PROVO, Utah – BYU head coach Kalani Sitake today announced the addition of former BYU linebacker and assistant coach Kelly Poppinga as special teams coordinator and defensive assistant coach.
“Kelly is a BYU guy who has a ton of previous experience with BYU football, having both played here and coached here,” Sitake said. “He’s recruited and coached some great players over his career, guys he has helped get to the NFL. Kelly is a tireless worker and a relentless recruiter. He brings outstanding experience as a special teams coordinator and defensive coach and coordinator from his time at Virginia in the ACC and with Boise State. I’m excited to have him back at BYU.”
Poppinga returns to BYU with 14 years of coaching experience, including 12 as a full-time assistant and 10 as a coordinator or co-coordinator.
“I am so excited to work with Kelly,” said new BYU defensive coordinator and associate head coach Jay Hill. “Having coached against him when he was a player, I saw his toughness and tenacity up close. As a coach, his players always performed great on game day. He is a phenomenal recruiter that does the little things right and will bring great players into our program. BYU is lucky to have Kelly back, and I’m super excited to be working side-by-side with him. We can’t wait to bring championship defense to Provo.”
From Evanston, Wyoming, Poppinga most recently served as the co-special teams coordinator and edge position coach at Boise State for the 2022 season. Prior to spending a year with the Broncos, Poppinga was at the University of Virginia for six seasons and on the BYU staff for seven years.
“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity Coach Sitake has given me to be a part of this program at this exciting time as we enter the Big 12,” Poppinga said. “BYU has a strong tradition of winning conference championships in the past, and I look forward to doing my part to help this program compete and win Big 12 championships in the future.”
At Boise State this year, Poppinga was part of a defensive staff that engineered the No. 6 overall defense in the FBS, allowing just 281.3 yards per game and No. 11 in scoring defense at 18.5 points allowed.
The Broncos played for the Mountain West championship for the sixth time in seven seasons after a 9-3 regular season in 2022. Boise State’s edge rushers Demitri Washington and George Tarlas combined for 8.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss under Poppinga’s direction.
On special teams, Bronco punter James Ferguson-Reynolds was named to the 2022 College Football News Freshman All-America Second Team. Ferguson-Reynolds averaged 42.5 yards over 59 punts, with a long of 61. The Geelong, Australia, native dropped 19 punts inside the 20 and only had four punts go for touchbacks.
While at Virginia, Poppinga worked under former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall as the special teams coordinator for the 2016-17 seasons before moving into a co-defensive coordinator role for the next four years from 2018-21 in addition to his position work coaching linebackers (2021) and outside linebackers (2016-20).
In 2021, Cavaliers linebacker Nick Jackson recorded 117 tackles (54 solo), leading the ACC and ranking 14th nationally at 9.8 tackles per game. In 2020, under Poppinga’s guidance, outside linebacker Charles Snowden led ACC linebackers with 0.75 sacks per game and ranked 13th nationally amongst linebackers in sacks (6.0), despite missing the final three games of the season. Snowden’s 10.0 tackles-for-loss also ranked 15th nationally among linebackers. Snowden is currently in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In 2019, the Cavaliers ranked sixth nationally in sacks while establishing a school record in the statistical category. Of the team’s 46 sacks, 27 came from linebackers, including 13.5 from outside linebackers. UVA also finished No. 22 in the nation in tackles-for-loss that year, led by outside linebacker Noah Taylor’s 13.5. Taylor also had seven sacks, finishing No. 2 on the team and No. 2 in the ACC among linebackers.
In 2018, Poppinga’s outside linebackers were key in helping UVA finish No. 12 in the nation in team pass efficiency defense (107.62), No. 16 in passing yards allowed (183.0), No. 20 in total defense (330.5) and No. 20 in scoring defense (20.1). UVA’s 28-0 victory over South Carolina in the 2018 Belk Bowl marked the first time an SEC team was shut out in a bowl by a non-SEC team since the 1975 Gator Bowl. Snowden led the nation’s linebackers with nine pass breakups and 11 passes defended, while Chris Peace concluded his senior season No. 1 in the ACC among linebackers with 7.5 sacks, the second year in a row he accomplished the feat. Peace spent a year in the NFL with the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Giants before entering the coaching ranks last year.
During Poppinga’s two seasons as the Cavaliers’ special teams coordinator, Virginia boasted the ACC’s top kick return specialist in 2017 and a Ray Guy Award semifinalist in 2016. In 2017, Joe Reed led the ACC at 29.7 yards per kick return – a mark that also ranked eighth nationally – and became the first Cavalier in school history to return multiple kickoffs for touchdowns. Reed was drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. In 2016, Nicholas Conte was named first-team All-ACC with a 44.3 yards per punt average. Conte led the nation with 34 punts inside the 20 and with 15 punts inside the 10 during the regular season, while six of his punts were downed at the one.
As a coach at BYU, Poppinga started his coaching career as a defensive intern in 2009 before becoming a graduate assistant in 2010. In 2011 he was elevated to coach outside linebackers for five seasons as a full-time assistant from 2011 to 2015. Poppinga was also the Cougars’ special teams coordinator from 2013-15.
Poppinga helped outside linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Spencer Hadley, Alani Fua, Sione Takitaki and Fred Warner advance to the NFL during his first coaching stint at BYU. Van Noy was selected by the Detroit Lions in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Hadley played with the Raiders and Saints, Fua earned a spot with the Arizona Cardinals, Warner was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round in 2018 and Takitaki followed in the third round to the Cleveland Browns in 2019. Poppinga recruited and developed Warner and Takitaki in each of their first two years at BYU before they went on to excel in the league, with Warner now widely regarded as one of the top linebackers in the NFL.
In 2014, Poppinga helped lead the Cougars to a final ranking of No. 20 nationally in rush defense, and the unit finished the 2015 regular season ranked No. 6 nationally in sacks per game and No. 15 in tackles for loss. Under Poppinga, BYU’s special teams also ranked No. 7 in punting average and No. 19 in kick return coverage in 2014. The Cougars finished third nationally in total defense in 2012 and ranked in the top 10 in six different defensive categories.
As a player, Poppinga was an All-Mountain West linebacker and Academic All-MW honoree at BYU while helping the Cougars win back-to-back conference championships in 2006 and 2007. He transferred to BYU from Utah State, where he spent the 2003-04 seasons. Poppinga helped BYU to Las Vegas Bowl wins over Oregon and UCLA and led the team with 113 tackles his senior season. He spent the 2008 season with three NFL teams before going to Super Bowl XLIII with the Arizona Cardinals.
Poppinga earned his bachelor’s (2007) and master’s (2010) degrees from BYU in exercise science. Poppinga and his wife, Rebekah, have four daughters.
Specific position assignments for Poppinga and other defensive staff members will be determined later.