Young to be honored at BYU season opener

Updated: August 27, 2003, 6:56 PM ET

PROVO, Utah -- On a night one of Brigham Young's greatest quarterbacks is honored, another wearing the same number will try to establish himself as the next in a storied line of Cougar passers.

Georgia Tech and BYU open the season Thursday night, when former Cougar Steve Young's jersey will be retired during a halftime ceremony. Young's former No. 8, however, is still alive in the program and will be worn by Matt Berry, who is opening his first season as the starter.

"He set such a great tradition here and left such a legacy. It's an honor to wear it," Berry said.

Berry started the final six games last fall, but struggled at times after a two-year layoff for a church mission. By spring practice, he was more comfortable with the offense and since the beginning of training camp has been the favorite to start this season.

Coach Gary Crowton plans to give freshman John Beck a series to give him some experience, but emphasized that Berry is the starting QB and will lead the Cougars this fall.

"I know that they have faith in me," said Berry, who completed nearly 60 percent of his passes last fall but had nine interceptions with seven touchdowns.

"I know that if I make a mistake they'll be like 'OK, go back out there and play and make it up," Berry said. "We're pretty bonded as an offensive unit and that will make a huge difference."

Berry will have a long way to go to accomplish anything near what Young did. After taking over for Jim McMahon in 1982, Young led the Cougars to consecutive Western Athletic Conference titles and posted a 19-5 record as a starter.

Young led the nation as a senior in passing yards in 1983 and was the Heisman Trophy runner-up. Young, who won three Super Bowl titles with the San Francisco 49ers and was twice voted the NFL MVP, still holds the BYU record for completion percentage in a season with 71 percent.

"It really will be a very, very special moment with me on the field," Young said during a teleconference Wednesday. "I really haven't been back on the field for 20 years."

Young said he wants BYU return to its old status as a national title contender. The Cougars have struggled two of the last three seasons, including last year's 5-7 finish -- BYU's worst since 1973.

"It makes me feel bad that everybody knows that," Crowton said. "It was my first season as a head coach, too. I didn't like that."

Georgia Tech went 7-6 last fall in their first season under coach Chan Gailey, but struggled in the last two. Tech closed the regular season with a 51-7 loss to Georgia, then was beaten by Fresno State 30-21 in the Silicon Valley Classic.

Gailey has a lineup heavy with freshmen and sophomores. Among them is freshman quarterback Reggie Ball, who grabbed the starting job from senior A.J. Suggs.

Gailey is trusting in Ball's speed and elusiveness.

"You play the game as a young player by feel more than you do by experience," Gailey said. "So whatever looks right and seems right is what you do. You go by the rules the coaches have given you but you go play the game."

With Ball and such a young cast, Tech opens the season with a grueling three-game stretch. BYU has won four of its last five season openers at home, where eastern teams have struggled in the altitude.

Following the Cougars, the Yellow Jackets are at home next weekend against sixth-ranked Auburn, then travel to No. 13 Florida State for their Atlantic Coast Conference season opener.

An 0-3 start could seriously jeopardize Tech's string of six-straight bowl appearances.

"We definitely need to win," tight end John Paul Foschi said. "I think it'll really help out our spirits on the team. Right now, the chemistry and everything is really good. We want to get out there and play, but we want to win also."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index