BYU Football: Assembling the Cougars' All-Time Greatest Defense
BYU's defense has been the highlight of the past few years for most Cougar fans, and although it has been one of the nation's premier groups in recent seasons, the BYU D has seen some great players throughout its history.
Several former Cougars have gone on to complete successful NFL careers, and have cemented themselves in BYU history. With all of the great players that competed as Cougars, it is only reasonable to compile an all-time "dream team" on the defensive side of the ball.
So, here is an all-time roster for the BYU defense.
Note: the team is assembled as if it would play in a 3-4 set (three linemen, four linebackers, four defensive backs).
DE: Jason Buck (1985-86) . As a Cougar, the 6'6", 270-pound lineman recorded 24 sacks in only two seasons. During his senior year, Buck was awarded the Outland Trophy and was called "the most dominating player I've seen" by former Hawaii coach Dick Tomey.
DT: Shawn Knight (1983-86). Despite being remembered by many as a huge NFL bust after being selected 11th overall by the Saints, Knight was one of the best defensive linemen BYU ever had. He had 16 sacks and 60 tackles his senior year in 1986, and paired with Buck to create one of the best defensive lines BYU has ever seen.
DE: Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah (2010-12). The Ghana native may not have had as much football experience as others on this list, but Ansah still managed to record 72 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 10 passes broken up, seven quarterback hurries and 13 tackles for loss during his senior season. His freakish athleticism and huge upside led to a fifth-overall selection in the NFL draft.
OLB: Shay Muirbrook (1993-96). He set the NCAA record for sacks in a single game (6) in the Cotton Bowl against Kansas State. Muirbrook is in the top 10 out of Cougar athletes for career tackles, and was the WAC Defensive Payer of the Year in 1996.
ILB: Shad Hansen (1989-92). He holds the BYU record for individual tackles in a season (193) and in a career (408). Hansen's performances against Hawaii and UTEP in 1991 and '92 rank as fourth and fifth for single-game tackles.
ILB: Rob Morris (1993, 1996-99). He was the WAC Defensive POY his junior year, and a second-team All-American his senior season. Morris recorded 16 tackles against San Diego State in 1998, a mark that is sixth on the Cougar single-game tackles list.
OLB: Kyle Van Noy (2010-13). Despite another year of college football ahead for Van Noy, he is already sixth on the career sacks list for BYU. If he matches last year's sack total, he will be the all-time leader. KVN is one of the top defensive players in the country and is one of the most talented linebackers BYU has ever seen.
CB: Kyle Morrell (1981-84). Morrell saved the1984 national championship team from disaster with a goal-line tackle against Hawaii that preserved its undefeated record. The first-team All-American was named the WAC Defensive POY in '84, and was the gem of that secondary.
CB: Dan Hansen (1968-72). Hansen set a BYU record with 36 tackles in a single game against New Mexico (22 unassisted, 14 assisted. No, that's not a typo). He was an All-WAC player and an honorable mention All-American. He also holds the Cougar record for interception return yards in a season and career.
S: Derwin Gray (1989-92). Gray was an All-WAC player his junior and senior seasons, and is tied for the BYU record for single-game interceptions (3). His best game came against Penn State, where he recorded 22 tackles (13 unassisted, 9 assisted).
S: David Atkinson (1970-73). Atkinson is also tied for single-game picks, and holds the record for season and career interceptions. He was an All-WAC player his senior year and led the Cougar team in interceptions three years in a row.
A defense can't function without a coordinator, and so I decided to add one to this list. Bronco Mendenhall has engineered some of the best defenses BYU has ever had, and he deserves credit for this.
The Cougars rarely get recruits as good as Alabama's or Notre Dame's, but Mendenhall has done a great job of combining the low-star players into great units.
I may not be a fan of him as a head coach, but he is a spectacular coordinator.