It’s not even the football part of it, it’s being around these kids that I love and mentoring them and coaching. It’s been one of the most fun things I can do. —Harvey Unga
Harvey Unga will have the unique vantage point of watching his all-time BYU rushing record being broken — if Jamaal Williams stays healthy.
One of the most bruising, physical running backs in Utah college history, Unga had a brief NFL career with the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars, but is now a graduate assistant coach for BYU under new head coach Kalani Sitake.
“It is unique,” said Unga of the Williams Watch. “Reno Mahe is going to do a great job and he’ll definitely get the job done. Jamaal is a stud athlete and a stud person and I wouldn’t expect anything less than him breaking my record and having an outstanding season.”
Williams needs 947 yards to surpass Unga’s career mark of 3,547. To do so Williams needs to pass No. 2 Curtis Brown (3,372), No. 3 Jamal Willis (3,169), No. 4 Lakei Heimuli (2,850) and No. 5 Jeff Blanc (2,663) on the career list. Williams enters 2016 with 2,590 career rushing yards.
Basically, Williams must be a 1,000-yard runner against one of the toughest schedules in BYU history. He will get a fourth year to do what Unga did in three.
Williams is back for his senior year after withdrawing from school in 2015. Knee surgery cut his 2014 junior season in half. Williams has been on the cusp of busting the Unga mark for two years. It is more than ironic Unga has been asked to have a ringside seat for the Williams feat now.
Unga will be working with offensive line coach Mike Empey with specific emphasis on the running game.
“I’ve been saying this for a while now, the kid is going to break the record,” said Unga. “I am in his corner. I thought he would break it the year he got injured. He will have some breakaway games where he will shine and there will be some games he might struggle. But overall, he’s got a deep backfield and he should be able to keep healthy and fresh. I think the kid’s got it. He has a good coaching staff behind him. I say, he better break it.”
Unga joins Sitake’s staff with other graduate assistants Jan Jorgensen, JD Falslev and Vince Feula for the upcoming season. Jorgensen and Falslev were on Bronco Mendenhall’s staff.
Working with Empey on the offensive line is an enticing challenge for Unga.
“Tagging up with offensive line duties will diversify my coaching experience,” he said. “Kalani pushed this GA opportunity. When he came in for his first press conference, he pulled me aside. I wasn’t sure where it was going to go but he pretty much reminded me we had spoken about coaching and if I was interested, he had a great opportunity for me to come in and dive right in. He said, ‘If you want to take the graduate assistant job, it’s yours and you’ll do a great job.’”
Unga sees it as a great opportunity to work with O-line coach Empey, offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, wide receivers coach Ben Cahoon and tight ends coach Steve Clark.
“It’s a great group and it's been a fun ride so far. Ty is a tremendous leader. His knowledge is crazy and it’s not just the passing game. His knowledge of run schemes is off the charts and gaining a perspective and philosophy with the run from a quarterback’s perspective is educational. While I’ve been playing and learning football, it’s generally been through the eyes of a running back coach and offensive line coach. The offensive coordinator has his say but to hear it from a quarterback has opened my eyes to a lot of different things.”
Unga hasn’t been back to BYU to take classes since 2011 but he’s not afraid to crack the books, take tests and coach. He’s taking the humble approach and his experience studying and creating a work ethic has helped.
“I’m learning, I’m growing,” he claims. “I’ll be just fine.”
Unga says walking into BYU’s football office, “having to go to work” is a blast with Sitake’s crew.
“I get to go to work with a bunch of dudes that I love, doing what I love.
“It’s not even the football part of it, it’s being around these kids that I love and mentoring them and coaching. It’s been one of the most fun things I can do. Some people get into jobs they like, but for me, being around these kids, helping them with life lessons, is the ultimate prize for me, to be able to do something I love, it’s a no-brainer, especially when you have coaches like Kalani and Ty.
“Man, you can walk around here and everyone is happy, excited, ready to roll, there are no negative vibes. I walk into a meeting, to a press conference or the office and everyone is smiling, joking around, so positive, it is a warm and inviting feeling and you want to be a part of it.”
The Williams Watch is on.
Unga’s got a front-row seat.