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SALT LAKE CITY — BYU and Utah football fans can bicker with the best of them over most anything, but few can argue that each program has one of the best college linebackers.
Trevor Reilly and Kyle Van Noy are well known to the locals, making a series of phenomenal plays this season for Utah and BYU, respectively. And the great thing is, neither is a secret nationally.
Each senior is one of 12 players listed as semifinalists for the 2013 Butkus Award, which honors college football’s best linebacker. It’s pretty remarkable, considering hundreds play the position.
Keeping the spirit of the heated rivalry alive, who is better? It depends on your preferred color.
Obviously, the red would say Reilly.
“He’s one of our big-play guys on defense, if not our biggest-play guy on defense, and we rely on him to be a disrupter and make those plays,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s a guy that we rely on week in and week out to step up and make big plays for us, and he’s done that."
Obviously, the blue would say Van Noy.
“Kyle makes the most productive plays at the most critical times,” said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall.
2013 Season Stats
“He knows how to get to the ball,” BYU outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga said. “When he goes after the quarterback, every single time he swipes at the ball, trying to get it out. When he’s in position to make a play, he makes an interception. He’s just an instinctive guy. You can’t coach that.
“It’s something you hope you find those kinds of guys that are instinctive, then put them in the right scheme and get them to play very hard. Those guys end up being special guys, like Kyle is.”
Statistically, Reilly has the edge over Van Noy. The Californian leads Utah with 69 tackles, including 11 for a loss and 5.5 sacks. Van Noy, who hails from Reno, Nev., has had 46 tackles, also with 11 for a loss, and four sacks.
On a team that needed leadership last season, Reilly is the heart and soul of the Utes this year. Whittingham has called him the “leader of the leaders.”
At age 25, Reilly is nothing short of an inspiration, having played last season with a serious knee injury that was kept hidden until the offseason. The former walk-on also has a young daughter who has been dealing with cancer.
When he goes after the quarterback, every single time he swipes at the ball, trying to get it out. When he's in position to make a play, he makes an interception. He's just an instinctive guy. You can't coach that.
Van Noy’s story has been well documented during his four years at BYU. Before even arriving in Provo, he ran afoul of the law. Instead of casting him aside, Mendenhall wisely decided to work with Van Noy, delaying his entrance into college.
While it’s naïve to think that Mendenhall didn’t take Van Noy’s talent into account before giving him another chance, the decision proved correct. Van Noy is the perfect example of Mendenhall’s stated belief that it’s in BYU’s best interest to occasionally admit a player with a troubled background.
At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, Reilly has the physical edge over the 6-3, 235-pound Van Noy. But both are expected to hear their names called in the 2014 NFL draft. Reilly also is projected to be a potential defensive end in the NFL.
“We think Trevor Reilly is going to be a star on the next level,” reports mocknfldraft.com.
Van Noy comes from great college stock. Going back several years, great BYU linebackers usually make the successful jump to the NFL.
At cbssports.com, Van Noy’s profile reads: "Quick, instinctive linebacker with excellent reaction skills. Athletic enough in coverage, showing balance and change of direction. He locates the football quickly and provides good effort in pursuit.”
Let BYU and Utah fans argue who is better. The rest of us will sit back and enjoy the final month of two players finishing great college careers.