Provo » Star running back Harvey Unga's hopes of returning to play football for BYU in his senior season rests in the hands of his church leaders and the school's administration, coach Bronco Mendenhall said Wednesday.
Acknowledging that Unga wants to return to the team "in the most desperate way," Mendenhall said he would welcome the senior-to-be back, but that it won't be his decision.
Unga voluntarily withdrew from the school last Friday, saying he had run afoul of the school's strict honor code that prohibits the use of alcohol, illicit drugs and having premarital sex, among other things.
Unga has not spoken publicly on the matter since the school issued a news release late Friday evening saying both Unga and a woman he was once intending to marry, women's basketball player Keilani Moeaki, were withdrawing from BYU for reasons related to the honor code.
Mendenhall said the leading rusher in BYU history's "first choice" is to return, although the coach acknowledged the star player has other options. Those would be to enter July's NFL supplemental draft and turn pro, or transfer to another school.
The coach said no timetable is in place for Unga to return and that the "process is still ongoing" as the former Timpview High star seeks readmission.
Whether the school operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will grant readmission could be made in the next few weeks, BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins told The Salt Lake Tribune last Friday.
She said when a student makes the decision to withdraw, a review by the honor code office is not needed and the dean of students makes the decision regarding re-entry. Any student applying for admission or readmission into BYU must first get an "ecclesiastical endorsement" from his or her church leader.
If Unga gets that OK from his bishop, the next step is approval from BYU's administrative leaders.
"Harvey's first choice and what he is fighting diligently for and trying to express to the administration at BYU is that he wants to be back," Mendenhall said. "This goes back to the decision he made to not declare for the [NFL] draft and to stay at BYU. ... So that is his hope. That is his intent, and that is what he would like to do."
Mendenhall left no doubt regarding his thoughts on the matter by saying he would "love to have" Unga in the fold this fall. Mendenhall said Unga is three classes short of becoming the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
If Unga is not allowed to return, it definitely changes the makeup of not only BYU's running back situation, but the team as a whole, Mendenhall said.
"Any time you lose the school's leading rusher, and someone who has been in our system and been part of so many wins, that is going to be difficult for us [to replace], nor can we replace that spot in one year," he said. "We have some younger players that we liked a lot in the spring, with [freshman] Josh Quezada being one of them.
"But when you lose Harvey, that changes your football team. And so, again, we are kind of holding on and waiting as well, and then starting to project and prepare in a lot of different ways in case he is with us or not with us."
Addressing other issues, Mendenhall said the battle to be BYU's starting quarterback will likely not be decided until the end of fall camp. He reiterated that freshman Jake Heaps and junior Riley Nelson are slightly ahead of sophomore James Lark in the competition to be the starter.
"I am further along in my comfort level [with the qb situation] than what I thought I would be, and that is making me rest a little bit easier," the coach said.