Provo • Not long after his somewhat surprising announcement last December that he was turning down probable millions in the NFL and returning to BYU’s football team for his senior year, the thought hit Kyle Van Noy like an uppercut to the chin.
"It wasn’t, ‘How do I stay healthy and not blow it all?,’ " Van Noy said. "It was, ‘How do I get better and help my team more?’ "
Kyle Van Noy file
» 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior from Reno, Nev.
» Named AP Third-Team All-American, CBSSports.com Second-Team All-American after junior season
» Named CFPA National Defensive Player of the Year in 2012
» On the watch lists in 2013 for the Lott Trophy, Bednarik Award, Walter Camp Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Rotary Lombardi Award and Butkus Award
» Named to Sports Illustrated’s Preseason All-America First Team on Thursday
So Van Noy turned to boxing and mixed martial arts, naturally. He said he spent time this past offseason at a local gym, learning the sweet science and other hand-to-hand combat techniques.
"I did a lot of boxing, and a lot of MMA stuff to work on using my hands better," he said. "And it helps my conditioning as well."
Van Noy joked that he doesn’t plan on pursuing MMA if the football thing doesn’t work out — as former BYU defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen did — "because I don’t want my face getting hit too much."
Through five preseason camp practices, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound All-America player has yet to participate in any contact drills. Coaches say Van Noy has a slightly tweaked hamstring, but the truth is Van Noy is totally healthy. All-Americans such as Van Noy are a proven commodity; the exposure to injury isn’t worth the risk.
So Van Noy has been working on another possible career if the NFL doesn’t work out — coaching. Wednesday, outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga missed practice because his wife, Becca, was giving birth to the couple’s third daughter.
"Kyle steps in and coaches the outside backers without missing a beat," coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "It was fun to see."
For almost everyone associated with the BYU football program, Van Noy’s ascension from the player who had to delay his enrollment at BYU for year due to a DUI incident days before Signing Day to the team’s biggest star has been fun to watch as well.
"I thought he was gone [to the NFL] after the Poinsettia Bowl," Poppinga said. "I really didn’t think he would be back. ... But I think he came back because he didn’t think his work at BYU was done. I think he felt like he needed BYU for one more year, to help him out in life."
Certainly, it wasn’t because he wouldn’t have been drafted. Van Noy learned from the NFL Scouting Service that he would likely be taken in Rounds 1-3 if he entered the draft.
"I wanted to have more of that college football experience. Because when you are in the NFL, it is a business. I wanted to have fun one more year, and I wanted to graduate," he said. "I said ‘unfinished business’ a few months ago, and people thought that meant coming back to try and beat Utah. But this has nothing to do with playing games or anything else like that. It is more about me personally and what I believed unfinished business is."
The particulars of that, he’s not divulging. Teammates say he is having too much fun to leave.
"I had a conversation with him soon after he made that decision," said quarterback Taysom Hill. "He said he loves the team, he loves the camaraderie that comes with being a BYU football player, and he wanted more of that, and he wanted to take advantage of that. He’s unselfish. All this praise, and all these accolades he gets, he would prefer it be for the team, or the defensive squad, and not so much him. That’s just who he is."
Surely, it will be tough to duplicate the numbers he put up as a junior: 13 sacks, 22 tackles for loss, eight quarterback hurries, two interceptions, two blocked kicks, a fumble recovery, two touchdowns and a school-record six forced fumbles.
According to BYU, Van Noy is the only player in the nation to record a stat in every major defensive category each of the last two seasons. He enters the season as the nation’s career active leader in sacks. He is on so many watch lists, and has received so many preseason accolades, that he has lost count.
"They are just accolades. They are not of value," he said. "They are just somebody saying what they think and their opinion. My opinion is entirely different. My mindset is entirely different. Those are just accolades. ... All of those things are cool and I am happy and honored with it, but at the end of the day I want to be able to make my stamp here at BYU and have those accolades when I am done. But more than that, I want the team to win games. That’s all that matters."
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