Denney said. "I can see that happening. I think about who else has boys and how they can be playing together, to keep that whole connection going."

Cougars/Aggies on the air

Utah State (1-2) at BYU (3-1, 1-0 MWC)

Friday, 7 p.m.

LaVell Edwards Stadium

TV: The mtn. Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM; 610 AM, 1230 AM, 95.9 FM

e-mail: jeffc@desnews.com