Senior linebacker Cameron Jensen. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Cameron Jensen, the 6-foot-2, 241-pound senior linebacker for the Cougars, is a man with many accolades.
He is a Bronko Nagurski Trophy and All-America candidate. He was also named preseason All-Mountain West Conference.
Aside from his athletic honors, Jensen was named Academic All-MWC in both his sophomore and junior years and is on track to earn the prestigious recognition again. His teammates call him "The General" because of his leadership on and off the field, validating his role as team captain.
"I've always believed, from the moment I met Cameron, that there was something special about him," Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "He showed us in his very first practice what kind of a man he is and he hasn't changed since."
Jensen's list of accomplishments on the gridiron goes on and on, but when asked which is his greatest, he said he hasn't achieved it yet.
"Hopefully I will with a conference championship this year," Jensen said simply. "Winning means most to me. I take pride in helping to turn this team around, but we won't be satisfied without the championship."
As the face of the Cougar defense, Jensen is a true lover of the game and a true team player. Personal achievements mean little to Jensen. But for as loud as Jensen plays on the field, he is just as quiet about himself off the field.
The Road to Division-I
Since his earliest competition and in the face of every challenge, Jensen has made his presence felt on the field and proved his worth to all those who have played with him.
Jensen graduated from Bountiful High School in Bountiful, Utah after leading the Braves to the 4A State Championship. He was a three-year letter-winner as well 4A Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year his senior year. The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame also honored him for his 3.85 GPA in high school.
"There was no doubt that Cameron was going to be a good football player," said Jensen's high school coach, Larry Wall. "You just really appreciate coaching players like him."
Despite having an impressive resume and being large in stature coming out of high school, former BYU coach LaVell Edwards said Jensen was too small to play Division 1 football.
"That burned a fire in me," Jensen said. "It only made me play harder."
And play harder he did. Jensen didn't take offense, he took action. As a true freshman at Ricks College he led the team in tackles as well as earning all-conference honors. After a mission to Rostov, Russia, Jensen's hard work on the field had paid off as he came home to offers from Oklahoma, UCLA, Arizona, Utah, and BYU.
The Hard Work Leads to Hard Choices
The decision to come to BYU was not an easy one for Jensen. After returning home from Russia, he only had one week to visit schools and make a decision on where to play. In fact, he had to take an extra two days to decide and was late to training camp his redshirt season.
"Poor kid, I really felt sorry for him," said Jensen's dad, Gordon. "He thought for sure he was going to go to Oklahoma and I had to console his mother that he wasn't going to BYU."
Mary Jensen, Cameron's mom, was a Cougarette during her college years and always encouraged her kids to wear the Cougar blue with pride. Sometimes that led to more than a few playful disputes at the dinner table, though, because Gordon Jensen went to the University of Utah on a basketball scholarship and played baseball there as well.
"When Cameron told us he was going to BYU, it was a real gut check for Gordon," Mary Jensen said.
Gordon and Mary have three boys. Justin, the oldest, graduated from the U and Jordan, the middle son, went to BYU Idaho. Had Cameron, the youngest of the Jensen clan, chosen Oklahoma as he originally had thought, the rivalry would still be split down the middle at the Jensen home. However, it wasn't meant to be.
"I wanted him to go to BYU so that the boys could pray before they went out and killed themselves," Mary Jensen said.
And that's what Jensen did before he made his decision. Not only is he a humble man, but he is also a spiritual one and Jensen is not shy to say that BYU is literally an answer to his prayers and where he's supposed to be.
"I couldn't have made a better decision," said the smiling Jensen. "This is the best place to play football."
When it comes to the rivalry at home, Gordon Jensen has been a good sport. Cameron said his father has been nothing but supportive of his decision and happy to see his son doing so well. Cameron also said he does love to see his dad in blue BYU gear almost as much as Mary Jensen does.
"Oh, that's fine," Gordon said about sporting the Cougar duds. "At least temporarily."
Wall and Mendenhall
Football has always been Jensen's favorite sport, but he said that it was in high school that he truly fell in love with the game. That was due in large part to Coach Wall.
"He is one of the best coaches I've ever had," Jensen said.
One of the most memorable lessons that Jensen said he learned from Coach Wall is the importance of out working your opponents during the off-season. "Pay me now or pay me later," is something Jensen said Wall would often tell his team, meaning you can lay it all out on the line now or make it up to me during the season when you're not on the field.
Jensen said that mentality he learned in high school has made the transition to Cougar football much easier because Coach Mendenhall is almost exactly the same. Mendenhall expects total effort all of the time. Jensen also said he is grateful for the mutual respect he shares with Coach Mendenhall and for the dedication they share for the team.
"I really wanted to play for someone like Coach Mendenhall," Jensen said. "He gets so much out of you."
Mendenhall also speaks highly of Jensen.
"I know I've said this before, but I enjoy coaching him as much as any player I've ever coached," Mendenhall said of his defensive captain. "I have come to know Cameron as a great leader, both on and off the field. He has a tremendous ability to motivate and inspire those around him. He has an impressive competitive spirit that is contagious. He has the ability to motivate others to perform at a higher lever--to reach a higher standard."
As a junior in the 2005 season, Jensen led the Cougars in tackles with 84, 44 of them solo takedowns. He registered 13 tackles (nine solo) at New Mexico for career highs last season and he's in the running for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded for the nation's top defensive player, for the second year in a row.
However, if you ask him about those stats, Jensen's not likely to give you a straight answer. He's a humble man who talks of his team's success, not his own individual achievements. In fact, his own parents, Gordon and Mary Jensen, learned of the Nagurski nomination from reading the newspaper.
"It's difficult for him to talk about himself," Gordon Jensen said. "He's always been a competitor, but he's also always been a humble kid."
The True Competitor
It is a linebacker's job to hit people and hit them hard and Jensen has proved himself to be more than adequate in that area of the game. He said he loves to hit, but does not like to injure.
"I hate anybody to get hurt because I want to play against the best," Jensen said. "It's always hard to see a good player go down."
The worst injury that Jensen has ever had himself is a torn MCL for which he had to miss only one game. He has also had a broken collarbone, and a number of broken fingers.
Gordon Jensen looks back somewhat fondly on one of Cameron's first injuries. Cameron's little league team went undefeated for two years, one of those years only allowing one touchdown. Then Cameron broke his big toe at a fund raiser and missed the first four games of the next season.
"The coach told me that they could have won at least two of those games without Cameron, but they lost all four because the rest of the team didn't feel like they could win without him," Gordon said. "When Cameron came back, the team went undefeated the rest of the season."
The Other Side of Jensen
Jensen said his overall, greatest achievement is his testimony. He said he appreciates the opportunity he has to associate with so many good people with his same standards. He loves that he can pray before he takes the field and that he can talk openly about those things that are most important to him with his teammates. Jensen loves to talk about his mission just as much as he doesn't love to talk about himself.
A mission was always a priority for Jensen, but he said his year at Rick's College solidified that desire as he spent time with teammates who had served missions and shared their experiences with him. Jensen took the same dedication and hard work he had learned on the football field to serve a mission the only way he knew how, working as hard as he could.
The many years Jensen spent playing football before his mission helped him to be a better missionary, he said. The dedication it takes to be a good football player was easy to apply to missionary work as his football leadership responsibilities were similar to his missionary leadership responsibilities.
Now as a returned missionary Jensen said the dedication and leadership he perfected as a missionary have made him the player he is today.
Jensen as Himself
The greatest pressure to succeed that Jensen feels is the pressure which he puts on himself. It is that pressure that keeps him going. However, his greatest rewards come not as an individual, but as one of the many Cougars who lay it all on the line every week. He cannot say he has a favorite or least favorite moment on the field. Every win is the greatest feeling. Every loss is the worst because he shares it all with his team and they experience winning and losing together.
"I love every win in the locker room with the team," Jensen said. "You realize how much goes into those wins. Yelling, screaming, excitement, exhilaration, it's hard to describe. Football has always been such a challenge to me that I would never quit, you'd have to drag me off the field."
THE PHANTOM, The GENERAL
Cameron Jensen has always been a competitor. His mother, Mary, said his first
real competitive adventure happened at a soccer game as a young boy.
As Cameron and Mary Jensen pulled into the parking lot, Cameron jumped out of
the car, ran to the field, and put himself into the game before his mother could
even get out of the car.
"If it's athletic, Cameron's going to be a part," Mary Jensen said.
Gordon Jensen said no story about Cameron Jensen would be complete without a
mention of Lake Powell. Boating trips to the Southern Utah reservoir were
Cameron"s favorite vacations and Gordon said Powell was Cameron's favorite place
on earth. At the lake he practiced teamwork with his older brothers as all three
would water ski behind the family boat at one time, weaving and ducking around
each other's ropes.
Family games would never get too competitive, Mary said, even though Cameron did
seem to win more than his fair share. However, Cameron earned a nickname after
upsetting his brothers on more than one occasion after dinner.
"He was a very obedient boy with a competitive nature," Mary said. "But he
didn't help out with the dishes much. When it came time to do the dishes his
brothers couldn't ever find him, so they called him 'The Phantom'."
To this day, Jensen is still as competitive as he was as a young soccer player.
He wants to be on the field as much as possible. His ability to work on the
football team is as fine-tuned as his ability to ski with his brothers at Lake
Powell and his newest nickname, "The General" (one that Jensen does not like to
spread) is just as fitting as was "The Phantom" at the time he received it.
"Whatever Cameron decides to do he will do it well. That doesn't include raking
leaves, but if it involves something he wants to do... he'll do it well."
Cougar fans should be grateful that Cameron's not only good at football, but
there are few things he wants more in life than winning a conference