They came from a school known for producing offensive football players and clean-shaven men, which hardly explains why these three Brigham Young alumni make up nearly half of the Pittsburgh Steelers' roster of defensive linemen.
"Isn't that crazy?" Brett Keisel suggested.
Unlikely, for sure, right down to his mountain-man beard that would be banned at BYU.
"Ridiculous," said Keisel, speaking of the thick growth - not the policy.
So he will shave soon after Sunday's Super Bowl XL against Seattle at Ford Field. Keisel and Chris Hoke will play as reserves among the 45 Steelers who dress for the game and rookie Shaun Nua will likely watch as an inactive player.
Even without any of the three starting for Pittsburgh, their presence on a Super Bowl roster is a breakthrough for each. Keisel and Nua were drafted in the seventh (and last) round, and Hoke was an undrafted free agent. That makes Hoke the real overachiever of the bunch, while Keisel is making the most impact this season and Nua also may have a
Keisel, a defensive end and versatile special-teams player, recorded two sacks and forced a fumble in the AFC Championship game against Denver. His playoff surge followed his beard growth, which began as a ploy to help break the Steelers' slump and spread through much of the defense - including Hoke, whose red beard is neatly trimmed.
Keisel's defensive playing time is limited, but he has taken full advantage of his opportunities lately. Veteran end Aaron Smith, who starts ahead of Keisel, is impressed with his work in relief. Having come to BYU as a tight end, Keisel is still growing into a defensive end's body.
"He's developed so much," Smith said. "People underestimate how strong he is and how athletic he is."
Jake Plummer is likely a believer. The Denver quarterback was escaping just about everybody else in the AFC title game, but Keisel caught him twice. It was all very satisfying for a former Wyoming high school player whose parents now live in the central Utah town of Fairview and who had several friends and family members in attendance.
"It was just a fun game, great atmosphere . . . a game that I'll cherish," Keisel said.
Keisel came to appreciate BYU more after academic troubles sent him to Snow College, where he regrouped. He found the junior college experience "humbling," while having to pay for equipment that was standard issue at BYU.
In any case, the stay in Ephraim straightened him out. "He could have gone off the deep end," former BYU line coach Tom Ramage said. "He could have blown it. Now look where he is."
He's in Detroit, with multitasking plans for the Super Bowl. Besides backing up Smith, he will participate in every special-teams play except Pittsburgh field goals and extra points. He especially enjoys covering punts and kickoffs, because there's less blocking and more tackling involved.
Keisel also likes playing with Hoke, remembering how Hoke and current Utah Blaze lineman Hans Olsen were the jokesters of the defensive line in their BYU days.
Hoke, a Californian, did not even appear in a game during his first three years with the Steelers. He would not let them get rid of him, either. And when Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton was injured last season, Hoke started the final 10 games of the regular season, plus two playoff contests, and had a surprising impact on a team that reached the AFC Championship game before losing to New England.
"It's determination and heart," Ramage said. "He's playing far beyond what anyone thought he could do."
With Hampton healthy, Hoke's role now is reduced to at most eight or 10 plays a game. That allows him to go all out, but leaves little time to adapt on the field. "You've got to be a little more focused," he said. "Usually, you get into a game and get into a rhythm."
Nua, who's from American Samoa, is just happy to be joining the other ex-Cougars in Pittsburgh. A practice squad member for much of the season, he was signed to the 53-man roster in late November but has not dressed for a game. Yet occasionally when the three of them line up together in practice in the Steelers' 3-4 alignment, a coach will comment about their shared roots, which Nua enjoys.
As Keisel said, "I don't know what it is; we've got a BYU factory going on here."
In a faraway place, at a strange position.