(Photo by Mark A Philbrick/BYU Photo)
To most, Brandon Ogletree may seem like a mystery.
To his parents, he is dedicated. To his seven sisters, he is a jokester. To his friends and wife, he is caring, but to his opponents, he is intimidating.
In the midst of the BYU vs. Ole Miss game last season, an Ole Miss lineman player asked former BYU defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo, why Ogletree was so angry and intense all the time.
“That’s just Tree [Ogletree],” Fangupo said. “He wakes up angry.”
However, Ogletree says his intensity and emotion is something reserved for the field and there are specific reasons for it.
“I’m really not an angry guy,” Ogletree said, “but I definitely play with a chip on my shoulder.”
The 5-foot-11, 235-pound senior from McKinney, Texas, was a two-time All-State selection from one of the most competitive football states in the nation. Multiple schools around the country including Air Force, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado State, Duke, Navy, Oklahoma State, Rice, Stanford, TCU and Texas Tech recruited him.
At one point he was committed to Oklahoma State, but backed out. Air Force offered him a scholarship, but he turned it down. Despite the interest colleges had, Ogletree was set on BYU.
Ogletree’s road to BYU was not a clear-cut path. It was something that almost never was. Due to supposed health issues and his decision to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, playing college football was up in the air.
Entering his freshman season at McKinney High School, Ogletree reported for his annual physical. What began as a routine exam, turned into a question of whether or not football would remain a part of his life. The doctor examining Ogletree noticed an irregular heartbeat. Ogletree was told that unless a specialist gave him a clean bill of health, football would be a thing of the past.
The Ogletree family remembers this as a difficult time. They felt if Brandon couldn’t play football, he would lose a large portion of his life.
“That experience scared the heck out of all of us,” said Ogletree’s father, Mark. “For a week or so there were a lot of tears from Brandon and from us. Football was Brandon’s thing. If he couldn’t play football, he was going to be in trouble.”
The week leading up to his appointment with the heart specialist, the Ogletree family spent a lot of time fasting and praying that all would be well.
“I was just scared leading up to the appointment with the specialist,” Ogletree said. “I was hoping to get positive feedback from him that all I needed to do was sit out the year, and I could play again somewhere down the road. At the time I was grateful so many people were praying for me to be able to play.”
When the day finally arrived for his appointment, the specialist found nothing wrong and cleared Ogletree to play.
“It was a huge weight off my shoulders when the doctor told me it was benign, and I could play again without any worry,” Ogletree said.
From that point on, Ogletree played differently. He played as though each game or each play was his last. He left nothing behind.
“This wasn’t an ordinary experience for Brandon,” Mark Ogletree said. “It was life changing. He learned for a week what life would be like without football, and when he came back, he was a different player. He went from being one of the top five players on the team to the best player on the team.”
Ogletree earned a spot on the varsity roster as only a sophomore. He compiled 37 tackles, two sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery on the season and received All-Area Honorable Mention honors. During his junior and senior years, he accumulated 309 tackles, three interceptions, six sacks and six forced fumbles. He earned first-team All-State honors his junior and senior years and was named the McKinney Courier-Gazette Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.
“I never thought I’d be named first-team All-State as a junior, especially in Texas,” Ogletree said. “After my junior year, I started getting all these accolades, and my coaches started telling me college ball could be a part of my future.”
Growing up, Ogletree played multiple sports and excelled in all of them, but his favorite was actually basketball. After his sophomore season, his team selected him as the team MVP. But despite his success on the basketball court, he knew his future was on the field.
“I played point guard in high school,” Ogletree said. “I loved to create and open up opportunities for the rest of my team. I loved driving to the basket and the physical aspect of the game. I even thought for a while I was better at basketball too, but basketball couldn’t have gotten me to where I am now.”
During Ogletree’s junior year, the McKinney High School football team performed exceptionally well, advancing deep into the Texas state playoffs. However, during Ogletree’s senior year, the team struggled and failed to qualify for the state playoffs.
“Brandon’s senior year was better statistically for him than his junior year, but the team overall was worse,” Mark Ogletree said. “What we noticed was depending on how the team does, so goes the recruiting, and it dropped way off.”
The other significant reason why schools lost interest was because of Ogletree’s decision to serve a mission following graduation and to put football on hold.
“A few coaches told me that going on a mission was the dumbest thing I could do,” Ogletree said. “That’s one of the big reasons I wanted to play for BYU because I could have both. I could serve a mission and play football, but I think I was the last person on their minds, so it wasn’t really an option at the time.”
As Ogletree’s senior year came to a close, the last solid football offer he had came from Air Force. The recruiters visited him at home, dined with him and tried to persuade Ogletree to play for them, but he still rejected the offer.
Without any other options, Ogletree decided to leave straight on a mission and walk on to the team at BYU when he returned. As one last attempt, Ogletree sent BYU his highlight tape from his senior year to spark some interest. In the end, a highlight tape was all BYU needed.
“It wasn’t until I made the decision to leave on a mission straight away that I finally received a call from BYU,” Ogletree said. “I talked with coach [Paul] Tidwell and he invited me for a campus visit. At the end of my visit, coach Mendenhall said I would have a scholarship waiting for me when I returned home.”
After returning home from his mission to Concepción, Chile, Ogletree saw action in 10 games as a member of special teams, tallying 19 tackles.
Ogletree also met his wife Amanda shortly after returning home. The night they met, he was with his good friend and teammate Blake Morgan.
“Blake and I were hanging out the first time I saw her,” Ogletree said. “I actually told Blake he should ask her out, and he did. I asked another girl out, and we went on a double date. They even ended up dating for a few months, but luckily it didn’t work out. I ran into her about a year later and things went from there. I realized she was the first person I could see myself spending my life with.”
After two years of marriage and an addition to the family, Ogletree continues to see life progress in the home and on the field.
“Brandon is a great dad,” Mark Ogletree said. “I’ve never seen Brandon happier than the day Luke was born. He was smiling from ear to ear. He is very tender and soft with his son. That is a side of him that no one else really sees.”
As the only son with seven sisters in the Ogletree family, Ogletree and his father spent countless hours practicing sports, doing yard work and watching highlight films. This allowed his father to do additional teaching. One such lesson Ogletree recalls is the principle of work, which has become a support throughout his life.
“My dad taught my sisters and I the importance of work,” Ogletree said. “He emphasized the point that no one should be able to out-work us whether it be in the yard, in the mission or on the football field. If we worked, good things would happen.”
Looking back Ogletree has no regrets with what he has accomplished. Because of his work ethic he started the majority of the season as a sophomore by tallying 49 tackles (fourth on the team), two interceptions, three pass breakups and one forced fumble. As a junior he led the team in tackles, nearly doubling the number from his sophomore season, tallying 79, including 36 unassisted. He started every game but one due to an injury.
As he reminisces on his time at BYU, he has formed many memories and highlights on the field, but one sticks out above the rest.
“One of my highlights playing for BYU was against San Diego State my sophomore year,” Ogletree said. “There was a drive at the end of the game where we had San Diego held on third down. I knocked a guy off the ball, which resulted in a punt. It wasn’t just that play, but the game as a whole. It was special for the whole team. It was the first game coach Mendenhall took over as the defensive coordinator, and we all felt what happened during that game helped us all right the ship.”
Despite being one among 42 others throughout the country named to the Lott Impact Trophy watch list this year, Ogletree’s goals are aimed at helping the team. The Lott Impact Trophy is awarded to a defensive player who best exemplifies integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity.
“I’m just hoping to have a great team this year,” Ogletree said. “I don’t care about personal accolades or anything. Winning a trophy doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win games, so my only goal is to help the team win all our games and reach our full potential.”
Yes, Ogletree is a mystery. He plays the game in a way his opponents cannot read. To them, he is intimidating. To his family, he is loving, and to his teammates, he is a leader.
Because of his competitive nature, outspokenness and athleticism, Brandon Ogletree (see story on page 4) is well on his way to earning a place next to former linebacker greats such as Bryan Kehl, Shay Muirbrook and Larry Carr.
“Brandon is a fierce competitor, he’s tenacious and loves to win,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “He’s also outspoken, but that’s part of what makes him unique. That’s part of being a linebacker. The best linebackers just love the physical part of the game. It doesn’t matter how many times they have a chance to go live¬¬ – they always want more contact.”
One BYU linebacker Ogletree grew up watching was Rob Morris, a first-round draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 2000. Morris, the “Freight Train,” is known as one of the best linebackers in BYU history, leading his team in tackles his sophomore (110) and junior (147) seasons and was second his senior (77) season after missing four games.
“The main reason I wear the No. 44 is my dad thought I was a similar player to Morris,” Ogletree said. “Wherever the ball was, he was there, and that’s what I try to do as well.”
Traditionally, sportswriters have branded BYU as the quarterback U with standouts Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Ty Detmer, who led the Cougars in the 80s and 90s. Fans could also argue that BYU is known for preparing players for the NFL in other positions including linebacker. But is it possible for BYU to hold the legendary title of linebacker U?
Not to place itself on a pedestal with “linebacker U” powerhouses Penn State, USC and Miami, linebackers from BYU have come and gone from the NFL, entered multiple halls of fame and become football coaches at notable universities around the country. Players such as Mel Olson, Dennis Simmons, Leon White, and Cary and Kyle Whittingham created a tradition that continues in BYU linebackers today.
David Nixon (03/06-08) NFL, Carolina Panthers
Bryan Kehl (02/05-07) NFL, Washington Redskins
Brady Poppinga (01-04) NFL, Green Bay Packers
Colby Bockwoldt (99-03) NFL, New Orleans Saints
Ed Lamb (94-96) Head Football Coach at SUU
Shay Muirbrook (93-96) NFL, Oakland Raiders, Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame
Rob Morris (93/96-99) NFL, Indianapolis Colts, First Round, Super Bowl winner (2006)
Dennis Simmons (92-96) Washington State Coaching Staff
Todd Herget (87/91-93) CFL, Edmonton Eskimos
Andy Katoa (85-86) NFL, San Diego Chargers
Kurt Gouveia (82-85) NFL, Washington Redskins
Leon White (81-85) NFL, Cincinnati Bengals, Holiday Bowl Hall of Fame
Cary Whittingham (81-85) NFL, Cincinnati Bengals
David Aupiu (81-82) NFL, Los Angeles Rams
Todd Shell (80-83) NFL, San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Whittingham (78-81) USFL, Portland Storm, Holiday Bowl Hall of Fame,
Head Football Coach at Utah
Glen Redd (76-80) NFL, New Orleans Saints
Larry Miller (75-78) NFL, St. Louis Cardinals
Larry Carr (71-74) BYU Hall of Fame
Sid Smith (71-74) NFL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jeff Lyman (69-71) NFL, St. Louis Cardinals
Mel Olson (63-66/69) *Offensive Line Coach at BYU under LaVell Edwards
*Played linebacker 63-66 and center in 69