The best yet from QB U?

Ty Detmer may install new standards at BYU
By Keith Dunnavant
The National
1990

PROVO, Utah - As soon as the barrage started last Halloween, Mike Jenkins stuck his head out the front door and tried to get a good look at the culprit. But it was dark, and the eggs were cracking around his head so he retreated for cover, went to wake up his roommate (fellow Brigham Young offensive lineman Garett Tujague) and grabbed a baseball bat.

Within moments after the eggs stopped splattering against the house, a shadowy figure of a man hopped into a getaway car and peeled out into the night. Jenkins and Tujague gave chase in Tujague's car. For 15 minutes, they played [i]Starsky and Hutch through the streets of Provo, finally running the prankster into a dead end and a dead stop outside an apartment complex.

As they got out of the car, Jenkins and Tujague were ready to kill. Well, not kill. BYU students don't kill. But they know how to scare. Their minds raced with creative ways to punish this guy fool enough to take on two of the Cougars' biggest and baddest, two guys who spend their Saturdays fending off bruising defensive linemen and protecting BYU quarterback Ty Detmer, the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet and the heir to the legacy of Steve Young, Jim McMahon and Robbie Bosco.

Then they shined a pair of flashlights into the car - and the heir stared back.

Ty Detmer had done it again, and he just sat there laughing uncontrollably. "Ty, I oughta..." Jenkins started, but he couldn't finish the sentence before he and Tujague reeled into belly-clutching laughter.

Ty Detmer, dull?

Oh, sure, his humility is genuine. When he speaks, his sentences are peppered with "yes sirs" and "thank yous" and little else that might suggest the inevitability of him someday becoming very rich because he can throw the football with rare precision. If he is destined to contend for the Heisman Trophy this year, his teammates deserve lots of credit, he insists, and he says it in such a way that you must concur.

He doesn't smoke, drink, do drugs or swear. But beneath the Richie Cunningham manners lies the heart of a prankster.

After a luau during two-a-days in 1988, Detmer swiped the pig's head from the centerpiece, sneaked into running back Matt Bellini's house and tucked it under the covers.

"It was like [i]The Godfather," said running back Mike O'Brien. "Matt came in, pulled down the covers and jumped back. You could see him turning green."

Last season, fullback Fred Wittingham's girlfriend dumped him for a swimmer. The next day, Detmer showed up at practice with a picture of the other guy pasted to the back of his helmet. Wittingham got in some licks and some laughs.

"I like to have a good time, and it's all in fun," Detmer said. "I never do anything to put anybody down or hurt anybody. I just like to keep everybody loose. It's part of being the quarterback."

The fun-loving approach has endeared Detmer to his teammates, who elected him co-captain last year as a sophomore.

"On the field, Ty's all business but he's also very cool under pressure," said Jenkins, the Cougars' left guard. "He's always very relaxed, and that rubs off. He keeps us loose and I think that's one of the things that makes him such a good quarterback."

Maybe the best in BYU's long and distinguished line.

Like the great ones, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Detmer runs BYU's pro offense with confidence, staying in the pocket until the protection disintegrates, then dumping it off short if necessary. He's never going to win any distance contests, but as he points out, neither is Joe Montana. But the passes he throws are almost always on the mark.

Last year, the San Antonio native with the drawl to match led the nation in passing efficiency (175.6) by completing 265 of 412 passes (64.3%) for 4,560 yards and 32 touchdowns. Only Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware of Houston amassed more yards (4,699), and he threw 166 more balls.

Detmer broke or tied 13 NCAA records, including most yards passing for a sophomore, most consecutive 300-yard games (12), and most yards per completion in a season (17.2). Named to the All-WAC team, he established national records for passing yards (576) and total offense (594) in a 50-39 loss to Penn State in the Holiday Bowl.

"Ty is so great because he has great mental skills; he thinks like a quarterback," said BYU quarterbacks coach Norm Chow. "He doesn't have a tremendous arm, but he throws very accurately. Because he understands the game so well, he always does a good job of dumping it off to the secondary receiver, and that's something that separates a good quarterback from a great one."

"He has great field vision," said Bosco, now a BYU offensive assistant. "And he knows how not to take a hit, which is important for a guy his size."

Already, the pressures are mounting on Detmer to turn pro early. If he puts together the kind of year most are expecting, especially if he becomes the first of BYU's great quarterbacks to win the Heisman, he likely would be a high first-round choice.

"Loyalty is a big thing with me," said Detmer, one of the few non-Mormons on the team. "People talk about me leaving but they really don't understand how I think. As far as I'm concerned, I signed up for five years - including the redshirt year - and I feel like I should live up to that. I don't want to let people down. Besides, what's the hurry?"

The pressures of financial hardship that have driven many to leave college early in recent years will not affect Detmer's decision. He comes from a middle-class family that stresses education. His father, a successful high school football coach in Texas, wants him to finish school. And Sonny Detmer's influence cannot be minimized.

"When I was playing football in junior high and high school, and dad was my coach, we would ride home from a game and he would tell me what I'd done wrong," Detmer said. "Not scolding or anything, he'd just point out things and teach me about the game: why I should do this or that in a particular situation. Even before I started playing the game, I'd be around when he had coaches over to the house, and I guess I was learning about the game, even though I didn't realize it."

BYU Coach LaVell Edwards said Detmer's understanding of the game more than makes up for his small size and lack of overpowering arm strength.

"There's a lot to be said for learning the game as you grew up, like the language," Edwards said. "Ty has an unusual feel for the game that was driven by his dad, and because of that, he is potentially better than any of the guys we've had around here."

Edwards smiles now when he recalls the first time he met Detmer, who was fresh from rewriting most of the Texas high school passing records.

"He and his dad came up for a visit that summer [of 1987], and we wanted him of course, as everyone did," Edwards said. "They were going to visit several other schools all at once, but Ty fell in love with Provo and the campus, so he decided to go ahead and commit to us. I couldn't figure it out. It was so easy, I thought something was wrong."

After a redshirt year in 1987, Detmer was thrown into the breach after starter Sean Covey was hurt in the 1988 opener against Wyoming. He tossed four interceptions, the kind of demoralizing day that often stops a promising career in its tracks.

"A lot of kids never would have recovered from a day like that," Edwards said. "But I think it really helped Ty. It was like a wake-up call. It told him he still had a lot to learn."

After starting two games that year, Detmer earned MVP honors in the Freedom Bowl by leading the Cougars to a come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Colorado.

But as Detmer enters this season with his face adorning magazine covers, he seems genuinely unaffected by the attention.

"He's still the same unpretentious kid he was when he first came here," Edwards said. "That's one reason the players have taken to him so."

Or is it fear?

"Some of the linemen have this house, and they think it's haunted," Detmer said with a hint of mischief. "Well, maybe it will be. Maybe it will be."

Copyright 1990 by Keith Dunnavant

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