Former BYU football star Harvey Unga endures wild ride to get shot at Jacksonville

2014-08-17T08:00:00Z 2014-08-17T10:33:05Z Former BYU football star Harvey Unga endures wild ride to get shot at JacksonvilleJared Lloyd Daily Herald Daily Herald
August 17, 2014 8:00 am  • 

To chase a dream, sometimes you have to endure the nightmares.

That was the experience of former BYU and Timpview running back Harvey Unga in the year -- and more specifically the 24 hours -- before he signed a one-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday afternoon.

But with the wild ride in his past and a spot in the NFL secured, Unga said in a phone interview from Jacksonville Saturday night that he couldn't be happier.

"I feel like a kid on Christmas," he said. "Like when you are waiting for that last big present, and then you open it and it's everything you dreamed of and wished for.

"It was the best feeling to sign that contract. I've been praying for days and months, but I've had to have patience and understand that things would happen when they happen."

That certainly hasn't been easy over the past year after Unga was cut by the Chicago Bears. He's worked hard and waited for his chance, but something always got in the way of that NFL dream.

For much of Friday and Saturday morning, the fear was there that it was happening again.

Unga said he got the call from Jacksonville at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, asking if he could be on a plane out of Salt Lake City to come for a tryout by 3 p.m.

He grabbed his stuff, hurried to the airport and started off, hoping that this would be the chance he'd been waiting for.

But as the plane crossed the Rocky Mountains to get to his connecting flight in Denver, the weather threw a sucker-punch at Unga's hopes.

"There was a thunderstorm in Denver, so we circled the airport for an hour," Unga said. "They finally said we had to land and we were re-routed to Colorado Springs. We got there and the storm had cleared out of Denver but had hit Colorado Springs, so we were stuck there on the tarmac for another hour and a half."

By the time Unga got to Denver, he had missed his connecting flight to Jacksonville. He ended up catching a red-eye to Miami at 12:30 a.m., getting in at 5:30 a.m., then getting on a flight to Jacksonville that arrived at 8 a.m.

He barely had time to get to the Jaguar facility before the tryout began at 9 a.m.

During that long night, Unga said that for the first time in his life he had an anxiety attack.

"I couldn't breath or move, I couldn't sleep," he said. "I was stuck in the middle seat and I was going crazy, thinking of all the days for this to happen."

To calm down, he started looking at pictures of his kids on his phone and reading articles in the Ensign magazine, a publication of the LDS Church.

He found an article by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the church's presidency, that talked about finding the good in what you seek and said that it made him realize what an opportunity he had to go to Jacksonville.

Unga's faith provided another special moment for the football player Saturday morning, one he called the most poignant moment of the entire experience.

"I said a prayer before I went to the tryout, praying that I could do my best," he said. "I'll never forget the peace and comfort I felt. I'm going to remember that the most out of anything."

When Unga took the field, he found he was able to perform at a high level -- even though he had only managed three hours of fitful sleep the night before.

"I was skeptical going in without any rest but for some reason I felt great," he said. "I ran well. We were catching passes out of the backfield and some of the throws were tough but I caught everything. We did a bag drill and I did well. I did well throughout the tryout."

But Unga said the immediate reaction from the coaches who were watching was basically, "Thanks for coming, we'll let you know."

He got lunch and waited for a long time in the locker room, until finally one of the Jaguar scouts came in and called his name and that of one of the other guys there.

"I had mixed feelings at that point," he said. "It could've been just thanks for coming. I thought about being called in after trying out at Tennessee and being told that they liked my workout but didn't have a spot for a running back."

But the ex-BYU star said something inside felt that this time would be different.

"Deep down inside, I felt that this had to be it," Unga said. "I was just hoping for that chance and sure enough, the general manager and the head coach Gus Bradley said they thought I'd be a good asset to the team."

He said it was tough to staunch the exhilaration when he called his wife Keilani to tell her the news.

"We were just screaming the whole time," he said. "I was happy, she was happy. She told me to make the best of it, to make them think twice about ever letting me go."

Harvey credited Keilani's encouragement and support -- as well as that of his parents -- as big factors in him being able to get to this point at all.

Harvey has no time to catch up on his sleep as he said practice begins at 8 a.m. Sunday morning, so it's "off to the races." He also said he's pretty thrilled about his first preseason trip with Jacksonville.

"We head to Detroit on Friday to see Kyle (Van Noy) and Ziggy (Ezekiel Ansah) and play the Lions," he said. "It's going to be a reunion."

But Unga is determined that this is just the beginning.

"It's just one little step in the process," he said. "I want to make the 53-man roster and really start my career. I'm going to do the best I can do."

Daily Herald sports editor ​Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or jlloyd@heraldextra.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.

Copyright 2015 Daily Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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