Ena addition completes defensive staff of BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill
PROVO, Utah — BYU head coach Kalani Sitake today announced the hiring of former BYU linebacker Justin Ena as an assistant coach on defensive coordinator Jay Hill’s defensive staff.
A three-time all-conference standout for the Cougars from 1997-2001 and four-year NFL player with the Eagles and Titans, Ena returns to Provo from San Diego State with 16 seasons of college coaching experience, including seven seasons as a defensive coordinator and five years coordinating special teams.
“I am super excited to have Justin join our coaching staff,” Sitake said. “Justin and I played together at BYU, and I’ve followed closely his coaching career over the years. He has worked with many defensive-minded head coaches and gained valuable experience as both a defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator in addition to coaching several different positions on defense. He’s a great fit. He’s a BYU guy and complements well the strengths of our defensive staff.”
Ena’s hiring completes the defensive staff under Hill. Ena will serve as the team’s linebackers coach; Kelly Poppinga, the program’s special teams coordinator, will coach defensive ends; Sione Po’uha will coach defensive tackles; Jernaro Gilford will continue his role with the cornerbacks; and Hill will serve as safeties coach in addition to his responsibilities coordinating the defense and serving as the program’s associate head coach under Sitake.
“I am excited to be working with Justin Ena again,” Hill said. “He brings great toughness and discipline to our defensive staff. He was a great player here at BYU and has been an outstanding coach throughout his career. He has worked with many elite coaches during his career and will bring great knowledge to our staff. I’m elated to have him coaching our players here at BYU.”
Ena, who previously worked for Hill at Weber State, has coached on the defensive side of the ball at all five other Division I schools in Utah that sponsor football — Southern Utah (2008-2013), Weber State (2014), Utah (2015-18), Utah State (2019-20) and Utah Tech (2021) — and comes to BYU after coaching defensive line at San Diego State in 2022.
“I am excited to join Coach Sitake at our alma mater and cannot wait to work with him and Coach Hill and their outstanding coaching staff,” Ena said. “I am beyond blessed to be able to come back home to BYU and win conference championships in the Big 12.”
A native of Shelton, Washington, Ena helped San Diego State earn a Hawai’i Bowl berth this past season with a defense that ranked No. 4 nationally in red zone defense (.690), No. 21 in rushing defense (113.8), No. 21 in tackles for loss (6.8), No. 24 in sacks (2.77) and No. 25 in scoring defense (20.5).
He was hired by SDSU head coach Brady Hoke, a veteran defensive coach, to oversee the defensive line for the Aztecs after spending the 2021 season as the defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Utah Tech in St. George. Ena went to Utah Tech to lead the Trailblazers defense after helping Eastern Washington advance to the first round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs as the Eagles’ linebackers coach during the 2021 FCS winter-spring season played in place of the 2020 fall season due to Covid-19.
Previously, Ena coached inside linebackers for two years at Utah State from 2019-20, also serving as defensive coordinator in 2019, while helping the Aggies to a berth in the 2019 Tropical Smoothie Cafe Bowl. Prior to being hired to lead the Aggies defense by then head coach Gary Andersen, Ena was the linebackers coach at Utah under Kyle Whittingham for four years from 2015-18, where he also served as co-special teams coordinator over his final three seasons.
During his tenure with the Utes, Ena was part of a Utah program that made three bowl appearances — Las Vegas Bowl (2015), Foster Farms Bowl (2016) and Heart of Dallas Bowl (2017). Utah’s rushing defense finished among the nation’s top 30 in each of his four years, including a No. 5 ranking in 2018 and a No. 6 standing in 2015.
In 2018, Ute linebacker Chase Hansen earned three All-America honors under Ena’s guidance after posting a team-high 114 tackles, including 22.0 for a loss, which led the Pac-12 and ranked fifth nationally. Hansen also garnered first-team All-Pac-12 accolades that season, while fellow linebacker Cody Barton received all-conference honorable mention and was a third-round selection by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2019 NFL Draft. In addition, linebackers Gionni Paul (first team) and Jared Norris (second team) merited All-Pac-12 distinction in Ena’s first season with Utah in 2015. Paul led the Utes with 117 tackles and was a two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week as a senior, while Norris played five years in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers (2016-18) and Washington Football Team (2020-21).
As co-special teams coordinator at Utah, Ena’s coverage units played a role in the Utes winning the NCAA net punting title in 2016, while the 2017 team was fifth nationally in net punting followed by the 2018 squad, which ranked 15th, while punter Mitch Wishnowsky and kicker Matt Gay captured the 2017 Ray Guy Award and 2018 Lou Groza Award, respectively.
Under Hill at Weber State, Ena served as the Wildcat’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in Hill’s first season as the program’s head coach in 2014. Ena arrived at Weber State after a six-year stint as an assistant under former BYU assistant head coach and current Northern Colorado head coach Ed Lamb at Southern Utah from 2008-13, including the last four years as the defensive coordinator. He was also SUU’s special teams coordinator his first two seasons.
With Ena as a coordinator, Southern Utah attained NCAA FCS top 25 national rankings on both special teams and defense during his tenure, including a No. 1 rank in net punting in 2009. The Thunderbirds also ranked No. 3 in punt return average and No. 6 in net punting in 2008, No. 9 in punt return average in 2009, No. 17 in scoring defense, No. 21 in total defense and run defense in 2010, No. 13 in sacks per game and No. 19 in pass defense in 2011 and No. 5 in turnover margin in 2012.
Under Ena’s guidance, SUU ranked second in the Big Sky Conference in 2013 in total defense while occupying the third spot in scoring defense. Individual honors during Ena’s time at Southern Utah featured two-time All-America punter Trevor Ward and return specialist Nick Miller, the nation’s leader in all-purpose yards in 2008. Other accolades went to All-America defensive tackle Cody Larsen and Freshman All-Americans Zak Browning (linebacker) and James Cowser (defensive end). Browning was also the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year in 2012.
As a player, Ena was a four-year contributor at linebacker for BYU while receiving All-Mountain West accolades over his final three seasons. He played in 47 games, making 266 tackles, including 23 tackles for loss, two interceptions and six forced fumbles. Ena led the Cougars in tackles his final two seasons in 2000 and 2001, earning first-team All-MW honors after receiving second-team recognition in 1999. Ena competed in the Senior Bowl after his final collegiate season before starting his NFL career as an undrafted free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2002.
Ena played four seasons in the NFL, three with the Eagles and one with the Titans, while playing in 51 NFL games. He played in 25 regular season games and four playoff games over his first two years in Philadelphia before returning to the Eagles for six games in his final season in 2005. He signed with Tennessee for the 2004 campaign, where he played in all 16 games with five starts, finishing with 32 tackles, including four tackles for loss, as well as a pass defended.
Ena received his bachelor’s degree in history from BYU in 2001. Married to Shari, he has four children, son Justice, daughter Olivia and stepdaughters Brooklyn and Taylor.
Justin Ena Coaching Experience
San Diego State
Utah Tech (Dixie State)
Defensive Coordinator & Safeties
Defensive Coordinator & Inside Linebackers
Co-Special Teams Coordinator & Linebackers
Defensive Coordinator & Linebackers
Special Teams Coordinator