Steve Young, Brigham Young's junior quarterback, wants all of America to get two things straight right now. First off, it's no big deal to be a great-great-great-great-grandson of Brigham Young. "It's kinda cool, I guess," Young says. "I'm proud of my heritage, sure. But you've got to remember I grew up in Connecticut, where everybody's related to somebody on the Mayflower. Nobody back there ever made the connection."
Besides, didn't Brigham Young father most of Utah? "Well," Young says, laughing, "he did have more than 20 wives. That makes a lot of offspring."
There. That's settled. No big deal. The second point: "I am not Jim Mc-Mahon," Young says. "Nor do I want to be Jim McMahon." Fair enough. Although McMahon, the second quarterback chosen in last year's pro draft (by the Chicago Bears), isn't a bad role model. In his two plus years as a starter at BYU, he set 55 NCAA records and tied another in passing and total offense. But don't remind Steve Young.
"I'm always asked what it's like to follow all the great BYU quarterbacks—Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson and of course, old McMahon. I'm always asked if I'll be better than McMahon. The answer is yes. I'm always asked if I can fill his shoes. No—Jim's a 10; I'm a 12.
"Look. I'll probably never set 55 NCAA records, but that doesn't matter. As long as the team goes 12-0, I'll be happy."
Well, that's settled. Young has a right to gripe. He's tired of comparisons—"Marc Wilson was taller than me; McMahon and I, sizewise and stylewise, are very much alike." He's also tired of the "natural" story angle. "I just want people to get to know me," he says.
Coach LaVell Edwards says once people get to know Young, they won't forget him. He runs like a halfback and thinks like a scholar. He also has a strong arm—he's a lefty—and a keen ability to read complex defenses. Ah, Jim who?
New Quarterback Coach Mike Holmgren says Young has another quality that will put him right up there with the best of them. "He's a perfectionist," says Holmgren, a USC quarterback during the O.J. Simpson days, who comes to BYU after 11 years of high school coaching in San Jose and San Francisco and, most recently, a year at San Francisco State. "Steve is possessed with the need to be the best."
So, quite apparently, is Edwards. Featuring McMahon, All-America Receiver Danny Plater and Tight End Gordon Hudson, the BYU offense led the nation in scoring last year (38.7 points per game). That was the third straight scoring title for the Cougars. And BYU has been No. 1 in passing five of the last six years (356.9 yards per game). Edwards, 86-32-1 for his 10 years at BYU, isn't about to settle for anything less. Nor is he planning to surrender the WAC title, which the Cougars have won the past six years.
Young's main target will be Hudson, who has set NCAA records for most catches in a season (67) and yardage (259) by a tight end in a single game. Hudson was ranked fifth in the nation with those 67 catches for 960 yards and 10 TDs last year. And he's only a junior. At wide receiver are Scott Collie (15.5 yards per catch) and Neil Balholm (15).
And what BYU can't do in the air it can with its generally overlooked ground game. Tailback Scott Pettis (94 carries, 499 yards), a former high school valedictorian who's now a predent major, and Fullback Waymon Hamilton (96 carries, 394 yards) are the starters, but junior college transfers Eddie Stinnett and Casey Tiumalu will see frequent action.
On defense the Cougars lost all-WAC Linebacker Kyle Whittingham but have experience up front with starting tackles Mike Morgan (6'4", 260 pounds) and Chuck Ehin (6'4", 272), the biggest players on the team. The defensive backfield consists of Tom Holmoe, Mike Jensen, Kevin Walker and Greg Peterson, premed majors all, who have experience in cutting opposing offenses down to size. Two years ago Holmoe led the conference in interceptions with seven. Punter Mike Mees has a 40.9-yard average, and Placekicker Kurt Gunther set an NCAA record two years ago for PATs made (64 of 71).
The most noticeable change at BYU will have nothing to do with its wide-open style of play, or even its players. After opening the season on the road against Nevada-Las Vegas, followed by Georgia, the Cougars return to Provo to unveil the enlarged BYU Stadium. A $13 million expansion project has increased its seating capacity from 33,000 to 66,000, making the stadium the biggest in the WAC and enabling BYU to lure top teams to Provo. "That means twice as many people will be able to watch us," Young says, "and they'll never have any excuse for not knowing who—or what—-I am."