PROVO — One of the original greats of BYU football died this week.
Former BYU running back Eldon Fortie, the Cougars' first-ever first-team All-American, who played from 1960-62, died Wednesday at his home in Mesa, Arizona, the university announced Wednesday evening. He was 79 years old.
Born May 21, 1941, in Salt Lake City, J. Eldon Fortie, nicknamed "The Phantom," was a three-year standout for the Cougars from 1960-62. Fortie ushered in BYU's inaugural season in the Western Athletic Conference in 1962, when he ran for 1,149 yards and 14 touchdowns in by far his most productive season in Cougar blue.
An alum of the old Granite High School in Salt Lake City and inducted into the BYU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1977, Fortie had his No. 40 jersey retired in 2004, when then-BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson called Fortie and Marion Probert All-Americans as players as well "as fathers and patriarchs.
"Marion Probert was an All-American, Eldon Fortie was an All-American, but not only in football — in their lives and particularly as fathers and patriarchs," Samuelson said.
Legendary BYU football All-American Eldon "The Phantom" Fortie passed away Wednesday in Mesa, Arizona. Born May 21, 1941, in Salt Lake City, Utah, Fortie was 79 years old.— BYU FOOTBALL (@BYUfootball) January 7, 2021
Rest in Peace Eldon 💙 pic.twitter.com/5iG6NXyUOK
Fortie, who previously held BYU's single-game rushing record of 272 yards before current all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams broke it in 2016 with a 286-yard game, finished his career with 1,624 yards and 17 touchdowns, and went on to a brief career in the Canadian Football League with the then-Edmonton Eskimos.
Fortie and his wife Janice were the parents of five children.
BYU associate athletic director for communications Duff Tittle interviewed nearly 60 players for his book, "What it means to be a Cougar," including Fortie. The following excerpt quoting Fortie is re-published with permission from the author:
"As kid, I had always wanted to go to the Y. For some reason, in the back of my mind, that's what I wanted to do. It was a thrill to get the opportunity to do something that you've always wanted to do, and then to be somewhat successful was like a dream-come-true.
"I never played organized football until I got to be a sophomore in high school. I attended ninth grade at Granite Junior High, which was on the same campus as Granite High School in Salt Lake City. Granite had just hired a young coach out of the military. I used to go to their practices and chase balls, catch punts, haul things around, whatever I could do to just be on the field with the high school football team.
"Then as a sophomore I got a chance to play for Granite and the new coach. His name was LaVell Edwards. Even as a young high school coach, LaVell had a real impact on everyone he came in contact with. I'll never forget the first practice. They gather all the sophomores together and asked, "Is there anyone here who can play quarterback?" I jumped up and said, "I can play quarterback!" I'd never played it before except in sandlot games. The coaches said, "All right, get in there and play."
"One of the assistant coaches was Rex Olsen, who had played quarterback for BYU. He taught me how to throw the ball correctly. LaVell was a great coach to play for. He had a huge influence on all of us. The way he influenced us the most was by setting an example."