PROVO — As if a season beset by a painful shoulder injury and a disappointing 7-6 record hadn't been enough to deal with, BYU left tackle Matt Reynolds confronted one of the toughest decisions of his life once the 2010 campaign ended.

In the three weeks after the Cougars' resounding Dec. 18 victory over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl, Reynolds became a father, underwent major surgery, and wrestled with choosing between declaring early for the National Football League draft or returning for his senior year.

"Any time you have to sit down with your family and decide the direction you're going to be going in, and think about the consequences of that decision, with huge ramifications, it's a stressful process," Reynolds recalled. "It's one that we took very seriously. We took many, many, many hours contemplating and deliberating. We counseled with family and friends and people on the collegiate and NFL level, just trying (to decide) what would be the best move.

"Ultimately, it came down to staying at BYU and being a part of the legacy here and having another year with my team."

When he chose to come back for one more season, the Cougars' offense exhaled a big collective sigh of relief.

But Reynolds admits he came close to leaving early.

"There were times where I felt like I was close to having a final decision and then we changed our minds," he said. "There were a few times that that happened, kind of going back-and-forth. We got a lot of positive feedback (from NFL scouts and front-office personnel). That's what made the decision so hard. If we had gotten a lot of negative feedback, it would have made the decision easier."

Reynolds watched last week's NFL Draft knowing that had he decided to leave BYU, his name would have been called. As it turned out, no Cougar player was selected in the draft for the first time since 1994, and for only the second time since 1965.

Reynolds is projected as a first-round draft choice, the No. 15 pick overall, in 2012, according to CBSSports.com.

While exploring his options, Reynolds knew that the NFL's collective bargaining agreement was about to expire, and that it would likely result in a lockout, which the league is experiencing now.

"Honestly, it did have a huge part of my decision, just the uncertainly of what was going to happen. The NFL, on a normal year, is very uncertain and volatile. Then with the all the collective bargaining stuff going on, even more so. It made the decision extremely difficult," Reynolds said.

"I have no idea how long it's going to take to resolve. The longer it takes, the smarter it makes me look for staying. But I want it to be over and done with as soon as possible. I love the NFL and what it is. I would hate to see something like this hurt the NFL, the fans and the reputation of the NFL has. It would really be a shame to have anything happen that way."

For Reynolds, going to the NFL has been a lifelong dream. His father, Lance — who has been an assistant coach at BYU for 29 years — was drafted by, and played for, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I feel like I've got potential and the opportunity to have a career and have those dreams fulfilled and have the fruits of your labors," he said. "We started trying to tally up the hours that I've spent at football throughout my life. It's been a huge, huge part of my life.

"To be able to reap the rewards is something I'm looking forward to," Reynolds continued. "I very much look forward to having the opportunity to creating a career on the next level. I feel a lot of guys look at the NFL as the destination and the end point. I feel like that's the beginning of your paid career. That, for me, is the goal, but the goal doesn't end by reaching there. The goal is getting there and to keep going."

Reynolds had to keep going last season while nursing an agonizing left shoulder injury that he sustained in the fourth game against Nevada. It required him to wear a shoulder harness the rest of the year "to make sure my shoulder stayed where it was supposed to be," Reynolds said. "It slipped out a couple of times."

He endured the pain and demonstrated his toughness. Despite the shoulder injury, Reynolds, a team captain and two-time first-team All-Mountain West Conference performer, gave up only one sack in 2010. He has started at BYU since he was a freshman in 2008, making 39 consecutive starts along the way.

Reynolds said his recovery from shoulder surgery is going "really, really well. (The doctors) said I'm ahead of schedule."

Though he was sidelined for spring drills, he's just weeks away "from being 100 percent. I have a couple of months to really push it and really get in shape before the season starts."

Four days before undergoing shoulder surgery, his wife, Brianna, gave birth to a healthy baby daughter, Lucy, on Dec. 31.

"It's just been really awesome," he said of fatherhood. "I can't even explain what it's like."

Along with being a husband and a dad, Reynolds is diligently preparing for his senior year and his future in the NFL. Football will soon be his full-time job, and it's the way he plans to provide financially for his young family.

"Anything that distracts and takes away from trying to achieve that goal will have to be sacrificed this summer," he said. "I have several ideas of what I could do this year to up my (draft) stock. That is the ultimate focus."

email: jeffc@desnews.com

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