by Matt Mangum
Earlier this week, I posted my selections for the BYU All Time Offensive Team. Some of those decisions were pretty hard to make. On the other hand, selections to this defense were easy for me. I have always been a defensive minded fan. This was also alot of fun for me as I got to go back and go through some of the great defensive performances in BYU football history. Interestingly enough, multiple players put up record numbers in games against New Mexico. I guess I may miss some of the teams in the old MWC after all. If you miseed my BYU All Time Defensive Team Watch List, you can access it here. So without any further ado, these are my choices for the BYU All Time Defensive Team.
Defensive Line – Jason Buck, Byron Frisch, Jan Jorgensen
Jason Buck is an Outland Trophy winner and a legend in BYU football history.In 1985 he led the team in sacks and was WAC Defensive player of the year. He is in the top ten for sacks in a season and tied for second in sacks in a game with 4 against Oregon State in 1986. He may be the best defensive linemen that BYU has ever had. He was a quarterback when he entered junior college at Ricks College. I think we’re all kinda glad that the QB thing didn’t work out.
Byron Frisch finished his career with 25 sacks which places him fourth all time for sacks in a career at BYU. Frisch was part of the 1996 team which finished ranked in the top 5 and only suffered one loss. He was a consistent performer who finished his career with 222 tackles (42.5 for a loss). Fans who reminisce of the 1996 season will remember Frisch as being a tough competitor. However, 1996 was just the beginning of a career for Frisch who played 3 more years and seemed to get better every year.
Jan Jorgensen is a surprise selection for me. I had envisioned other players making the cut here. Specifically, I thought Shawn Knight would end up on this team. But Jan had slightly better numbers than Knight and was a contributor on a very talented defense. Jan’s biggest problem was that he never quite duplicated his 2007 season. In 2007 he had 77 tackles (20 for a loss) and 14 sacks. He is top five for sacks in a career and sacks in a season. That 2007 team was alot of fun to watch and it was a breakout year for several different players.
Linebacker – Shay Muirbrook, Rob Morris, Shad Hansen, Rocky Biegel
Shay Muirbrook is my favorite BYU football player of all time. He led the team in tackles in 1994 and 1996. He also led the team in sacks in 1996 with 9, had 8 tackles for a loss and 3 interceptions. He was a beast and, in my opinion, the nucleus of the defense on one of the greatest BYU football teams of all time. In his final season at BYU (1996) he was first team all conference, the conference defensive player of the year and the defensive MVP of the Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State. In that game he established the record at BYU for sacks in a game. He had 6. I originally planned on naming my first born son Shay. Then I met my wife and all of that changed. So, even though I didn’t get to name my son Shay, I still get to name Shay to my BYU All Time Defensive Team.
Rob Morris led the team in tackles in 1997 and 1998 and was the 1998 WAC Defensive Player of the Year. He ended his career with 34.5 tackles for a loss. He’s in the top ten for tackles in a season and tackles in a career. As a fan it was fun to have him on your team. You always expected him to make a play. Morris was recently featured in a “I’m a Mormon” video where he and his wife discussed their trials having children and the difficulty of losing triplets before birth. I have to warn you, I can’t watch this without crying.
Shad Hansen was in on more tackles than any other player in BYU history. That was 408 tackles (132 unassisted). This is a guy that was simply all over the field. One unassisted tackle separates him from Rocky Biegel in the rankings of tackles in a season. In 1991 they had 193 and 192 tackles respectively.
Rocky Biegel was a linebacking teamate of Shad Hansen and, as previously noted, is number two on the list for tackles in a season with 192 tackles in 1991. He is in the top ten of tackles in a career and may have the coolest name of any BYU football player ever.
Narrowing this field down to four linebackers may have been the most difficult part of naming this defensive unit. There has been some great talent at the LB position in Provo over the years and any of these four could likely be argued off of the list in favor of some of the other names from the watchlist. In the end I feel like Hansen and Biegel did alot for the linebacker tradition at BYU. Muirbrook was a team favorite, lead an amazing defense during an incredible year and performed well in big games. Morris was simply a force that competed on a level higher than anyone else around him. So they are the ones who ended up on the team.
Defensive Back – Kyle Morrell, Dan Hansen, Derwin Gray, Aaron Francisco
Kyle Morrell simply belongs on this list. In 1984 he was first team all WAC, the WAC Defensive Player of the Year and a first team All-American. He is also on every single BYU highlight reel ever made. His jump over the line to bring down the Hawaii QB in the 1984 game is something that every BYU fan has seen approximately 4 billion times. His place is cemented in BYU lore. If you need to see the tackle again, here it is.
Sure Dan Hansen finished his career with 18 interceptions. Decent. I’ll tell you what was more than decent is what he did with the ball after he picked it off. In 1971 he had 233 yards on interception returns. In his career he had 421 yards off of picks. In case you didn’t know, those are both all time leading numbers at BYU. He is also in the top 10 for tackles in a career with 369. Did I mention that he had 36 tackles (22 unassisted) in one game against New Mexico in 1971? Unreal. If I had tried to keep him off of the list, he would have intercepted the transmission of this post and ran it all the way back to my house for revision.
At a time when the BYU quarterback was receiving unbelievable attention, Derwin Gray was getting it done on defense. Gray led the team in interceptions in 1990, 1991 and 1992. He is number 2 on the list for tackles in a game with his 22 tackle (13 unassisted) performance against Penn State in 1991. Of course, you would prefer that a defensive back does not lead the team in tackles, but Penn State put up 479 yards of total offense in that game. So it looks like Gray just ended up getting alot of work coming his way that day. His 3 interception game against New Mexico in 1991 is a BYU game high. He was a force to be reckoned with.
Aaron Francisco was part of the beginning of the Bronco Mendenhall era at BYU. Francisco played all four years of football under head coach Gary Crowton, but was the focus of alot of attention when Bronco came to town and changed what the defense was doing. Francisco did well under the coach’s new system and was the team’s leading tackler in 2003 thanks to a system which put him into position to make plays. He also led the team in interceptions that year annd was named to the All MWC team in 2003 and 2004. Part of what gets Franscisco on this list is the position he was playing under Mendenhall’s first defense. While the schemes have changed some, that 2003 season signaled a change in the way defense was coached and played at BYU.
*Statistics for this were drawn from cougarstats.com and byucougars.com.