BYU Seniors Reflect before Last Home Game

For tens of thousands of BYU fans, Saturday's home game will be the last chance to see many of their favorite Cougars play in LaVell Edwards Stadium. The BYU seniors have had more than their fair share of tough times in the last five years. The dark days are behind them, however, and this weekend, they have the chance to leave Provo literally at the pinnacle of the mountain.

"I think it's going to be a great tribute because these guys have been awesome," said junior outside linebacker Bryan Kehl about clinching the Mountain West Conference championship on senior day. "Look at where this program has come from. I don't think there is enough that could be said and my hat goes off to all of these seniors on this team. It's great to finish like this. We're going to finish undefeated at home, and that's who we sweat and bleed for is our fans. We play our hearts out for the Cougar nation and no one has weathered through the tough times more than these guys to do it."

It will take some getting used to for BYU fans when number 12 is no longer quarterbacking the Cougars. John Beck spent part or all of the last four years taking snaps for the boys in blue. Fans are also likely to do a double take when number 6 is no slicing through defenses.

This week as these senior Cougars prepare for their final home game, the team is not focusing on senior day, but rather on finishing out the season undefeated.

"It's going to mean a lot to win this last game," said Curtis Brown. "I think back to my last home games of the season we haven't won. With how confident our team is and with how prepared that we are week in and week out, I feel confident that we will win our last home game as a team and for our fans and end it on a good note.

"I'm just focused on winning. I kind of don't look at preparing for my last home game as being my last. We still have three games left and maybe a year from now I'll come back to the stadium and miss it, but right now I feel like I have no regrets, and I'm proud of everything I've done and ever accomplished. That's one thing I think some guys do is look back and say, ‘Man, I could have done this and I could have done that.' I feel like I've given my all to this team and left it all here. I'm just proud that I could be part of this history in this program and make some kind of impact on this program and on the university. I just helps me to know that I can leave knowing that I've done all that I could and leave on a good note."

"You know, I've been trying to not think about it," said senior tight end Daniel Coats. "I'm going to have a rough night, and when I say rough night, I mean I felt like I have grown by being here in Provo. I started my family here and my daughter has grown up in LaVell Edwards Stadium. She's grown up singing the fight song and anytime she sees a football player in blue she says, ‘There's my daddy!' You know, Provo has been very good to me and the fans have been good to me and this team during both the good times and the bad. It's going to be hard to go."

"It's just one of the feelings where you know you have to give all that you have one more time for this last home game," said senior defensive tackle Hala Paongo. "We want to leave nothing behind and have nothing left after the game, so that way when the game is over you can say that you left everything on the field and that you gave it your all."

Senior wide receiver Zac Collie is doing his best to block out the fact that this will be the last time he runs out of the tunnel onto the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

"There are some people talking about it like some family members and some on the team saying this is our last home game, but for me, I'm just trying to block that out and just focus on the game," said Collie. "I just try and treat it as if it was any other game and not try to get to emotional and think, ‘Oh I got to do this, this and that.' I'm just going to go out and just play like I've been playing in the past. I think when the time comes it will be a little bit emotional. It will be a special time but the way I'm approaching it is it's just another game."

"It's hard but you try not to think about it," said senior linebacker Cameron Jensen. "At the same time we know we have a lot of work to do and what better way to go out of LaVell Edwards Stadium than as a winner and conference champion and undefeated at home. There's going to be a lot of good things that will come out of this last home game but at the same time it's going to be a little tough to look around and say that was it."

When John Beck was a committed senior quarterback out of Mountain View High School in Arizona, many fans wondered if the six-foot tall gunslinger was tall enough to play at the college level. However, after reading the chatter among message boards and chat rooms, BYU fans were happy to have learned that Beck grew a few inches while serving a mission in Portugal.

Little did they know that four years after returning home from Portugal, Beck would become BYU's second all-time passer and total offense leader, besting BYU quarterback legends Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, John Walsh and Steve Sarkisian. Little did BYU fans know that Beck would also become the most accurate passer in BYU history, lead the nation in completion percentage, lead all QB seniors in passing yards per game, and hold the Mountain West Conference record for touchdowns.

"Obviously I want to make this game my best game," said senior quarterback John Beck. "I believe it's the same for the rest of the seniors on this team as well. One thing that I don't want to do is get caught up in the senior day thing. I understand that it is my last home game, but this team has been on a roll for the last seven games, and things have been going great for us. The last thing I want to do is change the way I go into a game or change the way I prepare for this last home game.

"I want to stay focused, and I think I've done a pretty good job of not letting my focus get off of what is most important, but to say that I haven't thought about it would be a lie. I drove by the stadium last Sunday and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is it—the last time I play in this stadium will be for the legends game in spring ball. It will definitely mean a lot for us seniors. I've been here for three senior days and watched them all go by and now it's kind of weird that I watched all of those seniors go but this is the one where I go."

BYU fans will remember the back and fourth struggle Coats had as a senior wide receiver while at Northridge High School. He wrestled with his decision of whether to come to BYU or go back east to play in the ACC.

"I think things would have been a lot different for me if I had chosen otherwise," Coats said. "The atmosphere would have been different and the people wouldn't have been as nice, and the city wouldn't have been as warming and as friendly to me. Over there I'm just some weird guy out of Utah, but here people somewhat know me from high school and it's just different being here among these people and representing this team."

During the 2003 season, Brown redshirted and played on the scout team a year after being named BYU's top offensive rookie and finishing as team's second leading rusher. As Brown had a great run through the defense during spring camp in 2003, former BYU walked by several excited spectators and commented, "He's going to be a good one, isn't he!"

By the time Brown takes his last handoff from Beck, he will have become BYU's all time leading rusher. He already has more 100-yard rushing game (13) than any other Cougar running back including Lakei Heimuli (10), John Ogden (10), Jamal Willis (10) and Luke Staley (10). An accomplishment not many thought a little known Paraclete High School running back could manage. Gary Crowton saw something in Brown, but did he know how good the former one-star recruit would really be?

"My time has been well spent here, and I've made the most of my opportunities," said Brown. "I guess I can finally leave the season and for once not have to look back."

Even though he remains focused on the upcoming game against New Mexico, Brown did mention a few things he will miss about BYU.

"You know what, I'll remember the love that our team has for each other," said Brown. "We're family both on the field and off. I'm going to miss the strong relationships here and the experiences we've had together. I'm going to miss the fans supporting us week in and week out. There is no better place to play football on the west coast than among these fans and in this stadium. I'm going to miss the atmosphere and seeing a lot of great people do a lot of great things on this team.

"The thing that I'm going to miss the most is playing with these players. When you're out on the field looking at 10 other guys struggling and going through the same trials as you, that is really special. When you're out there working hard and struggling together there's nothing that can really explain the emotional bonds that are formed. I think it's been great playing with players that believe in the same things as I do. We can talk about missions and things like that and also having a head coach that isn't afraid to make that apart the program. To do the firesides that we do before every game, those are going to be some of the things that I'll remember the most."

The BYU experience has helped shape and mold these seniors even beyond what they themselves had expected as young men. The realization of how they would be influenced over time at BYU and how they would soon influence others placed a welcomed responsibility on their shoulders.

"BYU has done a lot for me," said Hala Paongo. "Physically I've grown stronger, faster, more athletic, and as a person I've grown from a good person into a better person. If you come to BYU as a good person you'll leave here a better person because of the principles you learn while being here. There are a lot of high standards here, and when you live those standards, it becomes a part of you, so when you leave this school you go as a person who has become those standards.

"It's a positive thing for us to be here because what we do means a lot to other people. When we're good examples, it can affect the younger fans and the little kids. I try to be an example and tell everyone that I came here as a walk-on and had to go through a lot of stuff. I left the University of Hawaii where I had a full ride scholarship there to come and be a walk-on at BYU over here. This is where my dream was, and if you can dream it you can do it. That's my message to everyone: if you dream it and work hard at it you can do it. I'm going to really miss it here."

"The [LDS] Church principles and standards make being an example no burden at all," said Jensen. "People just look at you as being an example when all you're doing is just doing what you're supposed to. I love that aspect about being here at BYU. It just makes it easy to do that when everybody is doing the same thing."

Coats and Brown each had a message for the fans who have been a part of their lives over the past years.

"Stay into everything that is going on within this program and with every player because it really makes this place a great place to play," said Daniel Coats. "There are times when it might get a little bothersome, but a majority of the time it means a lot of us as players. You always want to play great when you have little kids come up to you telling you your stats and knowing they're growing up watching you both on and off the field. It makes you want to be a better person for them, so I just want to say to the fans stay connected to the players. These things really mean a lot to us. It means a lot and makes us better people knowing that what we do both on and off the field affects people and their kids. It nice to know what we do means something to people out here."

"I just want to say thank you," said a reflective Brown. "Everybody that has come in contact with me and played a part in the success of BYU has touched me in one way or another. I'm just thankful to all those who have contributed to my personal growth and development and contributed to BYU football, this university and the Church. I just want to say thank you because without you I wouldn't be who I am today. All of the influence and all of the things that I've learned I will take with me into the future and will apply them within my life and hopefully help influence others as well. I'm just grateful for the opportunity to have been in the presence of great people and I just wanted to say thank you."

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