Coming out of Lehighton, Pennsylvania, walk-on sophomore running back Joe Semanoff helped his team by running for six yards and catching two passes for 25 yards against the New Mexico Lobos. In the second quarter, Semanoff scored his first collegiate touchdown on a five yard swing pass from quarterback John Beck. The walk-on was an instrumental part in BYU’s come from behind win when he nabbed a 20-yard pass reception to keep one of BYU’s drives alive. So who is this guy?
“Well, I’m almost 5’10”, and I’m around 220 pounds and I run a 4.53 forty,” chuckled Semanoff. “I’m from Lehighton right by Lehigh College. I played high school football there and I’m just a walk-on right now. In high school I was more of a straight ahead runner. You know, I got the ball 36 times in one game and that was all our offense was. It was just run, run, run. I like this [BYU] offense a lot more because it makes you a more rounded back, but also the backs are getting the ball about 50% of the time through passes and runs. I had two catches and one run for six yards, so I had my chances and I made the best of it.”
Following his come out of nowhere performance during the New Mexico game, many wanted to know more about this backup and scout team running back.
“You know that’s a common question,” said Semanoff. “A bunch of guys on the team said, ‘Hey my wife called and she was like who is that number 27?’ I mean, I haven’t really been on the field much and last year was my freshman year and I redshirted. Two years ago in 2001 when Luke Staley was here I went on a mission to Brazil, and I came back last year and the only playing time I got was during kickoffs.”
Semanoff’s performance also caught the eye of quarterback John Beck who has seen how hard he has worked on and off the field.
“He played great and that’s what we need are players where if a player goes down you have another right there to step right in,” said Beck. “You know, Joe Semanoff works his tail off in the weight room. When Joe Semanoff comes onto the field he works his tail off preparing and giving the defense a good look. He’s a guy who’s not the Fahu Tahi name or the Curtis Brown name, but he steps in and makes plays and I’m sure now the Cougar nation knows who Joe Semanoff is now and that’s fun.”
From his hard work in the off-season and doing an outstanding job being the premier running back simulating opposing team ball carriers, Semanoff has finally been rewarded with playing time filling in for an absent Fahu Tahi.
“I think it was all along spring ball and summer camp; I performed well and I think I’ve become more of a well-rounded back,” said Semanoff. “I can pass block, run and catch out of the backfield. I was the scout team running back and I didn’t go home over the summer and just stayed here and worked hard, and I really feel like I’ve earned some respect and got to know our offense.
“With Coach Anae coming in this year I kind of got to start over with a clean slate to prove myself, so I just really worked hard with Fahu and Curtis to learn everything that a running back needs to do. I really look up to them and they’ll tell me little things here and there like to try this or that, so they’ve been watching out for me and kind of helping me along”.
Prior to the New Mexico game, Semanoff got word from BYU coaches to prepare himself for what was to come.
“Well, before the game I was a little bit nervous,” smiled Semanoff. “You know how it always is when the coaches tell you you’re going to be getting a little bit of time so I was a little bit nervous, but then I stepped onto the field and started warming up it kind of went away. I’ve been through every play a hundred times and knew exactly what I had to do and everything, so the nerves just went away and I just knew I had to execute.”
It did not take long before Semanoff was thrown right into the thick of the action. Semanoff talks us through what happened and was going through his mind during those plays.
“When I got onto the field and both times before I received the ball from the pass I had to check my blitz pickup first, so I went through my progressions first, released and then the linebacker came out with me,” Semanoff said. “Well at first I went down the side line and saw nobody there, so I looked up and caught the ball and was like, ‘Oh man!’ Then I took off.”
With 11:27 left in the second quarter, Semanoff again made his reads and caught a swing pass from quarterback John Beck that he turned into his first career touchdown.
“For my touchdown run it was kind of the same thing,” said Semanoff. “I thought my linebacker was going to come. So he stepped up and I stepped up and then released out of the backfield and when John threw the ball to me I saw I was one on one with the guy. I saw the power on the outside and thought that was my best chance so I went for it.”
“I think as players it’s gratifying to see your fellow teammates succeed,” said Beck. “I mean, to see Matt Allen get his first career touchdown in a situation like that is just great because I’ve known Matt forever and he’s a hard worker and a play maker. To be able to run up on them and jump up and down and celebrate with my teammates who’ve worked so hard to get that opportunity and made the best of it is great.”
Semanoff’s first career start as a running back started off with a bang; the excitement culminating when he received a warm reception from a proud coach and mentor for his performance back in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Coach Reynolds came and we talked,” smiled a humble Semanoff. “He told me he was proud of the way I played and that’s all you can really ask for. To have your coach tell you he’s proud of you is great. It’s all you can really ask for.”
For now, Semanoff hopes he is able to continue helping the team develop and is happy to contribute in any way he possibly can. However, he does hope he is able to receive more playing time in the near future if BYU coaches call his number to possibly spelling Brown or Tahi if ever number 27 is needed on the field.
“Yeah, I hope [I get to play more] but you know Fahu and Curtis are great backs,” said Semanoff. “I really feel like I’m a role player and that’s my role and I’m happy to do that. Those guys are great back and great guys, so if there is any way I can complement them or if they need a break and I can come in and relieve them, I have no problem doing that. There’s nothing that makes me happier than trying to fight for playing time over these guys.”