A steady parade of National Football League scouts have been descending on BYU practices this season — primarily to see senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy and his disruptive playmaking ability.
“We’ve had more scouts here this year than we had last year when (2013 NFL first-round pick Ezekiel Ansah) was a prospect,” said Cougar linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga. “More people are aware of Kyle than they were of Ziggy at this time last year. Shoot, last week we had eight scouts here. They keep coming.”
When BYU visits Houston Saturday (1:30 p.m. MDT, ESPNEWS), Van Noy will display his talents at Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans. The way things are going, Van Noy has many more games in NFL stadiums in his future.
“He could be a first-rounder in the NFL draft,” Poppinga said. “It all depends on his health, how he finishes the season, and how he does at the NFL combine. There are a lot of factors. You just never know.”
Certainly, Van Noy has lived up to the expectations and hype in his final season in a BYU uniform. This week, he was named to midseason All-America teams by CBSSports.com, SportsIllustrated.com, Yahoo Sports, Phil Steele and NFL.com. He even received two votes in CBSSports.com’s Heisman Straw Poll.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder from Reno, Nev., has 26 career sacks, which is the second-most nationally among active players. He needs eight more sacks to set the career record at BYU.
Last winter, Van Noy could have skipped his senior season for the NFL, but decided to return to BYU. Despite all he’s already accomplished, he wants to continue to get better and finish his college career with a flourish.
“I still have a lot of room for improvement and I’ve still got to focus on the little things. I can still do a lot more,” Van Noy said, adding that he is working on his techniques and “continuing the relentlessness, if that’s even a word. Just keep going and being a disruptive playmaker.”
One of the hallmarks of Van Noy’s career has been his uncanny ability to score points. He holds the BYU record for most defensive touchdowns — five — which includes a pick-six on the first play of BYU's game against Utah State on Oct. 4. Van Noy scored two fourth-quarter TDs against San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl last December.
“He’s had at least one touchdown in every single season,” Poppinga said. “It’s impressive.”
This year, Van Noy has filled up the stat box with 39 tackles, 23 solo tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four sacks, 10 quarterback hurries, one interception for a touchdown, and one safety. All he lacks is a forced fumble, fumble recovery and blocked kick.
“Kyle makes the most productive plays at the most critical times,” said coach Bronco Mendenhall.
“He knows how to get to the ball,” Poppinga said. “When he goes after the quarterback, every single time he swipes at the ball, trying to get it out. When he’s in position to make a play, he makes an interception. He’s just an instinctive guy. You can’t coach that. It’s something you hope you find those kinds of guys that are instinctive, then put them in the right scheme and get them to play very hard. Those guys end up being special guys, like Kyle is.”
In high school, Van Noy played wide receiver, and he said he plays defense with an offensive mindset.
"I'm an offensive player on defense. I'd rather go for the ball than for the big hit because what matters the most is that we get stops and have the ball," Van Noy said prior to his sophomore season. "Whether that's scoring touchdowns on defense, it makes a big difference. As a defensive player, the ball is just as much ours as it is theirs. That's how I look at it."
Going into the Utah State game, BYU’s coaching staff noticed that opposing teams tended to start out the game with a quick hitch, which is exactly what Aggie quarterback Chuckie Keeton threw on the opening play.
“We’d been talking about it all week, to be honest,” Poppinga said.
“I knew it was coming,” Van Noy said. “I sat in the window behind the tackle and jumped up, kind of surprised. It was a play I got pretty lucky on it and ran it in for a touchdown.”
“It was awesome,” Poppinga said. “First play of the game and it set the tone. The crowd was not the same the rest of the game. We took the crowd out of the game and there was no better way to do that than with a pick-six on the first play.”
NFL scouts love Van Noy's disruptive playmaking ability. But what does he still need to do to prepare for the next level?
“There are some things they want to see him continue to improve on — his pad level, his physical play on the run game, and his consistency,” Poppinga said. “He’s getting better at every one of those. We continue to work on those things that he needs to work on, and based on the information we get from the scouts.
"I want him to have a long NFL career. For him to do that, he needs to work on some things now, so when he gets to the NFL, he’s ready to go and can be at the level they want him to be. You have to be physical in the NFL. Everyone’s a great athlete. He has to be physical along with his athleticism and his playmaking ability. If he does that, he’ll be a high draft pick next year.”