This column has my name on it, but today I should share the byline with another person. I’m turning over a part of it to Luke Staley. Yeah, that Luke Staley. But first I’ve got to jot down a preface.
Staley is the very best college running back ever to play for BYU or, for that matter, another Utah school. Yes, Tyler Allgeier broke Staley’s 20-year-old season rushing record last yr, but he had more carries — 80 more to be exact. Allgeier rushed for 1,601 yards and 23 touchdowns in 13 games (276 carries); Staley rushed for 1,596 yards and 24 touchdowns in 11 games (196 carries) and averaged an insane 8.1 yards per carry.
He missed the last two games of that season with an injury — each losses (it’s no coincidence that BYU was 12-0 until Staley was sidelined). He was still named the recipient of the Doak Walker Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s best running back.
Allgeier and Staley had one thing in common besides their school — each gave up their final yr of eligibility to declare for the NFL draft. Which brings us to the purpose.
Several local players have announced this season that they’ll hand over their remaining collegiate eligibility to declare for the NFL draft or they’ve made it known they’re leaning that way.
Clark Phillips III, continuing Utah’s tradition of manufacturing NFL-caliber defensive backs, is skipping the Rose Bowl because he doesn’t wish to risk injury and his draft prospects; he’s projected as a first-round pick. He’s only a sophomore.
Tavion Thomas, Utah’s first-team all-Pac-12 running back a yr ago, has battled a toe injury this season and at last decided to quit the season and prepare for the draft. His draft stock is a mystery — he’s talented but his body of labor is brief. He’s a junior.
Utah’s Cam Rising, one other junior, also seems determined to declare for the draft although his name appears nowhere on the highest lists of professional quarterback prospects. Just within the Pac-12 alone, there are 4 quarterbacks who had higher passer rankings. If he’s drafted, he’d likely be the second quarterback taken within the state — BYU’s Jaren Hall is a greater prospect and had barely higher stats. Hall could feel added pressure to present up his senior season due to his age (24).
So I contacted Staley to get his thoughts on players who hand over a yr or more of school eligibility to declare for the NFL draft. It’s a bet for many. Utah’s undersized receiver/return specialist Britain Covey gave up his senior yr — he also felt his age (24 on the time) forced such a call. It paid off. He’s returning punts for the front-running Philadelphia Eagles.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is BYU’s John Walsh, who is usually used as a cautionary tale. Convinced he could be a high-round draft pick, he gave up his senior yr to declare for the draft and fell to the seventh round. He never played within the league.
Staley was indisputably an NFL talent, but he had an extended history of severe injuries — shoulders, knees, ankles, you name it — starting in highschool and continuing at BYU and the NFL. He missed the last two games of his senior yr with a broken leg, which might be why he fell to the seventh round. He tore his ACL as a rookie with the Detroit Lions and that was the tip of his football profession.
With so many players declaring for the draft, I reached out to Staley to get his thoughts on the topic. I wondered if he regretted not returning for his senior yr, especially given what happened with the Lions. Here’s what he wrote:
I did leave early and not less than for me after I was going through that process it was a really complex discussion. There was a number of various factors and clearly some weighed heavier than others that played an element in making the choice to depart with one yr of eligibility left in college. I actually have NEVER regretted making the alternative to depart BYU early. Knowing what I do know now wouldn’t change a thing. Without query I made the best alternative because my ultimate goal at all times was to play within the NFL. Granted, things didn’t work out like I imagined as an 8-year-old, but how can I actually have any regrets? I don’t. My life is pretty rattling great and that have helped me to get where I’m now.
As for faculty athletes now, I do think that deciding whether to remain or leave has develop into a little bit more complex in today’s world. Each player’s situation is exclusive. There are a couple of more reasons to remain in class for a majority of children today due to NIL opportunities, but ultimately there are so many alternative things that motivate one person from one other. It can be crucial for teenagers to refer to experts that can provide unbiased advice. I feel it’s natural for faculty athletes to have the desire to make that jump after they feel their stock shall be at its highest point. They’re those who can best resolve the chance/reward of staying or leaving. At the tip of the day, so long as they’ve the flexibility to take ownership, whether the end result is nice or bad, then who’re we to query their alternative?
Anyone who has played football or any sport for that matter, especially at a high level, knows that we’re all up against an expiration date. I’m the one who knows my body the very best. I do know my strengths and weaknesses, and I can somewhat estimate if I’m near my athletic peak or is there a particular area that I can give attention to during one other college season that will substantially profit my draft stock. For me there wasn’t.
What more did I actually have to do in college besides get my degree? I achieved my goals on the sector plus more. I used to be lucky enough to be a part of one in all BYU’s biggest offenses, an All-American and someway won the Doak Walker. I used to be only one small cog in that offense and was way more of a benefactor from players around me. In my view, our offensive line that yr might need been the best unit BYU has ever had and 4 of the five of them were graduating. All three tight ends were headed to the NFL. (Quarterback Brandon) Doman was headed to the NFL. And a handful of receivers were done. For me to come back back to BYU and roll the dice, in my view, wouldn’t have been clever. The higher query is, why would I actually have stayed if the NFL was my goal? Like (Seinfeld character) George Constanza says, “You mostly want to depart on a high note.”
The thing with life is you never understand how things “might have been.” Would I actually have torn my ACL again if I used to be at BYU for my senior yr as I did in Detroit? Nobody knows. All I knew was my playing expiration date was fast approaching and I knew leaving at the moment was 100% the best thing for me to do.
So every player who leaves early has his own unique circumstances that shall be the driving force behind his decision. College football is the best, but as athletes we at all times wish to push the envelope and play at that next level. We will all be Monday morning quarterbacks critiquing one’s decision, but we want to know that what we, as fans, see might only be the tip of the iceberg when a player decides to depart early. Looking back 20-plus years later and a bust as an expert player there’s not one thing I might change. I saw my opportunity and tried to seize it, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out because one thing or one other and guess what … that’s fantastic.
BYU running back Luke Staley speaks at a press conference Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2001 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo announcing his intention to forgo his senior yr of college and enter the NFL draft. Staley tore his ACL during his rookie season with the Detroit Lions, thus cutting short his skilled profession.
Jason Olson, Deseret News