PROVO — BYU football and the NFL haven't exactly gone hand-in-hand in recent history, although a couple of Cougar successes in the professional ranks have indicated things may be on the upswing.
The past two NFL drafts saw both Fred Warner and Sione Takitaki selected relatively high to the San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns, respectively. Warner went on to validate his third-round selection with a standout rookie season.
Current BYU players have taken note, particularly those entering their senior seasons.
“It’s great and I played with both of those guys,” said BYU senior linebacker Zayne Anderson. “I learned a lot from both of them and it’s cool to see them get drafted so high in the draft. ... It’s surreal seeing that. These guys are getting paid what they deserve and it really helps us. These guys are paving the way.”
Anderson is generally viewed as one of the top seniors on the team, a player who could parlay his athleticism into an NFL paycheck. At 6-foot-2 and weighing 215 pounds, he is a converted safety who had his first season playing linebacker cut short due to injury just four games into the season.
This year he aims to go out strong, working to emulate some of the standout play he saw from Warner when he played the same outside linebacker position.
"Watching Fred throughout his career helps for sure," Anderson said. "It goes to show how you can develop within this system and then go on to play in the NFL, along with guys like Kyle Van Noy and obviously Sione (Takitaki)."
Speed is important for NFL scouts with Anderson hoping to break into the 4.5 40-yard dash range and possibly even within the 4.4s when pre-draft workouts roll around. Players have tested throughout the offseason with another promising senior defensive player perhaps making the biggest waves on the speed front during BYU's media day.
Dayan Ghanwoloku proudly cited a 4.44 40, which should help provide a strong finish to an already impressive BYU career.
“It really depends on what weight I’m at,” Ghanwoloku said of his 40 time. “I think I’m going to play some corner this year, so I may need to slim down, but we’ll see. I was obviously happy with that time, though.”
Ghanwoloku weighs in at 203 pounds, although he plans to start the season at 195, anticipating coaches using him to play at cornerback as well as safety. Proving versatile in the defensive backfield will no doubt help him with his NFL aspirations, along with maintaining a fast 40 time, although proving as much isn't his main goal.
“It’s good for the next level showing that I can be diverse out there, but my main thing is just helping as best I can for what we do for this coming year," he said. "We have a young group, but a talented group, so I just want to help out there as best I can.”
Helping out an already uncommonly deep BYU secondary will be an influx of juco talent signed in February, specifically Eric Ellison (5-11, 175) and Dimitri Gallow (6-0, 190), both who come from Mount San Jacinto College.
“We hope they come in ready to make an impact. We don’t want soft guys who just want to wait their turn,” Ghanwoloku said. “We have a standard here and they need to be ready to go and I hope they’re all ready to go.”