Provo • He’s a former walk-on, now a team captain, and one of the BYU football team’s most inspirational leaders. He is also the poster boy for head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s well-worn phrase, "fully invested."
But punt returner and inside receiver JD Falslev freely admits it this week, as the 2-2 Cougars prepare to take on surging Utah State (3-2) at Romney Stadium in Logan on Friday night.
A closer lookBYU senior JD Falslev:
» Walked on at BYU after all-state prep career at Smithfield’s Sky View High
» Returned 22 punts for 220 yards as a sophomore, including 67-yard. return for a TD vs. TCU
» Named to FBS All-Independent Team and Phil Steele All-Independent Team as a return specialist as a junior, also caught 37 passes for 274 yards, two touchdowns
» Team captain has returned 17 punts for 235 yards and a touchdown (71 yards) through four games as a senior
BYU at Utah StateFriday, 6 p.m.
TV » CBS Sports Network
"Yeah, I have some Aggie blood in me, for sure," Falslev says.
How can that be?
It’s pretty simple, says Falslev, who grew up just north of USU’s campus in the small town of Smithfield and became an all-state football player at Sky View High despite his diminutive frame — 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds.
"I have been lucky to have had tremendous support from family and friends in the Cache Valley," he said. "Obviously, they would have loved for me to play at Utah State, and it would have been a cool experience. But I have loved every second I have had at BYU. … I wouldn’t trade it for the world. That doesn’t mean I don’t still have some Aggie blood, but at the same time, I am through-and-through a Cougar."
Falslev, who returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown in BYU’s 37-10 win over Middle Tennessee State last Friday, grew up going to all of Utah State’s games, but was more of an Aggie basketball fan, he said. Neither BYU nor Utah State offered him a scholarship out of high school, but BYU expressed more interest in him as a preferred walk-on, while USU was going through a coaching change.
So he ended up at BYU, redshirting and playing on the scout team in 2009 before making his first impact on special teams as a redshirt freshman in 2010 against — who else? — the Aggies in that memorable 31-16 loss, USU’s first win over BYU since 1993. Falslev returned a kickoff 34 yards in the second quarter, and delivered a punishing hit on one of the Aggies’ kickoff coverage team players just before going out of bounds.
It was one of the few bright spots of the first half for the Cougars, who fell behind 24-3 at halftime and were never really in the game.
"It left a bad taste in my mouth. I mean, we lost to a team that outplayed us. Plain and simple, they outplayed us that night. The return that I had didn’t mean a whole lot in the game setting. It was one of the better plays in the game, but we weren’t able to win, so it didn’t mean very much," Falslev said.
Since then, Falslev’s role has increased to the point where he was voted a team captain by his teammates during fall camp. He has caught eight passes for 111 yards and BYU’s only receiving touchdown this season, while returning 17 punts for 235 yards and the score against MTSU.
He also fumbled three punt returns against the Blue Raiders, losing two, but received a vote of confidence from Mendenhall on Monday.
"Certainly, we are going to stick with him," Mendenhall said. "JD’s body of work overshadows one [bad] game that he actually scored a touchdown in, so I like him being aggressive. … And when you push the envelope as far as he did, I have no issues in terms of confidence with him. He’s really good."
Mendenhall said Falslev’s rise from walk-on to team captain illustrates what he has meant to the program.
"It’s a pretty nice story," Mendenhall said.
"What it came down to is [BYU] is where I could have the best opportunity to play," Falslev said. "Coach [Gary] Andersen did a great job up there, and is now doing a great job at Wisconsin. Coach [Matt] Wells has picked up right where Coach Andersen left off. I am happy for them, but at the same time it is a game that I really, really want to win. Not only do I want to win, but this whole team really wants to win."
They are familiar with Falslev’s story in Logan as well. Wells said Monday he would love to have coached Dave and Kaye Dawn Falslev’s son.
"I don’t know him well, I’ve kind of just met him a little bit since I’ve been here," Wells said. "I respect him because I think he’s got mojo and a lot of moxie. He’s a football player."
With just a little bit of Aggie blood in him, understandably.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.