Even tempered and easy going, BYU middle linebacker Justin Ena is the leader of a triumvirate of one of the nation's best group of linebackers.
Sandwiched between senior Isaac Kelley and sophomore Paul Walkenhorst, the 6-3, 261-pound Samoan from Shelton, Wash., modestly admits his defensive accomplishments are the product of great teammates.
"I've received honors, but it is the team around me that deserves the credit," Ena said. "Isaac (Kelley) and Paul (Walkenhorst), along with the defensive line, make me look good."
As gracious a football player as there is, the senior praises his coaches and teammates without divulging any accomplishments of his own.
Ena's humility comes from nothing other than humble beginnings.
Justin Peato Ena was born on Nov. 20, 1977 in Provo, Utah to Pat and Susan Ena. Years later in neighboring Orem, Ena's football career began at Canyon View Junior High School, while his father was finishing a Master's of Public Affairs at BYU and teaching at Orem High School.
Ena's desire to play football is rooted in a love for the game, as well as in family roots.
Ena's older brother Eti was an outside linebacker for Eastern Washington University, while brother Packy played for Oregon State as a defensive end.
Justin Ena is neither the first nor the last Cougar in his family. In a three-person Cougar connection, Justin's uncle, Tali Ena, dressed up as a Cougar for Washington State in the backfield, while Justin's younger brother Tali is a back-up quarterback for the WSU Cougars this season.
Following BYU's victory over New Mexico and Washington State's win over Stanford, both Cougar schools had posted impressive 6-0 records.
In eighth grade, Ena's family moved to Inchelium, Wash., on the Colville Indian Reservation in the northeastern part of the state. Ena was molded as football player on an eight-man football team, while excelling in basketball and baseball as well.
"Eight-man football was a lot of fun," Ena said. "It wasn't very disciplined, but it was always an adventure running wild on the field."
After Ena's sophomore year, the family moved to Shelton, Wash., where he would play class 4-A football for Shelton High School. Head coach Matt Hinckle helped Ena make the transition from the smallest configuration of football in the state to the largest.
"For the first time in my football career I was going up against the big boys," Ena said.
"My development as a player was probably part of the decision to move," Ena said. "My dad wanted to take a new job, but we knew I would have more exposure at a bigger school."
"Justin is very intense," Hinckle said. "He has raw talent and God given athletic ability. He transitioned to 4-A football well and was defensive player of the year on a mediocre football team." Hinckle helped Ena gain the experience he would need for the next level.
"Coach Hinckle really taught me the flow of the game," Ena said. "He gave me the discipline I needed to prepare for the collegiate level."
Ena learned discipline from a young age, studying karate until he was 13-years-old and finishing just shy of the black belt with a third-degree brown belt.
"My dad taught me to always be disciplined and to be in control of myself," Ena said.
Top-notch football programs including Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State and Stanford recruited Ena coming out of high school.
"I hadn't scheduled BYU as one of my visits because I honestly wasn't interested," Ena said. BYU assistant head coach Lance Reynolds was integral in bringing Ena to BYU, making a personal trip to Shelton to visit Ena.
"Coach Reynolds told me if I came to Provo I wouldn't be disappointed," he said. "Coach was right and I wasn't disappointed. I liked the atmosphere and the players were great."
In 1998, Ena put on a No. 47 BYU jersey to play as an outside linebacker under head coach LaVell Edwards.
"I consider myself lucky," Ena said. "It is an honor to have played under a legend such as LaVell and an great opportunity to be part of what Coach (Gary) Crowton is doing this year."
While Ena played in several games in 1998, his statistics provided a glimpse of better things to come. Ena learned and gained experience from his coaches and from teammate Rob Morris, who had a stellar season.
Ena found himself in a substantial role in 1999, the season middle linebacker Rob Morris took center stage. While Morris was the headliner with many of the 65,000 fans blowing wooden whistles in his behalf, Ena began to shine.
After the UNLV game that season, UNLV head coach John Robinson overlooked the BYU star Morris and praised Ena. In a post game interview, Robinson simply stated, "Ena is one of the best linebacker's I've seen."
Ena offered his own commentary on the season, taking the attention off him and placing it on Morris.
"Rob is a fun guy and one of the best athletes I've ever met," Ena said. "If there were one player I wish I could play with again it would be Rob."
In 2000, Ena discarded No. 47 along with the controversial bib jerseys.
"I wanted a change and 55 looked good to me." Ena later admitted later that he wanted 55 because he is a big fan of All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau.
Last season Ena became a major force for the BYU defense, more than doubling his statistics from the previous year in nearly every aspect of the game. When asked about the improvement last season, Ena answered in the only way expected - "I owe a lot of credit to my teammates."
As the middle linebacker this season, Ena finds himself "between a rock 'Ena' hard place." Ena says he is happy to be stuck in the middle, with Walkenhorst and Kelley on either side.
"Walkenhorst isn't a typical sophomore linebacker," Ena said. "He is a man. He played like a man as a freshman and he is playing like a man as a sophomore."
Ena was just as complimentary of his other comrade.
"Isaac is such a smart competitor. He is probably the smartest football player I've ever met." Ena knows players that can make big plays in the open field surround him.
Don't look to Ena for entertainment's sake; he said he is just a normal kid. Unlike former teammate Hans Olsen, Ena said he doesn't balance large picnic tables on his chin, or really anything out of the ordinary. He has no quirky pre-game traditions or superstitions.
On game days Ena likes to spend time on his own, keeping to himself. In that time alone, he visualizes the game and turns to God in gratitude.
"I have to thank God," Ena said. "I am truly grateful to have the body and the talents to be able to play college football."
Ena has great respect for the game and believes that many people take their god given talent for granted. "It takes a lot of athletic ability and physical health to be able to play this game well. I am grateful to God for this opportunity."
Surprisingly, Ena spoke frankly about his personal life off the field.
"I am a family man. I like hunting, camping and fishing with my brothers." Ena recently became the man of his own family, marrying hometown friend Dana Schulthies last July.
"Dana is wonderful and marriage has been great," he said. "I have been able to focus on football and my schooling with Dana's support."
In his educational pursuits, Ena is following in the footsteps of his own father. Ena, whose father was a teacher and a school administrator, will graduate with a degree in history. His goal is to receive a teacher's certificate and become a high school teacher and coach high school football.
In his own quiet and humble way, Ena spoke of his biggest fan, his mom. Shortly after Ena played in the 1998 Liberty Bowl, his mother Susan passed away in January of 1999. Without making a grandiose statement, Ena sincerely paid tribute to his biggest fan: "She means the world to me and I'm grateful to have been her son."
As Ena looks back on his most memorable sports moment he joins many of his teammates in remembering the last game of the 2000 season.
"There is no question that beating the University of Utah is my most memorable moment," Ena said. "Playing against our rival in LaVell's last game, it was awesome to get coach the win."
Despite the memories, Ena is looking to the future.
"I'm in the best shape I've ever been," he said. The Cougar defense this season has outlasted the opposing offense because of great conditioning. Ena credits BYU strength and conditioning coach Jay Omer for his physical excellence.
"Coach Omer has been a great addition to the team. He expects a lot out of us as players. Everyone is a lot more confident because we know we physically match-up well against our opponents."
As a team leader, Ena said he has a responsibility to see that the chemistry is right.
"If the defense begins that game soft, we (himself and the other leaders) need to make sure that the team starts clicking," he said.
Prepared and poised, Ena knows what needs to be done and set out to accomplish his tasks without fear.
"There is no room for fear in football," he said. "You can't worry about whether or not you will get hurt. You can't worry about whether or not you will make a mistake. If you worry you will."
"Our goals are defined," Ena said. "We want to go 13-0 and win our bowl game. We are the only ones that can stop ourselves from reaching that goal, and we're not going to do that."
So far, they haven't.
Oh Say Can You See
Glasses or contact lens are worn by 21 percent of BYU's football team, according to information gathered during physical examinations by Cougar trainers last summer.
While no Cougars wear glasses under their helmet during competition, the following players wear glasses or contact lenses: Micah Alba, Colby Bockwoldt, Logan Deans, Aaron Edmonds, Matt Griffith, Isaac Herring, Scott Jackson, David Johnson, Ryan Keele, Jason Kukahiko, Michael Madsen, Daniel Marquardt, Todd Mortensen, Danny Phillips, Mike Rigell, Dustin Rykert, Jason Scukanec, Dustin Staley, Byron Tanner, Mike Tanner, Anthony Ward, and Bill Wright.
Cougar coaches who wear glasses include Gary Crowton (reading), Barry Lamb, Tom Ramage, Ken Schmidt, and Paul Tidwell (reading).
Glancing through the Air Force Academy media guide reveals one cadet with the scholarly look, wearing glasses-offensive guard Jesse Underbakke.
Today's opponent, the Air Force Academy, has the strictest and the most lenient vision requirements of the military service academies. For commission qualification at the Air Force Academy, distant vision must be correctable to 20-40 in one eye and 20-70 in the other eye, or 20-30 in one eye and 20-100 in the other eye, or 20-20 in one eye and 20-400 in the other eye. According to the AFA catalog under visual acuity, refractive error must be no greater than plus or minus eight diopters on prescription for your glasses.
However, to be a pilot at AFA, distant vision cannot be worse than 20-70 and correctable to 20-20. And pilot's near vision must be 20-20.
All cadets at the Army and Navy Academies must have visual acuity requiring correctable to 20-20.
Perhaps the most familiar case of a football player wearing glasses for Cougar fans is that of former BYU All-American quarterback Jim McMahon. Because of an accident as a six-year-old, McMahon wears glasses to protect for light sensitivity as his pupil does not dilate from its egg shape. McMahon's eyesight in his injured eye is about 20-50.
"You could have fooled me," said San Diego State Coach Ted Tollner, who scouted McMahon several times as an assistant at SDSU. "The way Jim was playing-by the way he avoids pressure-I would have thought he had eyes behind his head."
Fans in Utah need to have at least 20-40 vision to pass the eye examination to qualify for a driver's license. And as all fans like to jest, game officials don't wear glasses-they are blind.