I'm really proud of Kyle and the progress that he's made in his life and on the football field. I'm fortunate to be his coach. There's still a lot of room for growth and improvement that he and I can work on together in his final year at BYU. —Bronco Mendenhall, BYU football head coach
PROVO — Still basking in the glow of watching one of his players be a top-5 pick in the NFL draft, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall knows there's a good chance the Cougars could see another player selected in the first round next April.
"It's certainly something to work for," Mendenhall said.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who opted to return for his senior season, has been listed as a potential first-round pick on numerous 2014 mock drafts.
"I'm really proud of Kyle and the progress that he's made in his life and on the football field," Mendenhall said. "I'm fortunate to be his coach. There's still a lot of room for growth and improvement that he and I can work on together in his final year at BYU."
Mendenhall cut short a vacation to Costa Rica in order to be with Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah in New York City for the NFL draft on April 25. Ansah went No. 5 overall to the Detroit Lions, tying the highest spot a BYU football player has ever been drafted. Quarterback Jim McMahon was also picked No. 5 in 1982 by the Chicago Bears.
"It certainly would be really fun to be able to come back (to New York) next year and support (Van Noy) with a similar opportunity that Ziggy has had," Mendenhall said. "That would be my hope."
And should Ansah turn in an outstanding rookie season — some project him as an early favorite for NFL rookie-of-the-year honors — that could only help Van Noy's stock, too.
Another Cougar receiving considerable attention from NFL draft observers is wide receiver Cody Hoffman, who is poised to break all of BYU's receiving records this fall.
Both Van Noy and Hoffman are already building momentum going into the 2014 draft.
"Right now, I have Cody Hoffman as the No. 2 senior receiver available," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a conference call days after the conclusion of the 2013 draft. "I have Kyle Van Noy as the No. 3 outside linebacker available."
Ansah's high selection in the draft was a significant victory on several fronts for the BYU football program. He was the first Cougar drafted since Dennis Pitta was taken in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2010.
That draft drought ended with a flood of attention for Ansah — and BYU.
"It's fantastic. Our program wins a lot of games," Mendenhall said. "We were third (defensively) in the country in defense, and Ziggy was a big part of that. What it shows is that not only the instruction he received — he has excellent athletic ability, but he knew nothing — to go from that to a top-five pick in three years, certainly Ziggy deserves the majority of the credit. Also the instruction along the way was helpful not only on the field, but off. And how to balance it all. Then it's a tribute to his mom, for how she raised him. When all those forces combine, it's a great reflection on BYU, just the way it was delivered."
The Cougars have noticed the "Ziggy Effect" when it comes to recruiting, with the increased visibility for the program.
"Already our coaches who are out (recruiting) in the spring have said that almost every office they go into, coaches are asking them about Ziggy," Mendenhall said. "They've seen articles about him and they're very impressed. Then they saw us play defense last year and they've paid attention to how well our program has done the last eight years. They want to know more about BYU itself, and the values and beliefs of the church that owns the institution. Then they say, 'We have somebody for you.' So Ziggy's exposure has really helped our program, not only in educating others, but also intriguing them as to what BYU is all about."
While Ansah was the only BYU player drafted this year, six others signed free agent contracts.
Mendenhall has drawn criticism for the lack of players in his program drafted in recent years. Some say it's because he has publicly stated that football is No. 5 on his list of priorities.
But Mendenhall said helping send players to the NFL is an extremely high priority for him and for the program.
"I want to help our players reach their goals and potential in whatever area they choose," Mendenhall said. "I think I'm probably as passionate, if not more passionate, as anyone in the country in wanting to help our players reach the NFL."
Mendenhall added that there's much more to life than playing in the NFL. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has shared alarming information with college coaches about the downside of playing professional football, and it's a message he talks about with his players.
"What I do express to our players and others is that just by making it to the NFL and getting the chance to play doesn't guarantee their success in life," Mendenhall said. "There are high rates of divorce, bankruptcy and substance abuse. What I really want is for our players to be completely prepared for life, not only through football, including the NFL, which I love, but also that when their NFL careers are completed, they're well-prepared to be husbands, fathers and providers and positive role models and contributing members of society in the communities where they live.
"Football can be a great vehicle to help them get to that point, but in and of itself, it isn't the only thing to pursue. There are about 30 percent of the players that play in the NFL that are able to balance marriages, finances and their bodies and minds. The other 70 percent, the NFL usually takes a pretty strong toll on them. I'm the most passionate advocate for young men to go on to the NFL, but to be that 30 percent — the ones that can have it all and don't sacrifice the NFL for their well-being. I want them to have both."