PROVO — Every team seems to have its inspirational tough guy — a player who plays much bigger than his size, and a player that continually exceeds expectations.

For the BYU Cougars, that man is 5-foot-8, 175-pound walk-on redshirt freshman JD Falslev from Cache Valley's Sky View High.

Falslev started the season as a returner on BYU's scout team, but quickly worked himself into a more prominent role as one of the Cougars' two kick returners. Eventually, he earned the job as the team's punt returner. He's helped the Cougars fill any void in the return game due to the departure of former returner O'Neill Chambers.

"I figured as long as I kept doing what I was doing that the coaches would gain trust in me and I'd work my way into the system," Falslev said after BYU's 55-7 win over UNLV on Saturday. "I'm taking what I have and just trying to run with it and do everything I can to help this team and be successful."

Falslev's role on the team is far ahead of what even he expected. But his performances in practice and his reliability in games has been simply too strong for the Cougar coaching staff to ignore.

"He's just got no fear, he makes great decisions, he has a lot of heart and he helps us with field position," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "The team loves him for all the characteristics I just shared. He's a great young man and a really good player, and a completely trustworthy punt returner.."

With the Cougars shutting down UNLV's offense on Saturday and forcing the Rebels to punt 10 times, Falslev had a little extra duty. He fielded all 10 punts cleanly, and returned four of them for a total of 42 yards. His 19-yard return in the third quarter set up BYU's final score.

"Returning punts is a huge role because you're the only one back there, so you have to do things quick and you have to do things right," Falslev said. "It's a tough position because you don't have 11 guys running at you, you have 21 guys running at you, so you have to not only keep your eyes on the ball but you have to figure out a way to maneuver through all of those players."

He came within a whisker, on a couple of returns on Saturday, to breaking one.

"It's frustrating because it's one guy here, one guy there or if I don't trip myself up, and that's usually all that's in the way. But we really feel that if we can get all 11 guys to do their job, we're going to break one here pretty soon," Falslev said.

Special teams go both ways for Falslev, who also plays on BYU's kick and punt cover teams. He delivered two big hits on Saturday, one on a UNLV punt return and the other on a kickoff return.

"It's fun. It's what football is all about," he said. "Whether it's running past people, running over people or giving them a hard hit, it's what we all like to do."

He's exactly the kind of player that Mendenhall wants on his special teams.

"He's not tall, but I think he plays big," Mendenhall said.

e-mail: jimr@desnews.com