On The Shoulders of Giants

Seniors John Beck, Curtis Brown, Cameron Jensen, Aaron Wagner, Dan Coats, Jonny Harline, Jake Kuresa, Zac Collie and Eddie Keele will long be remembered by fans for their role in bringing BYU back to former glory. They will also be remembered by their teammates for setting the example of how to lead a successful program.

With many impact senior contributors graduating and passing the baton of leadership down to the next generation of Cougars, the question of "What about next year?" will be on most BYU fans' minds. Cougar faithful can rest assured that a system has been put in place to make the transition as smooth as possible.

"I think it's a tribute to what Coach Mendenhall has done for this program," said senior quarterback John Beck. "He's obviously asked us to step up as team leaders and take control of this team and take charge. I feel like those guys that have had that responsibility have stepped up and have done a very good job. I feel like those guys that are coming up through the ranks have seen what this team has done this year and their going to try and emulate that and do their very best.

"When you're a kid you just follow the program and the guys ahead of you that are always winning, and when you get there, you just know that a lot is going to be expected of you. When you're here at BYU and you're a freshman, you see how the sophomores look at all the juniors and seniors during practice. You see how they talk to the team and how they are on the field, and you kind of learn from that. Then when the seniors leave and the juniors take their place having already learned from the previous examples, those sophomores are now juniors, and they step up and take on the same roll."

"It really feels great because I don't know how many times I've sat with Cameron [Jensen] and we've said we need to be the team that brings BYU back," said senior inside linebacker Aaron Wagner. "We've said that forever, ‘Let's be the team; let's be the team,' and now it's paid off, and we've brought BYU back to prominence. Now it's the younger guys job to continue on the course that brings success. I don't doubt for a minute that this will happen because they have the examples for success, the talent to continue being successful and the coaches to lead them along the way.

Earning the rights to team ownership through effort and dedication naturally breeds leadership. A player that has earned that right naturally does what he can to ensure that his team is performing to the best of its ability.

"We seniors know the underclassmen really well," said Beck. "You can ask me or Cameron, Curtis [Brown] or Jake [Kuresa] who next year's senior captains will be and it's pretty easy to tell. You can already see them working on things and seeing those leadership skills already coming out in different ways. You're going to have two different captains but the coaches will practice the same way and in the end it will be the same results: winning football games."

"Since I've been here, we've been chanting Mountain West Conference champs and saying champions after every [practice] break, and I don't know how many times we've said that these past two years," said Wagner. "Everybody got together and I think the seniors really took a serious role in leadership. We were here every day this summer and didn't miss one lift, one run, one day of conditioning. We were there for the Super Games, and we competed hard in everything we did and just focused on winning a conference championship. We worked our tails off, envisioned it for this long, and now, it's kind of surreal because we finally did it. It's kind of like, ‘Man, we got it and this is what we've been working for, and now I have that trophy in my hand and it feels great.' Now the feeling is, "What next?' The younger guys have seen how we prepared to be conference champions and now they know how to be winners."

Inheriting a championship tradition is a tremendous burden. When a young Beck was given the responsibility of leading the offense, he relied on the words of former BYU great Steve Young.

"Steve Young came and spoke to our team before the Georgia Tech game," said Beck. "He said he remembered his first game as a starter, and before his first game he thought to himself, ‘Man, what am I going to do? There are so many great guys that have gone before me like Jim McMahon, Gilford Nielson and Gary Sheide that had gone before me, what am I going to do?' He then said, ‘I just stood on their shoulders and did what they've done, and I just kind of fell in line.' That's what makes the program a successful one. It's doing the same things year in and year out even though the guys on the team may change, the outcomes doesn't because the next guys understand what it takes to be successful."

"I feel really confident in the future success of the team," said Wagner. "Besides many of the seniors on this team, a lot of they guys that are contributing to the success of the team are really young. They haven't been in the program for a long time to say, ‘Well, things could be done this way or that way.' They've just seen how we did things and the expectations that we set, the way that we practiced, the way that we trained, and so that's the only thing they know in what BYU football is. I feel strongly that this is the way it's going to continue because they don't know anything different. All these guys know is this is the way BYU football is and the way things work around here and look what happens when it does, you win championships."

When players see a formula yield wins, it helps reaffirm their trust in the coaches and their leadership.

"Coach Mendenhall always talks about having leadership and being dedicated and setting examples," said wide receiver Rudy Beck. "He said he cares more about our examples than anything else, and so having the leadership mentality is already ingrained in us. Everyone is already getting the attitude of, ‘We've got to be leaders more than anything else.' Having that mentality off the field will follow you on the field too. We hear what the coaches tell us and see how it works and it just reassures us that we are doing the right things."

Coach Mendenhall's mantra "being fully invested" is well known among BYU fans. The competition and drive among the younger Cougars to prove the level of their investment has been raging for sometime now. The cycle has begun, and many of BYU's seniors feel that the formula for winning success will continue for many years to come.

"There is a lot of tremendous talent on this team that I feel comfortable in knowing the program is passing onto good hands," said Wagner. "Max [Hall] is going to be incredible. I mean, just playing against him every day here we razz him and mess around with him and things like that, but he ‘s a tremendous talent and the biggest thing about Max Hall is he is super competitive. That's one characteristic that I've always admired in anybody no matter what their talent level is, and that's one thing that Max Hall has is one heck of a competitive nature and that's going to make him successful.

"That's something that is so contagious and when someone is getting everyone all fired up to be super competitive out there it just breads confidence, and that's what Max does and is going to do. We've got a lot of guys coming back like the O-line. Those guys know how to win and have a ton of confidence. We have most of the receivers coming back and they have a lot of experience and know what it takes to win. Also what a lot of people don't know is there are a guys waiting in the wings like Andrew George and Vic So'oto who are overshadowed by two of the best tight ends in the country, so those guys are going to be here and will be very good next year.

"Our defense will be loaded. We have some linebackers that will still be here and some linebackers that are yet to come that will be here and they'll continue leading the defense in all aspects. We don't lose anyone in the backfield except for J-5 [Justin Robinson]. Kayle [Buchanan] will still be here and everyone knows he can play, and he'll step up and stay healthy. Many of the starters on the defensive line will be back for next year so I think they'll be good."

"My whole life I've always been on a losing team, and this is the first team I've ever won on," said Rudy Beck. "I lost in Pop-Warner; I lost in high school so it feels really good to finally be a winner. I'm kind of bummed out that the time is going by so fast because winning is fun.

"When we won the conference that was the first time I had ever won something so I almost didn't know how to act. I was like, ‘Huh?' It's good to see how hard we worked. I think the best kind of leadership is to lead by example, and that's what these guys have been doing and turned the program around. I think because they did that, all these younger guys saw what they did in everything and what kind of an attitude they had to be successful and be leaders. You see it even right now that even though many of these younger guys aren't seniors they're trying to be leaders, and I think when next year comes around we're going to have a lot of guys who are on the same page being leaders that are underclassmen. They'll continue setting the example much like these seniors before them did. They set the tone and we have to follow it and continue doing what has made us champions."

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