South Bend, Ind. • Former Notre Dame football great Paul Hornung, who won the Heisman Trophy for the Irish in 1956, has the answer to BYU's offensive woes this season.
The Cougars' deep snapper should be carrying the football more often, Hornung says, in jest.
That's because BYU's Reed Hornung, whose only job is to snap the ball on punts, PATs and field goals, is distantly related to the professional and college football Hall of Famer. They are not exactly sure how they are related, but are quite certain they are because the surname is rare in the United States and both families trace their ancestry back to the small town of Dieburg, Germany.
Reed Hornung, who grew up in Anoka, Minn., a seven-hour drive from South Bend, and will "try to go unnoticed" on Saturday when the Cougars take on the favorite team of his childhood, No. 5-ranked Notre Dame, at 1:30 p.m. MDT on NBC.
"I'm one of the guys who doesn't want his name to be called, because that probably means I made a [bad snap]," Hornung said.
The BYU senior still has an autographed picture of Paul Hornung hanging above his bedroom back in Minnesota, but the two have never met, he said. Reed's parents, Mike and Jervae, have exchanged emails with the legendary Notre Dame and Green Bay Packers star, including one in which Paul Hornung, who lives in Louisville, Ky., joked that BYU "ought to give Reed the ball and see what he can do with that last name."
Jervae Hornung said nine or 10 family members will be at Notre Dame Stadium to cheer on the Cougars. She grew up in Minnesota and met Mike Hornung, who is from Sunnyvale, Calif., at BYU.
"This game is a very big deal to our family," she said.
Most of the Minnesota Hornungs have been to a game at Notre Dame before, but Reed has not. He was on his church mission in Kingston, Jamaica, when BYU last played the Irish in South Bend, in 2005.
"I can't believe I am going to play there," he said. "I grew up watching Notre Dame on NBC, and of course I've read a lot about Paul Hornung and his career. I can't wait."
After his mission, Reed Hornung played defensive end at Snow College for a year, then walked on at BYU his sophomore season. He has been on scholarship the past two seasons, and is most among Cougar fans for forcing a fumble after hustling down on a punt in the Armed Forces Bowl win over Tulsa last year.
Cougars mostly healthy
Although backup safety Mike Hague probably won't play, due to an injured calf muscle, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said the Cougars are mostly healthy heading into Saturday's showdown.
"For game No. 8, it is as healthy as we have been," Mendenhall said. "So yeah, at this point you are never all the way healthy and fresh. But I am comfortable with the players we have for [the game]."
Saturday's game against the No. 5-ranked Irish will mark the first time in school history that BYU will have played top-10 teams in successive weeks, having lost 42-24 to No. 10 Oregon State last week. Mendenhall said difficult games are risks the Cougars are willing to take, even if that comes at the expense of support from BYU fans who can't take seeing the Cougars lose as an independent more than they did as a member of a conference.
"I have learned my support is conditional," he said. "The bigger picture is that in order to continue to perform and be on the national stage, I am not satisfied with being in the Top 25. I want to be more than that. So yeah, there's risk. However, what if you win those games? And what if the support grows? So, I guess you can look at it either way."