Super Bowl 2019: Kyle Van Noy's mysterious, wonderful life and his path to the Patriots
Van Noy's life has seen a lot of changes, and Super Bowls
Kyle Van Noy's biological mother – whoever she is – will remain anonymous. That's the way she wanted it in giving up her infant son with only one request – that he be raised a Mormon.
"It was closed adoption," said Kelly Van Noy, mother of the New England Patriots linebacker. "We wonder, but not a lot. I don't know if he thinks about it much."
Twenty-seven years later, Van Noy has to wonder a little bit. There is a hint of that. Scores of NFL players sponsor foundations as give-backs to the community. It's good P.R., if nothing else. In the case of Van Noy, it's in his soul.
The Van Noy Valor Foundation encourages "personal valor" in the lives of adopted children and those in foster care.
"He's where our guys want to be," as a player and person, BYU AD Tom Holmoe said of today's Cougars.
"I don't know if they know his whole story."
When Super Bowl 53 kicks off Sunday (which you can stream here on CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports App for free on most connected devices), it will be more than five-and-a-half years since one of BYU's greats graduated. That Van Noy even got that far is almost a manufactured tale.
Kelly and her husband Layne are following their son to his third consecutive Super Bowl. It doesn't seem possible. Not when Kyle was a wayward teenager who almost screwed up his life beyond belief.
Ten years ago, Van Noy was cited for a DUI a few days before 2009's national signing day. That's a concern at most schools. At BYU it's a deal breaker.
The school's honor code mandates no tobacco, no alcohol and no premarital sex. Van Noy was done as could be as a Cougar. It didn't matter that he was a juvenile and the episode would eventually be expunged from his record.
The honor code is the honor code – until that teenager with the DUI requested a meeting with the head coach, he'd never play for: Bronco Mendenhall.
"You understand you can't come to BYU under these circumstances?," Mendenhall was quoted as saying in the best-seller "The System."
Mendenhall expressed his love for the difference-making defender, then cut him loose.
"I gave him every chance to move on and go elsewhere," said Mendenhall, now at Virginia. "He decided to stay to BYU."
More like begged to stay at BYU. Van Noy wrote an apology letter.
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There was a special connection between the two. In his first year as BYU head coach Mendenhall had the idea to visit church members the night before road games. Mendenhall called them "firesides".
Van Noy grew up in Reno and happened to be there on a night Mendenhall spoke.
"I remember seeing him in the audience," the coach said. "I don't remember what was said, but there was a clear point I was making and I saw it was directed right to him.
"It became a point of clarity why he might be coming to BYU."
After the misstep, a plan was hatched that almost no prospect with Van Noy's talent would go for. He would have to sit out and delay his signing by a year while proving himself to Mendenhall and Holmoe, as well as school and church officials.
"Kyle's a good kid when you talk to him," Holmoe said. "He's a pretty outspoken kid. He knows what he wants. That's part of his success. He's really determined. He knows what he wants."
A month after that 2009 signing day, though, Van Noy was out with friends. Alcohol was involved, according to a passage in "The System." He fell asleep on a park bench.
When police arrived, he ran. Van Noy was cited for eluding an officer. He was not charged with an alcohol offense. Eventually the charges were dropped.
The case was sealed. Van Noy still told Mendenhall on his own. The coach reminded the kid, he still had that year to get things right.
"No one is perfect," Van Noy told me going into his senior year in 2013. "I don't like it when people have the perception that Mormons are perfect or they have that thing that all of them are holy-type people.
"We're like everybody else. We just believe in something different."
Van Noy's promise was realized in a career the ended with him becoming one of BYU's all-time defensive greats. Twice he was a third-team All-American.
His nickname for the coach who helped save his career came from the title of the Mormon faith's most powerful leaders. Van Noy called Mendenhall, "The Bishop."
"He was one of those guys who made every critical play that needed to be made," the coach said.
A qualifier: There's little doubt Van Noy would have been a significant contributor, maybe even a star, at places like UCLA, Oregon, Colorado and Boise State. They all recruited him hard.
"He would have made it [at another school]," Holmoe said. "Sometimes a coach can develop you. Sometimes you get in the right situation, but the best ones are going to make it."
"It's really hard to say," said Mendenhall when asked about how Van Noy's life would have changed, had he gone the secular school route. "What I do know for certainty: He benefitted by going through the BYU experience.
"I think his current marriage and family and ideals were all crystallized while he was maturing."
Van Noy married his sweetheart, Marissa Powell, a former Miss Utah. But it took him until his third season with the Detroit Lions to make his first career start. There were injuries, inconsistency. Halfway through the 2016 season, Van Noy was traded to the Patriots. Breakout seasons followed – a career-high 58 solo tackles in 2017, a career-best 92 combined tackles in 2018.
Van Noy is coming off arguably his best game as a pro in the AFC Championship Game (10 tackles, two sacks).
"They really didn't know what to do with him in Detroit," Kelly Van Noy said. "He had a rough time. It took the edge off his love of football."
It's almost more than a coincidence than Kyle hooked on with a modern dynasty. The Patriots have changed him as much as he changed them.
"He has definitely matured, thank goodness," Kelly said. "I think he sees the needs of other people a lot more than he did. He was kind of into that 'me' mode.
"With his foundation and his wife, they are very service oriented and giving back."
As for the story behind that adoption, Van Noy's birth mother and her wishes, that will remain a wonderful mystery.
"Adoption is beautiful thing," Holmoe said. "It's such an unselfish thing to do … I understand all situations don't turn out perfectly but this was beautiful."
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