BYU football legends return to Provo to discuss career highlights, what it means to be a Cougar
Former BYU players Leon White, James Dye, Dennis Pitta and Ezekial “Ziggy” Ansah returned to their alma mater Monday to appear on the BYUtv program “BYU Football: Great Moments Then and Now.” The program, hosted by BYUtv’s Dave McCann, gave viewers an inside look into some of the great moments from each of the former Cougar’s careers and the lasting impact BYU leaves on its athletes.
Leon White, who played linebacker from 1981 to 1985, began the program by giving his perspective on BYU’s magical 1984 National Championship season. White was named Defensive MVP of the bowl game against Michigan, but few know the personal challenges he and his family were facing at the time.
“My father had been diagnosed with cancer,” White said. “I was ready to quit school and go home to be with my dad, but my mom told me he wanted me to finish the season and finish school.”
Eventually White decided to stay at BYU, and was one of the most instrumental players in BYU’s run to a National Championship. The season finale would be the last game White’s father would attend as he passed away shortly thereafter.
“He knew I loved football and playing at BYU,” White said.
The attention then shifted to former BYU receiver James Dye, who played wide receiver and returned kicks for the Cougars in 1995 and 1996. Dye, whose son Trey recently signed with BYU, was a part of a 1996 BYU team that set a school record for most victories in a single season with 14.
One of Dye’s most memorable plays came on a punt return against Wyoming in 1995. Dye gave his analysis of the play and exactly what went into the moment.
“The first thing I saw [after receiving the punt] were brown pants,” Dye said. “I figured I gotta get past these guys cause if I can get past these guys, I got the Raass brothers (John and Stan) leading me.”
After spinning away from multiple tackles, Dye ended up pushing John Raass out of the way en route to the end zone.
“John Raass told me that if I ever pushed him again that I’d have to pitch him the ball,” Dye said.
Next up on the panel was former BYU tight end Dennis Pitta. Pitta, who played for the Cougars in 2004 and from 2007-2009, was a two-time all-American and a 2009 consensus all-American. Pitta also set the record for most receiving yards by a tight end in NCAA history before being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, a team that he helped to a Super Bowl Championship in 2012.
Pitta began his career at BYU as a walk-on, but developed into possibly the greatest tight end in BYU history. Most of the passes he caught over his career were thrown by former Cougar quarterback Max Hall, who is more than just a teammate for Pitta.
“There came a point where Max and I really got on the same page and we knew what the other was thinking and I think that really translated to success on the field,” Pitta said. “I even went as far as marrying his wife’s sister to really solidify that relationship.”
The brothers-in-law went on to become one of the most dynamic passing duos in BYU history, and hold claim to some of the most memorable moments in team history, including 2009’s historic win against No. 3 Oklahoma on national television.
“That’s one of those games where you look back and you’ll never forget what happened on that field,” Pitta said. “Not a lot of people were giving us a chance to win that one.”
Ezekial “Ziggy” Ansah was the final former Cougar on the panel to share some thoughts. Ansah, who was drafted fifth overall by the Detroit Lions after only starting to play football a few years earlier, gave credit to his coaches and teammates for their influence in getting him to where he is today.
“There was not a day where you wouldn’t hear ‘Ziggy’ come out of [Bronco Mendenhall’s] mouth,” Ansah said. “It wasn’t Ziggy as in a nice way of saying it, he was always on me. He always pushed me.”
In Ansah’s first play as a Detroit Lion, the rookie intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown. Many have praised him for the play, but Ansah had a secret to share about what really happened.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that I was in the wrong place,” Ansah said. “My position coaches were so mad at me.”
The panel, which also included current quarterback Taysom Hill, finished the program by sharing their feelings about how BYU affected them not only as athletes, but also as people. Hill summed up a running theme that the entire panel included in their final respective remarks.
“BYU has a much bigger impact on you than you will ever have on the University,” Hill said. “I am constantly surrounded by great people. Whether it’s the guys I’m playing with, the coaching staff or the administrators.”