When running back Luke Staley graduated from Tualatin High School, he left Tualatin, Oregon and followed in his brother Dustin’s footsteps by joining the Brigham Young Cougars football team. Once he was on the team, the younger Staley was determined to blaze his own trail. He didn’t waste any time, either.
The BYU running back corps suffered not one, but two, Honor Code casualties following the 1998 season. Unexpectedly, the Cougars had to find a way to replace its top two rushers who combined for 1,788 yards the year before. Luke Staley was up for the challenge.
With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Staley split time in the backfield with fellow true freshman Fahu Tahi in the season opener against Washington. The offense leaned heavily on senior quarterback Kevin Feterik, but Staley still made a statement. He led the team in rushing, and found the end zone twice. Staley proved to be a reliable target for Feterik by hauling in four passes for 56 yards.
It was only the beginning.
The next week, Staley celebrated his 19th birthday in style. He rammed his way through the Colorado State defense to score three touchdowns (2 rush, 1 pass), and rolled up 100 all-purpose yards (65 rushing, 35 receiving). The Rams were the first Mountain West Conference (MWC) defense to learn Staley was a force to be reckoned with.
ACC member Virginia and Pac-10 member Cal also learned about Staley the hard way. Staley gained 79 yards rushing (9.9 average yards per carry) and scored two touchdowns against the Cavaliers. He had 112 all-purpose yards against Cal.
Staley topped the century mark for all-purpose yards two more times, and he continued to score at least one touchdown in all eight regular season games he played. Tragically, his season was cut short by knee and shoulder injuries.
Staley averaged 96.4 all-purpose yards and 9.8 points in the eight games he played. His scoring average was first in the MWC and seventh in the nation (first among freshmen).
Despite missing over a quarter of the season, Staley’s 432 rushing yards, 339 rushing yards, and 13 total touchdowns earned him MWC Freshman of the Year and Sporting News Third Team All-American honors
Why number 7?
Staley’s 771 all-purpose yards (all rushing or receiving) is good, and he started accumulating those yards right out of the gate—his had an instant impact. Additionally, the 13 touchdowns scored is much more than the two offensive players at number 8 and 10 on this list.
Why not higher?
One word: injuries. Missing three games limited what Staley actually did on the field. Staley’s averages project to 594 rushing yards, 466 receiving yards, and 17 total touchdowns for 11 games. With that many scores and 1,050 all-purpose yards, he would have made a push for the top 2 of this list. Sympathy can only go so far with these rankings. What actually happened has to take precedent.
Breakout game: Washington (game 1)
Best game: Colorado State (game 2)
Game-by-game stats, 1999
NOTE: Bowl stats were not included in season totals in 1999. The totals in parenthesis include the bowl stats against Marshall.
Washington: 8 carries, 39 yards*, 2 TD*
Colorado State: 14 car., 65 yards*, 2 TD*
Virginia: 8 car., 79 yards*, 2 TD*
Utah State: 0 car., 0 yards
Cal: 15 car., 53 yards, 1 TD*
New Mexico: 8 car., 69 yards*, 1 TD
UNLV: 7 car., 54 yards, 1 TD
Air Force: 26 car., 68 yards*, 1 TD
San Diego State: 6 car., 5 yards
Wyoming: 0 car., 0 yards
Utah: 0 car., 0 yards
Marshall: 7 car., 3 yards
Totals: 92 car., 432 yards, 10 TD* (99 car., 435 yards, 10 TD)
* = Team High
Washington: 4 receptions, 56 yards
Colorado State: 3 rec., 35 yards, 1 TD*
Virginia: 3 rec., 10 yards
Utah State: 0 rec., 0 yards
Cal: 3 rec., 59 yards
New Mexico: 3 rec., 78 yards *
UNLV: 1 rec., 13 yards
Air Force: 8 rec. 68 yards, 1 TD
San Diego State: 1 rec., 20 yards, 1 TD
Wyoming: 0 rec., 0 yards
Utah: 0 rec., 0 yards
Marshall: 0 rec., 0 yards
Totals: 26 rec., 339 yards, 3 TD
All-purpose yards: 771
Top 10 BYU Freshmen
10. Cody Hoffman, 2010
9. Greg Pitts, 1991
8. Jamal Willis, 1991
7. Luke Staley, 1999
6. David Nixon, 2003
5. Mike Morgan, 1979
4. Austin Collie, 2004
3. Randy Brock, 1991
2. Ronney Jenkins, 1996
1. Harvey Unga, 2007
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