"Out with the old, and in with the new."
It's a phrase common to college football, applicable in countless scenarios. But from injuries to ineligibility, there may not be a more difficult part of a season than watching a senior play his final game.
BYU felt this impact last December after middle linebackers Uona Kaveinga and Brandon Ogletree hoisted up the Poinsettia Bowl trophy, marking the end of two successful careers. It appeared that the void left by the duo of defenders could not be filled any time soon, much less by the following season.
That's where Uani 'Unga came in. An Oregon State transfer, the Mike linebacker walked into fall camp as the projected starter at his position. But with a bevy of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, it looked like he could end up as the "other guy" on the field.
But the opposite happened, and at this point of the season, 'Unga deserves the MVP award for BYU's 2013 team, on either side of the ball.
How could a little-known player earn such a prestigious award, especially when facing the likes of fellow linebacker Kyle Van Noy, wide receiver Cody Hoffman and quarterback Taysom Hill?
The answer lies in the question; 'Unga isn't the Most Outstanding Player nor the Most Skilled Player, but the Most Valuable Player. He plays a position that doesn't have the depth of Van Noy's, Hoffman's or Hill's, and his health and availability are more crucial than any other for BYU.
No disrespect to the trio of stars just mentioned. All have NFL potential and are unquestionably the biggest stars on the team. In fact, from a statistical angle, 'Unga isn't even the best-rounded player on the defense.
|BYU Defensive Leaders|
|Kyle Van Noy||56||15||4||2||13|
'Unga is head-and-shoulders above the rest in total tackles, but trails in every other category. But it is what is behind the stats that really separate him from others. He has shown his toughness, as evidenced by playing through a chest injury against Virginia. Despite getting hurt in the first quarter, he played deep into the fourth and racked up a team-high 10 tackles.
If 'Unga were to face a season-ending barrier, his position would be in more jeopardy than any other on the field. Of course, KAT safety doesn't have much more leeway, but Michael Wadsworth and Chris Badger could make ends meet if Daniel Sorensen were to become unavailable.
The same can be said at weak-side linebacker or wideout, Van Noy's and Hoffman's positions. Alani Fua and Jherremya-Leuta Douyere, despite primarily playing on the strong side, could fill in at KVN's spot, while Skyler Ridley, Ross Apo and Terenn Houk back up Hoffman.
It's a different situation at quarterback, where we don't know a whole lot about the backups. With the solid running game BYU has, a small drop-off at quarterback wouldn't be life-or-death, but the Cougar QB's behind Hill haven't shown enough to prove very much.
But at Mike linebacker, 'Unga's position, there is almost no depth behind the starter. The only player to have more than one solo tackle on the year is Teu Kaitai, and he has a mere two.
'Unga is not the player that has NFL scouts watching every second of his film. He may not be the most skilled, athletic or dominant linebacker on the field, nor does he have his name in his record books like others. But Uani 'Unga is the most valuable player on Bronco Mendenhall's 2013 team, an award which is very well-deserved.