Tom Smart, Deseret News
BYU football linebacker Kyle Van Noy, Monday, March 18, 2013, in Provo.

PROVO — Having shocked most observers with his decision to return to BYU for his senior season rather than declare early for the National Football League draft, linebacker Kyle Van Noy is eager to make the most of his final year of college football.

Van Noy feels he has unfinished business to take care of, and his No. 1 goal is team-oriented.

"Win," Van Noy said when asked what he would like to accomplish in 2013. "I want to get better personally, but I want to win. No one likes to lose. People that know me know I don't like to lose, even in little card games. I don't like losing. The biggest thing is to win games — win the big games."

It's no secret that Van Noy has never beaten archrival Utah. After three consecutive painful losses to the Utes, it's something he would like to change.

"I can't wait," Van Noy said of that showdown Sept. 21 at LaVell Edwards Stadium. "This is a new year. After this year, we won't play them for a while. We're working hard. It will show."

Still, in the spring, he is being limited in his participation. It's not that he's dealing with injuries, or offseason surgeries — it's just a matter of not putting him at risk for injury. And this has provided Van Noy, who earned defensive MVP honors in last December's Poinsettia Bowl by scoring a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and leading the Cougars to a come-from-behind win over San Diego State, the chance to assist his teammates and focus on various aspects of his game.

"I feel like I need to be more of a leader, but I'm more of a lead-by-example guy," Van Noy said. "I'm going to take that route more. But ultimately, I need to open my mouth more. It will grow over the year. It won't happen overnight. It's been fun coaching, and helping out the younger guys. It's been good."

Even Van Noy's teammates were surprised that Van Noy opted to play one more season in Provo rather than turn pro.

"They were happy that I stayed," he said. "Respect comes into play because I didn't leave early for the money. I think they respected my decision."

Among the many reasons that motivated him to return include "to get better. I feel like I have a lot to improve on. Another one was to graduate. I'll graduate next fall," said Van Noy. "I need to get better at everything, from being physical, to pass rushing, to getting bigger, to getting stronger. I want to be great at the little things. Being great at the little things will be noticed. When you're great at the little things, everything else will fall into place."

During his first three seasons in Provo, Van Noy has been a consistent, dominating playmaker. As a junior, he led the team with 22 tackles-for-loss, 13 sacks, eight quarterback hurries, six forced fumbles, 53 total tackles, two interceptions, one fumble recovery and two blocked kicks.

After BYU completed the 2012 campaign, Van Noy contemplated the decision before him — return to school or go to the NFL? He took the time to talk to many people and to explore his options.

"I learned a lot of the business side of the NFL," he said. "A lot of good insights from people. It was good to speak to a lot of different people."

Meanwhile, Van Noy's family took out an insurance policy on him, guarding against the risk of an injury that could jeopardize an NFL career.

At a recent spring practice, current NFL player, and former BYU linebacker, Bryan Kehl showed up to watch, and visit with Van Noy.

"He's an absolute stud," Kehl said of Van Noy. "He's going to get drafted high (next year), especially if he keeps playing like he did in that bowl game."

Kehl, who played outside linebacker at BYU in 2002 and 2005-07, is entering his sixth season in the National Football League, having recently re-signed with the Washington Redskins.

While Kehl was also surprised by Van Noy's decision to stay, he said that decision will not only benefit the Cougars, he believes it will benefit Van Noy's career as well, as he builds off the momentum of that memorable Poinsettia Bowl performance.

"I was a little surprised, but I was pleased. It was the right decision. The reason is, he would have gotten drafted, but unless he tanks, which isn't going to happen, he will get drafted that much higher next year," said Kehl, a fourth-round pick of the New York Giants in 2008. "Where you get drafted makes such a big difference. If you're a mid-to-late-round pick, you've got to prove yourself. If you're a high pick, they give you every chance. And it makes all the difference."

Kehl has been sharing advice with Van Noy about the NFL, including NFL combine tips, and how to maximize his potential.

"I get on him every time I talk to him. I tell him he needs to gain weight, which he does. He doesn't really believe me. He said he weighs 242 right now, which is good. But I told him to play the 3-4 outside (linebacker) in the NFL he needs to weigh 250. He needs to play 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, because that's his skill set. I made the same transition. I was a 3-4 outside linebacker here, but this defense doesn't exist in the NFL. His position that he plays here, he won't play that in the NFL. So he has to transition. He has to learn. The biggest thing is, he's got to be bigger. The guys in the NFL are so much bigger and stronger. Kyle's a great football player."

In the spring, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff are being careful how they use Van Noy.

"We're being really smart in terms of when and where we put him," Mendenhall said. "There's a lot of instruction, classroom-wise, a lot of work on fundamental things that we think he can clean up while we're managing his risk to getting injured."

Last season, the Cougar defense ranked in the top five in several national categories. While last year's defense set a high bar for this year's squad, Van Noy is undaunted.

"To us, that's where we set ourselves every year," he said. "Coach Mendenhall sets it that high, so we expect that. We expect the same thing as last year, if not better."

BYU opens the season Aug. 31 at Virginia, and closes the regular season with a trip to Van Noy's hometown of Reno, Nev., for a game against Nevada.

"We have a long ways to go, a lot of shoes to fill," said Van Noy. "We have the ability and players to have a great year — it's a matter of putting it all together by the time we play Virginia."

And Van Noy plans to savor every moment of his final season.