Hard to believe it, but this year marks the 10th anniversary of Brigham Young Cougars running back Luke Staley winning the Doak Walker Award. While Staley was the obvious choice by year’s end, he wasn’t even a blip on the national radar at this time of the year in 2001.
Going into his junior year, Staley had barely topped the 900 yards rushing mark for his career. His sophomore year was worse than his freshman season. He averaged 3.68 yards per carry (down from 4.69) and scored three fewer touchdowns, despite carrying the ball 38 more times. Between the end of the 2000 season and the start of the 2001 season, BYU changed head football coaches. The legendary LaVell Edwards retired and Gary Crowton took over. Crowton installed his variation of the spread offense.
Staley, and Crowton’s offense, started the season with a bang. Against Tulane, Staley rolled up 142 yards rushing on just 10 carries—a 14.2 yards per carry average, which was a new school record for a single game. Staley also added three touchdowns on the ground. It was the first of five times that year he would score three or more touchdowns in a game.
Following another 100 yard game (124 yards) in game 2, Staley struggled the next two weeks gaining just 47 and 77 yards, respectively. Little did we know he was saving himself for game five when the Utah State Aggies came to town.
With his team trailing by 13 points in the third quarter, Staley scored three straight touchdowns to give BYU the lead for good. For the game, he had 207 yards rushing on just 23 carries and scored five total touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving). He even completed a pass for 11 yards.
Staley didn’t rush for less than 134 yards in a game the rest of the year. He went over the 1,000 yard mark in game 9 against Colorado State. The game against the Rams was also the second time Staley would score five touchdowns in a game. He almost reached 200 yards as well (196 yards on 22 carries).
Coming down the stretch, Staley elevated his game and turned in three performances that would secure the Doak Walker Award.
Game 10 vs. Wyoming—BYU was tied at halftime, 20-20. Staley scored less than five minutes into the 3rd quarter to put BYU up seven. Wyoming answered right back. Staley then scored again to put BYU back on top, but it was still the third quarter. Wyoming tied the game again in the fourth quarter, 34-34. With less than five minutes to play the game was still tied. It was crunch time. Staley crunched the Cowboys with an 8-yard touchdown run with 2:08 to play to win the game.
Game 11 vs. Utah—BYU’s offense had been unstoppable all season. Utah, however, had found a way to stop it. BYU trailed 21-10 with under six minutes to play. Needing two scores, Staley rose to the occasion. He caught a touchdown pass from Brandon Doman, and then ran for a two point conversion. BYU was now within a field goal. When BYU got the ball back with 2:11 to play, Staley made his most memorable run as a Cougar. BYU ran the option to the far side of the field. When the defenders converged, Doman pitched the ball to Staley. Seeing an opening down the sideline, Staley seized the moment. He accelerated and danced his way into the end zone.
For the second week in a row, Staley won the game. He also set a new BYU single season rushing record topping the 1,386 yard mark set by Pete Van Valkenburg in 1972.
Ten days after the Utah game, the finalist for the Doak Walker Award were announced. Staley was joined by Bruce Perry from Maryland and Travis Stephens from Tennessee. Upon the announcement, Staley had 1,433 yards and 28 touchdowns (24 rushing, 4 receiving). Perry’s season was finished and he had 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns. Stephens had rushed for 1,201 yards and just 8 touchdowns. The choice was pretty clear. However, Staley had one more game to play before the official announcement was made.
Game 12 vs. Mississippi State--Staley used that game to put an exclamation point on his Doak Walker Campaign. He went down to hostile SEC country. Against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Staley carried the ball 28 times for 149 yards (5.3 average). In the final minutes, with the game tied, BYU turned to Staley to deliver the win. He almost single-handedly carried the ball down the field to set up the game-winning 25 yard field goal with no time on the clock.
Although BYU still had one game on the schedule, Staley’s season was done. On that final drive, he suffered a season ending injury to his left leg. Nevertheless, he was first in the nation in rushing touchdowns (24), total touchdowns (28), average yards per carry (8.1), and second in the nation in total rushing yards (1,582 yards). Staley also was the best running back in the nation. It was made official when he was awarded the Doak Walker Award the following week.
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