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Provo • Although he was raised in Southern California during a time when the region didn't have an NFL team, BYU linebacker Butch Pau'u grew up dreaming about playing at the Oakland Raiders' stadium in the Bay Area.
That may or may not happen, but at least Pau'u's goal of playing in an NFL stadium was realized earlier this month when the Cougars defeated Arizona 18-16 at the home of the Phoenix Cardinals in Glendale, Ariz. And it will occur again on Saturday when the 1-2 Cougars take on 2-0 West Virginia at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., home of the NFL's Washington, D.C., franchise.
It will mark the 53rd time that BYU has played in a current or former NFL stadium, and ninth time since 2009. The Cougars are 6-2 in such games since 2009. They are 29-21-2 overall in NFL venues.
"It is nice to be able to go and play in those stadiums and recognize that, 'Wow, you are in this arena where not many people have the opportunity to play at,' " Pau'u said. "I remember against Arizona, after the game I just looked around and was in awe because we were there. We were in the Arizona Cardinals' stadium. For a kid that is 22 years old, that was really humbling, really nice."
If they get bowl-eligible, the Cougars will play in the San Diego Chargers' Qualcomm Stadium for the 28th time this December in the Poinsettia Bowl. Next year, they will open the season at the Houston Texans' NRG Stadium against LSU.
There was some talk about playing next year's game against Fresno State at Oakland's O.co Coliseum, but FSU issued a statement in June saying that game would remain at Bulldog Stadium on Nov. 4, 2017.
"I feel like it gives us a little more energy," said BYU safety Micah Hannemann. "That is cool for me. I have never been to an NFL football game, but I've played in a couple NFL football stadiums, so it is cool."
West Virginia is no stranger to NFL venues, either. The Mountaineers are 4-2 in NFL stadiums under head coach Dana Holgorsen, in his sixth year. West Virginia walloped James Madison 42-12 at FedEx Field in 2012 and is 28-21 at stadiums that house an NFL club.
Organizers are hoping for a crowd of around 50,000 at the 79,000-seat stadium that is 209 miles away from Morgantown and 2,104 away from Provo.
The Cougars were scheduled to depart from Provo on Thursday afternoon, and will do some sightseeing at the National Mall on Friday morning before a walk-through at the stadium around noon. After that, it will be all business. New coach Kalani Sitake does not conduct Friday night firesides like former coach Bronco Mendenhall did. Instead, Sitake and several players and assistant coaches held a religious devotional meeting in the area last spring.
"I like playing in those neutral sites better that an opponents' field, for sure," Hannemann said. "It is good. And at BYU, we have fans everywhere, so it is awesome. It is almost as if it is like half and half at most of these games, neutral sites, so it is fun."
It won't be that way on Saturday, although BYU expects more than 10,000 Cougar fans to be in attendance.
Pau'u and other players said Mendenhall and his former staff often used the opportunity to play at NFL stadiums in recruiting pitches, but Sitake said he hasn't gone that route.
"I mean, it's something you could probably spin," he said. "But more than anything, I go to what we have to offer as a program and as a school, rather than focus on stuff that only happens once or twice a year. We are going to sell BYU, the university, and sell our football program before we sell anything else."
The Cougars' last trip east didn't go well a 31-0 loss at Michigan last September. Overall, BYU is 16-21 in games played east of the Mississippi River.
BYU's past eight games in NFL stadiums
Date Venue Result
Sept. 3, 2016 University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. BYU 18, Arizona 16
Nov. 14, 2015 Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo. Missouri 20, BYU 16
Oct. 19, 2013 Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas BYU 47, Houston 46
Dec. 20, 2012 Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif. BYU 23, San Diego State 6
Oct. 28, 2011 Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas TCU 38, BYU 28
Oct. 17, 2009 Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif. BYU 38, San Diego State 28
Sept. 12, 2009 Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, La. BYU 54, Tulane 3
Sept. 5, 2009 Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas BYU 14, Oklahoma 13
Note: Stadium names are what they were called when game was played