I don’t know what to call it, fate? But he landed in perhaps the best situation he could land in. —Keith Nellesen, friend of Kyle Van Noy
PROVO — Kyle Van Noy is the perfect teammate for the New England Patriots’ return to the Super Bowl because in his DNA is a desire to be needed.
This week in Minneapolis, Van Noy is locked and loaded. He’s pushing off distractions and zeroing in on doing all he can to be valuable to his teammates on every single play to beat the Philadelphia Eagles from his middle linebacker position.
Van Noy needs a purpose to excel. It fuels him. He’s had a taste of Super Bowl victory and he hungers for more.
This ethos is behind why Van Noy has excelled at McQueen High School, at BYU and then after leaving the Detroit Lions, for the Patriots — maybe what had driven him all his life. Why he turned his life around as a troubled teen growing up in Reno, Nevada, and why those he played with at BYU came to love him as a man who delivered time and time again.
It may come from Van Noy’s humble beginnings in this world. His biological mother in Las Vegas put Kyle up for adoption in 1991, contracting with LDS Social Services. Layne and Kelly Van Noy, then living in California, became his legal parents, accepting the request by his young mother that he be raised in the LDS Church although she was not a member of the faith.
A metaphorical story cited more than a decade ago by BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall at a youth meeting in Reno when Van Noy was just a teenager, is symbolic of the football player’s core and what makes sense to him.
That day Mendenhall described how flocks of geese fly in a “V” formation with members of the flock taking turns flying as the leader when the original leader tires. By flying in formation and creating an uplift draft for others, it creates 71 percent extended flying range for the flock thanks to this team effort. Geese in the rear often honk to encourage those ahead. If one of the geese gets injured or is left behind, two of the flock stay behind by its side until it recovers, flies or dies.
This caught Van Noy’s attention, even though he said he only went to hear the talk because his parents pushed him to go to the meeting.
Today, Van Noy and his wife, Marissa Powell, the former Miss Utah and third-place finisher in a Miss USA Pageant, run a charity to empower adopted, foster and disadvantaged children. It is called the Van Noy Valor Foundation.
“Not only was Kyle adopted but Marissa’s father and younger brother were adopted. So, the most important males directly tied to Marissa’s life came from adoption,” explained Kyle’s close friend Keith Nellesen, CEO of Nuvi.
“I believe I was meant to be with my parents for a reason,” Van Noy has said of his adoptive family.
So, how does this marrow of Van Noy’s soul translate into playmaking at a Super Bowl level?
Van Noy knows the price of success on and off the field and how it is tied to teammates and opportunity.
“Kyle was a different person once he got to New England,” said Nellesen. “He is one who thrives on acceptance and stability, he really does. Once he got there they looked at him and asked, 'What can you do to help us win?’ At Detroit, they told him he needed to change and become someone else to help them win. Now, he’s risen to the occasion. They’ve put him in situations where he can be successful and the more successful he is, the better he plays.”
Nellesen says Van Noy knows how hard it is to get to the Super Bowl. “He knew there are great players who never get there. He realizes how great of an opportunity it was to get there last year and win and how great it is to get there again and have a chance to win again. He does not take it for granted. They are focused on winning.”
Last week Van Noy told radio hosts on The Zone Sports Network (1280 AM) that falling behind the Jaguars two weeks ago wasn’t time for the Patriots to panic. “That’s the beauty of 60 minutes of football. We know if we give No. 12 (Tom Brady) the ball and more chances to crack the code, he will deliver.”
Van Noy went on to tell the hosts that he didn’t care about sacks, interceptions, statistics or anything but getting a win. “At the end of the day, it’s all about winning. Once you win (a Super Bowl), one of the things about that feeling, it’s like a drug and you want more. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in sports. There are only 51 teams that have won a Super Bowl. We’re trying to be No. 52.”
For Paul Tidwell, the BYU linebackers coach and first on staff to contact and recruit Van Noy to Provo, this second trip to the Super Bowl for Van Noy is a thrill as he follows him.
“It takes a staff to recruit. Bronco Mendenhall closed the deal but I was lucky to find him,” said Tidwell. “I’m really, really happy for Kyle. I’m glad he has a charity; that he’s giving back to his community.”
Tidwell said Van Noy’s resilience in overcoming challenges is admirable. After signing with BYU, it was learned he’d had legal issues following a party while in high school. He told Mendenhall, fearing he’d have his scholarship taken away. Both decided he would sit out his first year. Both dealt with it.
"When we’re in high school, we’re young and do things that can lead us down the wrong path. We all — or most of us — have those moments in our lives where if you keep going down that path, your whole life and destiny can be completely different. So, my hat’s off to Kyle for the choices he’s made. I am so happy it’s all turned out so good for him,” said Tidwell.
Van Noy’s legacy has always been making huge plays. Tidwell saw it in 2011 in the season opener at Mississippi when Van Noy sacked the quarterback in the end zone, fell on the ball for a touchdown and the Cougars escaped Oxford with a one-point win.
He saw it against San Diego State in the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl when Van Noy, over the course of seven minutes in the fourth quarter, forced a QB fumble in the end zone and pounced on the ball for a touchdown, then had a pick-six to help deliver the Cougars a victory.
Tidwell saw Van Noy repeat such plays in the final playoff game against the Jaguars.
“When you see those moments, you just say, ‘Oh, my.’ And they are such a reflection of his abilities. His family, his BYU family and friends are represented by his game and his effort. We are all proud of him.”
Russ Tialavea, now BYU’s director of football operations, played nose guard for BYU’s defense in front of Van Noy in that win over San Diego State. Tialavea jumped on Van Noy in a pile of bodies after that fumble recovery play for a score. Tialavea celebrates his former teammate and salutes his talent.
A second Super Bowl for Van Noy?
“Crazy man. I’m happy for him,” said Tialavea. “It isn’t very often you have a former teammate play in Super Bowls, especially back to back and hopefully it will be as champions. It’s a cool opportunity.
“I remember watching film because as a player and defensive lineman, he’s playing behind you and you don’t get to see all the things he’s doing. I remember watching the film and seeing just how intuitive he is. Everything is calculated with Kyle. He’s very smart and reacts to the ball so fast.”
If Tialavea were to break things down that stand out to him about Van Noy, it is his remarkable proficiency on the field.
“The things that pop into my mind is that he covers so much ground like nobody I’ve ever played with. He can get from one sideline to the other so fast. He is very smart, even when he plays, he is very efficient in the way he attacks the ball.
“He doesn’t waste any energy in the way he plays on the field. He is patient and reacts when he needs to react. He conserves a lot of energy and that made him a very durable player. He’s just great.”
It is Van Noy’s way to find a way. He got to a pair of Super Bowls by luck, fate or just the right circumstances at the right time with the right supporting cast.
“I don’t know what to call it, fate?” said Tidwell. “But he landed in perhaps the best situation he could land in. Sometimes an athlete is recruited in college to a position and may not have much success, but then he makes a switch to receiver or running back or defensive back and he begins to take off. That’s what looks like has happened in making the switch from Detroit to New England.”
And so Van Noy soars into Minneapolis this week determined to win, driven to belong.
He might just be with the right flock.