Legendary football coach LaVell Edwards was one of five people inducted into the BYU Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- The BYU Athletic Department inducted four former athletes and legendary head football coach LaVell Edwards into its Hall of Fame on Friday, Sept. 22. Former student-athlete inductees included Olympians Charlene Johnson (women's volleyball), Ethan Watts (men's volleyball) and Jason Pyrah (men's track and field/cross country) as well as U.S. National Team member Darren Elg (men's gymnastics).
Below are biographical sketches of all five inductees.
LaVell Edwards, Football
In 1972 LaVell Edwards assumed command of a mediocre college football program. Many thought Edwards had been hired to run the team until someone more qualified for the job could be hired. The move to promote the Cougars' defensive coordinator to head coach turned out to be the beginning of one of college football's most successful coaching tenures.
At the time Edwards was hired, the Cougars had posted just 173 victories over the previous 49 seasons, winning just one conference championships and no bowl games to the team's credit.
Undaunted by the formidable rebuilding task that lay ahead, Edwards wasted little time in transforming BYU into a national power. In his first season as the head coach, he gave BYU fans a glimpse of the future. Edwards led the Cougars to a 7-4 overall record, including a 16-7 win over in-state rival Utah. Just two seasons later, Edwards had the team rolling. The Cougars won the WAC Championship after a 48-20 victory over the Utes and accepted an invitation to the Fiesta Bowl -- the team's first-ever bowl appearance. The 1974 season turned out to be the first of 27 straight non-losing seasons. The 1974 Fiesta Bowl was the first of 22 bowl appearances. The conference championship was also the first of 20 league titles. And the victories, they just kept coming.
After recording an 11-1 record in 1979, a 12-1 record in 1980 another 11-win season in 1981, eight more wins in '82, and 11 additional wins in 1983, Edwards led BYU to a perfect 13-0 season in 1984. Following a 24-17 win over Michigan in the Holiday Bowl, the Cougars were crowned National Champions. Not surprisingly, Edwards was named the National Coach of the Year for the second time in his career.
Over his 29 seasons as the head coach at BYU, Edwards recorded 257 victories, ranking as the sixth all-time winningest coach in college football history. Under his direction, BYU recorded 10 straight WAC championships from 1976 through 1985. The Cougars also played in 17 straight bowl games from 1978 until 1994.
Labeled by USAToday as a "national coaching treasure," his teams passed for over 57 miles during his 29-year career. He coached four College Football Hall-of-Fame inductees, a Heisman Trophy winner, seven Sammy Baugh Trophy winners, two Outland Trophy winners, five Davey O'Brien Trophy winners, 34 All-Americans, including 10 consensus All-American performers, 11 conference player-of-the-year recipients and 24 Academic All-America player citations.
In 2004, Edwards' tremendous career was immortalized as he was inducted into the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
The eighth of 14 children, Edwards graduated from Lincoln High School in Orem. He attended Utah State University, where he was an all-conference lineman before serving a two-year commitment in the Army. He and his wife Patti recently celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary. The Edwards have three children, Ann [Cannon], John and Jim.
Darren Elg, Men's Gymnastics
Many people think they know what the word "comeback" means. Darren Elg actually does. Twice in his incredible BYU men's gymnastics career, the seven-time All-American and Nissen Award winner had to travel the long road back to competition, not sure if he would make it. But make it he did, becoming one of the top gymnasts in BYU history along the way.
Elg's prolific college career began in 1990 when, as a freshman, he won the Western Athletic Conference title on the floor exercise and placed fifth on the high bar at the NCAA Championships, earning his first All-America award. Less than six months later, he gave up the sport completely to serve a two-year mission in Los Angeles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Despite trading in floor routines for Spanish lessons, Elg returned in 1993 determined to rise to the pinnacle of his sport. As a sophomore, he once again won the league title on the floor exercise, this time in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, while being named the MPSF Athlete of the Year. In addition to top-five NCAA finishes on the parallel bars and high bar, earning him two more All-America citations, Elg excelled in the classroom, garnering GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-America Third Team recognition.
Elg was primed and ready for another great year in 1994 when disaster struck. While performing the "Iron Cross" on the rings -- one of gymnastics' most difficult maneuvers -- Elg's pectoral muscle ripped away from the bone. Despite high hopes for an NCAA Championship, Elg was forced to redshirt the year and begin the long road to recovery.
No stranger to fighting back, Elg returned with a vengeance in 1995, earning three more All-America citations with a second-place NCAA finish in the all-around and third-place finishes on floor and high bar. During the course of the season, he scored a perfect 10.0 on the high bar -- just the second perfect high bar score in BYU history -- and was named the Cougar Sports Magazine Male Athlete of the Year. The highlight of the year, however, came in January when Elg competed at the Winter Cup Challenge, besting the top 16 gymnasts in the nation over the age of 19 and earning a spot on the U.S. Senior National Team.
As a senior in 1996, Elg continued his national prowess, winning the Nissen Award -- the sport's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy -- annually given to the nation's top gymnast. He ranked first in the all-around for most of the year until an ankle injury slowed him down and finished the season third in the all-around for his seventh All-America award while also placing seventh on the high bar and eighth on the pommel horse at the NCAA Championships. He went out on top of the MPSF as the league's Athlete of the Year. His success in the classroom was also recognized with GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-America First Team accolades. Elg, who holds the BYU record in the all-around and on the pommel horse and shares the top score on the floor and high bar, graduated from BYU that April with a 3.93 GPA in Health Science.
In the end, it was Elg's love for learning more than his love for gymnastics that guided his life after BYU. He attended the Southern California College of Optometry, graduating in 2000 as the class Valedictorian, and has earned several professional awards for his work. A member of the American and Arizona Optometric Associations, Elg runs his own practice in Arizona, where he participates each year in various community programs such as Vision USA, which offers eye exams for the underprivileged. He and his wife Stephanie have two daughters -- Alison and Natalie.
Charlene Johnson, Women's Volleyball
Even before Charlene Johnson donned her No. 16 BYU women's volleyball jersey as a freshman in 1991, everyone knew the 5-foot-10 setter was a force to be reckoned with.
Already a three-time high school All-American out of Pleasant Grove, Utah, Johnson did not disappoint as a freshman starter. She took on her setting duties with an iron will, leading the Cougars to a 26-5 overall record and second-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference. As the honors poured in for the young Johnson -- WAC Freshman of the Year, All-WAC First Team, AVCA All-West Region Second Team and Asics/Volleyball Monthly Freshman All-America Team -- it became obvious that BYU fans were witnessing the emergence of a star.
And emerge she did. Over the course of the following three seasons, Johnson continued to provide the complete package to the BYU women's volleyball program, delighting fans, racking up awards and, most importantly, leading the Cougars to success. Honored as an All-WAC selection in each of her four seasons and the reciepient of four All-America citations, Johnson also earned the distinction of becoming the only women's volleyball player in program history to earn All-Region accolades during all four years of her BYU playing career.
BYU's second-place WAC finish in her freshman year did not last long with Johnson directing the Cougar attack. A 1992 league title was the first of three straight for the Cougars, who also saw success on the national level as they advanced to the NCAA's Elite Eight in 1992 and the Final Four in 1993. Johnson earned NCAA West Regional All-Tournament Team honors both years and NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team accolades in 1993 as she recorded an eye-popping 65 assists against UCLA to propel her team to the Final Four. Her career culminated in 1994 with WAC Player of the Year honors in addition to All-Region and All-America recognition.
A two-time Cougar Club Competitor Award recipient, Johnson's incredible numbers left their mark on the BYU record books. She is second all-time in three categories, including career assists (5,321), career assists per game (12.35) and season assists per game (13.13), a mark that was also fifth in the nation in 1992.
Johnson's stellar career did not end with her college eligibility. In 1995, she served as an undergraduate assistant coach at BYU before leaving to play professionally overseas for two years in Switzerland and Italy. Johnson returned to her native country in 1997 and began a five-year stint with the U.S. National Team, which included a fourth-place finish at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games held in Sydney, Australia.
Since leaving the National Team, Johnson has used her skills to help others, serving as an assistant coach at the University of Nebraska, perennially considered one of the top teams in the nation. The Huskers enter the 2006 season as the preseason No. 1 after losing in the 2005 NCAA title match. A 1999 BYU graduate with a B.A. in Therapeutic Recreation, Johnson has three children: Kaipo, 13; Vailin, 4; and Sydney, 2.
Jason Pyrah, Men's Track & Field/Cross Country
The mood of the crowd when he stepped up to compete was termed "Pyrah-mania." Speculation began early in his career that Jason Pyrah could be an Olympic contender. He proved that speculation right. Twice.
Pyrah was a six-time All-American at BYU where he competed on the cross country and track and field teams in 1987 and from 1991-94. He won six WAC Championship titles in the 800- and 1500-meters. Not only did he lead the cross country team to a second-place finish -- the highest finish in the history of the program -- but he also won countless races in track and field competition. Taking fifth at the World Junior Championships in the 1500 meters as a freshman, Pyrah's versatility and competitive nature set him apart from the typical athlete.
"He was just someone who you could always rely on," said Coach Mark Robison, assistant coach in Pyrah's BYU days. "No matter what, he always brought everything to race day. He didn't vacillate; he was just constantly consistent. And driven--man, was he driven."
Always one to go out strong and lead the pack, Pyrah's times remain among the top 10 all-time at BYU in the 800- and 1500-meters. Pyrah let his determination affect his academic pursuits as well. He was named an Academic All-American for cross country, graduating from BYU with a degree in physical education in 1995 and earning a master's degree in nutrition, dietetics and food science in 2002.
Pyrah finished his collegiate eligibility in 1994, continuing on to a 10-year professional career. During that time, he made two Summer Olympic appearances in Atlanta and Sydney in the 1500 meters, ran more than 30 sub-four-minute miles and traveled to more than 20 different countries.
Beginning with a second-place finish in the 1500 meters at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships and a win in New York City's Fifth Avenue mile in 1994, Pyrah's successes piled up. He was a bronze medalist in the 1500 meters at the 1995 Pan-American Games. His personal bests include a time of 1:46.62 in the 800 meters and 3:35.21 in the 1500 meters.
A two-time U.S. champion in the mile, he finished in the top three eight times in indoor and outdoor competition at Nationals. Pyrah retired from competition in 2004 but still finds a way to make an impact as a role model. He has accepted many inspirational speaking assignments including speaking to the Boys and Girls Club, student groups of all ages and various church-affiliated groups.
He currently resides in his home state of Missouri where he works in an outpatient rehabilitation center as a Certified Athletic Trainer. He married the former Angela Hyde in 2000, and the couple has a daughter, Sydney Jade Pyrah.
Ethan Watts, Men's Volleyball
Ethan Watts started playing volleyball as a high school junior. Just two years later, he was on his way to a successful career as a collegiate, professional and Olympic volleyball player.
Watts, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, didn't start playing volleyball until he joined a club team in Tulsa because his school didn't play the sport. He developed quickly into a dominating Division I college athlete.
The accolades came early and often for Watts who was named to the WIVA All-Freshman team in 1991. Watts had 177 kills and a .337 hitting percentage as a freshman and led the team in block assists. From his freshman season on, his hard work and training paid off and showed in his performance on the court. Watts improved statistically in each of his four years.
Not only did Watts improve each year in the stat books, he also earned more accolades as his career progressed. As a sophomore, Watts was honored as an honorable-mention All-American while ranking second nationally in blocks per game. He earned second-team All-America honors as a junior while leading the nation in hitting percentage (.493) and was a first-team All-American as a senior. Watts set personal season highs in hitting percentage (.519), kills (416), blocks (146) and digs (124).
Watts' performance on the court was reflected in his team's overall performance. Between 1991 (Watts' freshman year) and 1994 (his senior year) BYU improved its record from 2-25 to 21-6.
Watts was the first of a string of BYU All-Americans that eventually led to three National Championships.
After his BYU playing years, Watts went on to play professionally in Italy. In 1996, he represented his country in Atlanta at the 1996 Summer Olympics.
While playing with the U.S. National team in the Canary Islands, Watts met Manuela Mezzardi. Watts continued playing in Italy where he dated and later married Manuela.
Watts returned to BYU in 1996 to finish his schooling. In 1997, he earned a B.S. in Psychology. After finishing his degree at BYU, Watts earned an MBA at the University of San Diego. He also earned a JD from USD, graduating in the top 25 percent of his class.
Currently, Watts is an attorney at Mazzarella Caldarelli, LLP. He is a member of various attorney organizations, including the American Inns of Court, the San Diego County Bar Association, the California Bar, the Association of Business Trial Lawyers and the American Bar Association.
Watts is a volunteer for an organization his wife established called "Operation Calendar." The organization raises money for wounded veterans.