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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Unga will pass Brown in rushing record book

By Dick Harmon

Deseret News
Published: 2009-11-20 00:16:23

In the span of three seasons, BYU has produced two of its all-time leading rushers in Curtis Brown and Harvey Unga.

The duo surpassed Jamal Willis, who held BYU's career rushing mark for 12 years before Brown busted it his senior year in 2006.

On Saturday, Unga, the former Timpview High School star, needs just 20 yards to surpass Brown as BYU's all-time leading rusher. Both averaged a hair over five yards per carry during their Co ugar years. Unga, if he decides to return for his senior year, could become BYU's first 4,000-yard rusher.

"I'm proud of Harvey," said Brown, who lives in Provo and works for Novartis, a pharmaceutical company, with former teammate Toby Christensen.

"I'm very excited for him. He's mature beyond his years. I remember seeing him in the spring game before my senior year and I remember thinking to myself, 'That kid is going to be something special.' He's definitely worked his tail off and he's carried a huge load trying to put that team on his shoulders and be as successful as they can be."

Brown said he's spent plenty of time trading notes with Unga over the years.

"I couldn't respect a person any more who is going to hold that title now," said Brown.

Of all BYU's great runners over the decades, including Lakei Heimuli, Jeff Blanc and Luke Staley, it is interesting that Brown and Unga accomplished their records three years apart, both under coaches Bronco Mendenhall and Robert Anae.

Brown believes he knows why.

"I think we've had talent at BYU," said Brown, "But what you had lately are players like Harvey and I who were able to play early and then finish."

Rushers like Marcus Whalen and Ronnie Jenkins ended up leaving BYU before their careers were over.

"For one reason or another, whether it be keeping the rules or whatever, some very talented guys didn't finish here," said Brown.

Another key is Brown and Unga redshirted and grew up. They got to understand the system, matured and learned at an early time in their careers. It also helped Unga that he played with Fui Vakapuna and Manase Tonga as lead blockers. Brown had current Minnesota Viking fullback Fahu Tahi.

"I played as a freshman," said Brown. "But my sophomore year, we had a lot of guys at that position and I decided to redshirt. It wasn't until the next season of my sophomore year that I became a regular starter and even then, it took half a season before I was a legitimate starter."

Unga took an even longer path. He grayshirted his first year at BYU and then, as a freshman, he had a season-ending injury and redshirted in 2006. In 2007, he earned Freshman All-American honors and set a league record for rushing yards by a freshman (1,227).

"Harvey had an opportunity to mature," said Brown. "When he started, he was experienced and knowledgeable. He might have been a freshman, but he was really like a junior or senior."

Another factor is playing with pain. Unga, like Brown, has played injured, gutting it out through bruises, sprains and broken bones.

"Some guys can't do that," said Brown. "To be honest with you, some guys will get the pain medication and some won't. I played no matter what. If it required a shot to take care of some of the pain or discomfort, I would do that. You do have some who say no, if they can't play through pain, they won't play."

Unga is repeating a routine this week the same as a week ago heading into the New Mexico game. He's nursing a sore ankle sprain. He has already come off a hamstring pull that kept him out of the Oklahoma game and has played for more than a month with a broken hand.

"Harvey knows his body. The thing about Harvey is he's a big guy," said Brown. "He's not getting guys hitting him up on top, they're going for his legs. I remember talking to him a few years ago about getting low as the guy tackling you. If you do, that will help prevent guys from going at your ankles."

Brown said Saturday's game against Air Force will be tough for Unga.

"They are going to play some scrappy football. I won't call it dirty, but they are scrappy," Brown said. "They are going to test him and hopefully he can get through it and have a big game."

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