Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Former, Future Legends Unite for Day of Football (April 5, 2010)

This story was a lot of fun to do. I was assigned to cover football practice on Friday, and I hit the jackpot! It turned out I came on an alumni reunion day. Thousands of former BYU football players and their families came to see the 2010 team practice. I interviewed coach LaVell Edwards and David Nixon who happened to be there. I also saw Marc Lyons, a BYU quarterback from the '70s.

Here's the story:

Former, future legends unite for day of football

I wrote quite a long article, and of course it didn't all fit. So here's the article I wrote in its original splendor:
Years of BYU football tradition came together Friday to remember the past and look forward to the future.
More than 1,000 coaches, players and managers from seasons past crowded the sidelines during spring practice to get a look at how their team is doing in 2010.
George White, a BYU wide receiver in 1967, said each football season is a new chance for greatness.
“Hope springs eternal,” White said. “I think they’re going to have a great season.”
Former BYU head coach LaVell Edwards was also in attendance to watch the team prepare for the fall. But he said it is too early to make any predictions for the upcoming season.
“I never did make them when I was coaching and I certainly don’t make them now,” Edwards said. “You can’t tell much from spring practice. I don’t think they [the current coaches] even know. You never know how it works out. [A player] may or may not be the one to go the distance, you just have to wait and see.”
David Nixon, a recent BYU linebacker now on the Oakland Raiders roster, said he came to see the prospects competing for open positions on the team.
“I’m excited to see what happens with the quarterback battle and see who comes out on top of that one,” Nixon said. “There are lots of spots to be filled. Hopefully a lot of guys can step up and show potential and make a contribution.”
White, Edwards and Nixon had plenty of exciting football to watch.
In the scrimmage game, three touchdowns came from plays of 50 yards or more. Quarterback Riley Nelson led the offense in all three scoring drives, but it was running back Harvey Unga who threw the first touchdown of the day with a 75-yard pass to O’Neill Chambers.
Nelson threw for 137 yards and two touchdowns, a 75-yard pass to McKay Jacobsen and a 56-yard pass to J.J. Di Luigi.
Jake Heaps provided in 85 passing yards and James Lark gave 31.
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said the spring reunion has been an annual event since he started coaching. The event has grown since the first year when it attracted only about 150 alumni.
“It was fun for the players and fun for the former players, that was really more of what today was about,” Mendenhall said. “I think just the enthusiasm for the program, the number of people that are supporting and excited to be back and wanting to show their appreciation of what’s happening, that really is the takeaway from today.”
Edwards had good things to say about Mendenhall’s team.
“I think he’s doing an excellent job,” Edwards said. “They’ll be another very good football team.”
Pete Strickland, the father of a former player and a big Cougar fan, said he is looking forward to the coming year for BYU football.
“It was very exciting to come down and watch the team play this last year, and we hope to keep doing that,” Strickland said. “We got some new blood in as the quarterback this coming year. And I’m glad to see Harvey Unga coming back. So I think we’ll do well this next year.”
Many of those involved with BYU football’s past had stories to tell.
Larry Heaps (a distant relative of Jake Heaps) was a wide receiver from 1967 to 1970. He said his favorite part of his BYU football career was the friendships with teammates.
“That’s what stands out the most,” Heaps said. “There’s a lot of nostalgia with coming back. It’s great to see all the old players and reminisce over days gone by.”
Craig Colyar was a team manager from 1993 to 1998. He said his associations with the heroes on the team have influenced the rest of his life.
“It was a dream come true to be around the athletes and learn from a lot of those players that were such good examples and such good people,” Colyar said. “It really helps set a tone for the rest of your life in terms of how you act and the way you treat people and work hard and you’ll be rewarded.”
Colyar said football practices involved less technology during his time as manager.
“[Coach Mendenhall] has the big clock out here counting down the drills. It was a little bit more laid-back in terms of the schedule back in the day,” Colyar said. “We ran it off a Coach Edwards schedule that he used to prepare on a sheet of white paper and a pencil. It was my job to copy that off and give that to the rest of the coaches and staff members.”
Mel Farr was a manager for the team in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and was there when BYU won the Holiday Bowl in 1980. He said the team always helped him feel involved even though he was not a player.
“I graduated high school at 4 feet 9 1/2 inches, so I was too small to play,” Farr said. “[But] I enjoyed it. I was still part of the team. They made me feel it.”
Farr said the game has changed over the years.
“They’re faster now than they were then,” Farr said. “The style of coaching is different too. They have different rules than they did way back then, so you have to adapt your coaching philosophy.”
Carol Hansen, the wife of former lineman Danny Hansen and aunt of current lineman Braden Hansen, also remembered the Holiday Bowl. The players’ wives were invited, and Hansen said she was the brave one who led the wife carpool to San Diego.
“I was the only one who would dare to drive the car and drive everybody around,” Hansen said.
Hansen said the economy was different in the ‘70s and ‘80s when her husband played for the Cougars.
“What my husband got was $175 a month,” Hansen said. “And our rent was $165 and our phone bill was $10. [So it] paid exactly that.”
Coach Edwards said the best part of the day was visiting with his players, staff and friends.
“It’s always great to see them,” Edwards said. “There’s no question about that.”
For White, the highlight of the reunion was seeing how far BYU has come and sharing it with his old teammates.
“It’s great to see the BYU tradition mature and become more entrenched in the community,” White said. “That’s been wonderful. The best thing for me is just seeing all your old friends.”

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