Gifford Accepts Cougar Walk-on Offer

It's no secret that Coach Mendenhall loves his walk-ons at least as much as other coaches do. Preferred walk-ons at BYU are regarded as equals to scholarship players in the minds of Cougar coaches, as witnessed by the great many walk-ons that have garnered starting spots on the team. This wasn't lost on Levi Gifford, who spurned offers from Air Force and Navy to walk-on at BYU.

Levi Gifford is a 5-foot-11-inch, 190-pound safety prospect from Lone Peak High School in Alpine, Utah. After leading the state in tackles this past season he caught the notice of many a college coach, namely BYU assistant coach Brandon Doman.

Before Doman came calling, it was another former Cougar whom Gifford credits for laying the path for him to come to BYU.

"Quinn Gooch, who played safety for BYU, started working out on me and teaching me the position," explained Gifford. "I really credit him a lot for teaching me how to play the safety position well, along with letting me know how successful I could be at BYU."

Having spent his previous years playing linebacker, back problems prevented Gifford from playing as a sophomore. It was during his sophomore year that he started being tutored by Gooch in preparation for his position change.

Having spent the better part of his football career at linebacker, he had a readily aggressive mindset that aided him in eventually becoming the state's leading tackler as a safety.

"I love playing close to the line and being aggressive," Gifford said. "I'm good at closing on guys and feel that I'm a good tackler. Quinn Gooch really taught me a lot and I'm thankful for everything he taught me so that I could play the position well and get a preferred walk-on offer from BYU."

The Cougars weren't the only program that noted Gifford's play from his junior and senior seasons.

"I've already been offered a scholarship by Air Force and I'm tripping to Navy this coming week, and they told me that they'd offer me a scholarship if I tripped there," he said. "But I'm going to hold my commitment to BYU to walk on there. It's something I've thought long about and prayed about and it's the best decision for me."

Despite those offers, Gifford decided to accept his offer to receive a preferred walk-on spot at BYU for a variety of reasons. First and foremost among those reasons was simply Coach Mendenhall's history of how he treats his walk-ons.

"He told me how he really felt that BYU was the best place for me to achieve my best as a player and as a person," Gifford said of his meeting with Coach Mendenhall last week. "He gave me the advice that it's important to surround myself with great influences that I would have at BYU, and I really believed that."

Chief among those influences will initially be prep teammates and future college teammates Sae Tautu and Jacob Hannemann, along with close friends D.J. Doman, Bryan Sampson and Joey Owens. all of whom hail from Pleasant Grove.

"I'll have a lot of good friends there at BYU already when I join the team this coming year," he pointed out. "I'm very good friends with all those guys from Pleasant Grove, and although Jacob Hannemann will be serving a mission first out of high school, I'll be there with Sae [Tautu] and we're very good friends, so that will be a great knowing so many people there already."

While most players would obviously prefer receiving a scholarship over a preferred walk-on spot, Gifford differs a bit from the norm. Having had his cousin Nate Hutchinson pass through the program, Gifford is very aware of what advantages walk-ons have at BYU.

"Nate explained to me that Bronco treats his walk-ons very well and at least as well as the scholarship players," he related. "I like being a walk-on because I think that will make me hungry for a scholarship and work even harder to earn it, because I feel that you do have to earn your scholarship. Being a walk-on gives me a great opportunity to do that."

Gifford is well aware of the exploits of Scott Johnson, who entered the BYU football program under similar circumstances as he will but left the program as a starter who had earned his scholarship through hard work and dedication.

"Hopefully I'll be able to do the things that he did while I'm there," he expressed about following in Johnson's footsteps. "He did it by being dedicated to the program and through hard work and I know that I'll have to opportunity to do the exact same sort of thing that he did, so that's a big reason why I'm going to accept a preferred walk-on spot at BYU rather than accepting my scholarship offers at Air Force or Navy."

Gifford will turn 19 in the January following his first season at BYU and will likely serve a mission then. By accepting his preferred walk-on spot, he'll be fulfilling a dream of his.

"I've dreamt of playing for BYU for as long as I can remember," he said. "Now to have that opportunity is everything I ever wanted. When BYU first offered me a spot I was pretty sure that I'd take it, but after some prayer and some thought I know without question that it's the best place where I can grow and to reach my goals. I couldn't be happier and can't wait to get there."

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