BYU Cougars

Faith, Family & Football with Bronco, Part 1

This is the first article in a three-part series on BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall and his unique Summer 2007 fireside tour.

What do you do for an encore when you’ve just led your football program to its first conference championship in five years and first bowl win in 10 years? If you’re Bronco Mendenhall, head coach of the BYU Cougars, you spend a good chunk of your offseason on a public speaking tour among the faithful.

In the vernacular of the LDS faith, these public speaking engagements are called “firesides.” A fireside is essentially a faith-oriented public speaking event that is usually held at a church facility. The firesides are open to the public and free to attend. The tone of these meetings is generally reverent and respectful, with occasional bits of humor appropriate to the setting.

Contrary to what you might think, football is not the primary topic discussed. And yet, every stop along the fireside tour to date has either been packed or close to standing room only, leaving thousands of uplifted attendees in its wake.

Mendenhall’s ambitious fireside schedule will conclude this weekend with two engagements in Hawaii. Seven other events have already taken place on the mainland. One or more current or former BYU football team members have also participated as guest speakers at each of these events.

Here’s what the complete Bronco Mendenhall Spring/Summer 2007 fireside schedule looks like:

No. 1 Orlando, Fla. , Sunday, April 29

No. 2 Newport Beach, Calif. , Tuesday, May 1

No. 3 Chandler, Ariz., Sunday, May 6

No. 4 Sacramento Calif., Wednesday, May 9

No. 5 Colleyville, Texas, Sunday, May 13

No. 6 Torrance, Calif., Tuesday, May 15

No. 7 Salt Lake City, Utah, Sunday, May 20

No. 8 Honolulu, Hawaii, Saturday, June 9

No. 9 Laie, Hawaii, Sunday, June 10

I attended the fireside held in Sacramento, Calif., on May 9. Former Cougar receiver Scott Collie was the opening speaker, and he was followed by his sons, Zac and Austin, and then Coach Mendenhall.

Zac recently signed a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles after his senior season with the Cougars. Austin, who was a freshman All-American receiver in 2004, recently returned from an LDS mission in South America, and he will be a sophomore at BYU this season.

Part II of this series will report on the overall fireside experience, as well as the individual messages and lessons each of the speakers shared with the audience. Part III includes a Q&A with Coach Mendenhall and an analysis of the impact this groundbreaking fireside series is having on the BYU fan base and the program’s ongoing recruiting efforts.

Faith, Family & Football with Bronco, Part 2

This is the second report of a three-part series on BYU’s head coach Bronco Mendenhall and his unique Summer 2007 fireside tour .

I ran into Austin Collie in the hallway of the Sacramento North Stake Center building about 15 minutes before BYU’s May 9 fireside was scheduled to begin. He politely declined my overture to discuss a little football, so I switched gears and asked him if he had any funny stories to share about his brother Zac when they were kids.

Having grown up with five brothers, I knew that could be a rich area to mine for personal anecdotes. Austin grinned and declined to take the bait.

Following a congregational hymn and an opening prayer, a few local church leaders offered prelude remarks and then Scott Collie, father of Zac and Austin, was introduced to an audience of at least 700.

Scott Collie, Wide Receiver, BYU, 1979-1982

Scott related how he had passed up other scholarship offers to play at BYU. He couldn’t put a finger on it, but there was something that felt right to him about playing in Provo, even though he was not a member of the university’s sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).

As a freshman, he observed and studied the behavior of his teammates, the coaching staff, and other students. Before long, Scott decided to learn about the LDS doctrines regarding the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had his first lesson with the missionaries in his dorm room.

“That night, I was overwhelmed by the Spirit as I knelt and prayed,” he recalled.

Collie said his life changed forever after engaging God in sincere supplication. Tears welled up in his eyes as he identified the blessings that had followed in his life away from the football field.

Of greatest importance, he cited his wife, Nicole, whom he met at BYU, parenthood, being ordained to the priesthood, and the far-reaching impact of his choice to convert, as evidenced by the lives his sons have touched while they have served abroad on two-year missions for the LDS Church.

*Note: There are no paid ministers in the LDS Church — every male over the age of 12 is eligible to be ordained to the lay priesthood if they obey the Ten Commandments, are morally upright and virtuous, and abstain from liquor, drugs, and other addictive substances. These qualifications for actively holding the priesthood in the LDS Church essentially form the basis for BYU’s Student Honor Code, which, incidentally, has been derided by some critics for being too strict.

Besides Zac and Austin, the Collies have three other children: Taylore, 18, who has a scholarship to play on the UVSC women’s golf team in the fall; Dylan, 13, who is demonstrating solid receiving talent in Pop Warner junior tackle play (and might someday be the fourth Collie to catch passes for the Cougars) and last but not least, Cameryn, 8, another athletically gifted Collie whose favorite sport happens to be tennis.

Scott Collie closed his talk by referencing the importance of obedience to the commandments of God (John 14:15) and his gratitude for the strength he gained from seeing his children make choices in their lives to follow their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Austin Collie, Wide Receiver, BYU, 2004, 2007

Austin Collie spoke about the importance of developing and acting on faith in one’s convictions.

He didn’t anticipate that he would have much of an impact as a freshman on the 2004 Cougar season. However, following a clutch touchdown reception in the home-opening victory over Notre Dame on national TV, it was clear to the fans and sportswriters that he was an extraordinary, impact player.

By the end of the season he had received numerous conference and national honors, including being named to the Freshman All-American Team.

“When the accolades all started coming in, my head blew up like a large balloon,” Austin recalled.

He said his ego became so inflated that he started rationalizing away his original intentions to serve a mission for the Church, fearing that the two-year layoff might negatively affect the rest of his football career.

When he told his older brother that he had decided not to go on a mission, Zac told him to get rid of the selfish attitude.

“Take a look around you and recognize everything you have been blessed with.”

Austin soon remembered that he had made a promise to God to serve a mission when he first arrived on campus earlier that year. He repented of his lack of faith, he said, pointing out that it takes faith–a trust in God–to leave behind family, friends, and, of course, football, for two years to serve a mission.

Even in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) he was tempted to abort his mission assignment. He recalled there were times when he was laying in his bottom bunk bed, staring up at the bed springs above him, and all he could think about was the rest of his family at home, eating good food and watching football games together.

It took faith to brush away those longings and maintain focus on his commitment and responsibilities. He also counseled the youth in the audience to study the Scriptures and prepare at an early age for missionary service, pointing out that he had to do a lot of catching up in studies because of his neglect.

Austin concluded his talk with two recent examples of faith that inspired him. One was how his brother had left college football at BYU for two years to serve a mission in Brazil.

When Zac rejoined the team at the completion of his mission, he suffered a serious broken leg injury. Most people were of the opinion that he would never contribute to the program on the field after that injury. However, he worked hard to come back from the injury and ultimately became an integral part of BYU’s offense last year. He also recently signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent.

The other story of faith that Austin shared centered on a young family that he had taught on his mission. They lived in extremely humble circumstances, and yet had the faith to donate a tenth of their income (called a “tithe”) to the Church in the early days of their conversion experience. He reported that, today, that same young family is still strong in their faith and receiving great blessings for continuing to make correct choices.

Austin’s message was clearly targeted at the youth in attendance, but it was such that anyone of any faith could relate to: You have to trust that making the right choice in the here and now, as wrong as it might seem from a worldly perspective, will somehow yield positive results in the future.

Zac Collie, Wide Receiver, BYU, 2000, 2003-2006

Zac Collie began his talk by expressing his appreciation and respect for Coach Mendenhall. He said the Coach is a man of few words, but that his words are truly wisdom.

He recalled the 2005 football season and the first fireside the team participated in prior to the New Mexico game in Albuquerque. He did not attend that event and felt guilty when he heard other players who did talking about what a positive experience it had been for them.

Zac said he wanted to emphasize to the youth in attendance how important everyday choices are in their lives.

“No matter how small or big our choices are, they will catch up with us, for good or bad in the end.”

He also quoted an apostle of the LDS Church who once said, “Just as tiny drops of water shape our landscape over time, every decision we make every minute of our lives shapes our character.”

Zac pointed out that living a chaste life and abstaining from liquor, tobacco and drugs are the biggest challenges facing teenage kids on a daily basis. For those who have gone down that path, he stressed the importance of repentance and seeking the “atonement of Christ” to readjust the focus of their lives.

He related how the choices he made on his mission in Brazil helped to develop even greater faith, and how that stronger level of faith helped him endure the lengthy and painful rehabilitation of his broken leg (Zac’s femur was broken at the pelvis).

In conclusion, Zac shared a story about the premature birth of his first child. Last June, he was out golfing with some buddies when he received a call on his cell phone from his wife, Emmalee. She was six months pregnant at the time.

“Are you crying because you are hurting or worried?” he asked.

“Worried,” was the frantic response.

When they arrived at the hospital, Emmalee was dilated to 4 centimeters. He called one of his teammates to come and help him administer a priesthood blessing to his wife.

“It’s those type of experiences when you need to rely solely on the Lord,” Zac explained, adding that his daughter, Shae, “is now almost one and you’d never know that she was born three months premature.”

He testified to the audience that he was able to make it through that frightening experience, his broken leg, and any other trials in his life because the choices he made leading up to those moments gave him the extra faith and courage to face them.

# # #

If you were to identify the thematic thread running through each of the talks given by the Collies at the Sacramento Fireside, it would be “The Three F’s: Faith, Family, and Football.” The emphasis was on the ordering of those priorities in their lives. The Collies provided personal examples of how their faith in God and obeying his principles as they understand them, gave appropriate meaning to the importance of their family life and their love for the game of football.

Family is understood as being larger than just their immediate relations. The football team, which last year adopted the motto, “Band of Brothers,” is considered another manifestation of “Family.” And, in the broadest sense, “Family” connotes the entire human race, for in LDS doctrine, they believe in “the Fatherhood of God, and the Brotherhood of Man.”

It is extremely rare to hear a young man, especially one graced with All-American talents on the gridiron, bearing his soul in humility to an audience of strangers about his lack of preparation to serve God.

It is also rare to hear a young man who is headed into the world of professional football relating his personal experience of seeking spiritual assistance from a teammate to administer a priesthood blessing to his wife.

It is evident these young men could look up to their parents as examples to pattern themselves by, and within the BYU football program, it is clear that they can look up to their head coach, his staff, and their fellow teammates.

That is the essence of the renewed spirit that Bronco Mendenhall has restored to the BYU football program. He has re-established the program’s priorities as they relate to the mission of the University, and he expects accountability among those who desire to be a part of BYU football.

Mendenhall’s philosophy and approach to coaching football is unique within Division 1 football. Detractors scoff at the notion of a return to BYU’s glory days as experienced under Lavell Edwards. Only time will tell, but last year’s results seem to provide a pretty good indication of the direction BYU football is heading.

Faith, Family & Football with Bronco, Part 3

This is the third article in a three-part series on BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall and his unique Summer 2007 fireside tour.

Following his introduction to the Sacramento fireside audience back in May, Bronco Mendenhall took his position at the podium and said, “What you have heard tonight is what our program is all about.”

He then proceeded to list an impressive set of behind-the-scenes statistics about the current BYU football team:

BYU has 70 returned missionaries on the roster, and 12 languages are spoken in the locker room.
BYU had the third highest team grade point average in Division 1 football this year.
The team volunteered over 400 hours of community service in the past quarter.

Coach Mendenhall pointed out that Zac Collie was representative of the type of student-athlete BYU attracts–young men with a lot of heart. He was headed to the NFL because of his faith, diligence, and work ethic. He set high goals for himself and did everything possible to achieve them.

He then shared one of the more humorous moments of the event:

“When I was the defensive coordinator at New Mexico and we were getting ready to play BYU at Lavell Edwards’ last home game, all the coaches asked: ‘How are we going to beat them? They have all those returned missionaries.’

Two years later, I was sitting around with the BYU coaches preparing to play USC, and we all asked the question: ‘How are we going to beat them? We have all these returned missionaries!'”

Bronco went on to share a few other stories about faith and determination that were manifest by members of the BYU football program. He then closed with a powerful, but simply stated testimony.

Following a closing hymn and prayer, hundreds of adults and kids of all ages lined up to meet the BYU coach. He remained for over an hour shaking hands, posing for photos, and autographing footballs, helmets, posters–you name it. It was exhausting just watching him.

Following is a Q&A we conducted with Coach Mendenhall a few days after the event:

CG365: Where did the idea for this offseason fireside tour come from?

BRONCO: Two years ago we started putting on firesides each Friday night before our games, home and away. Our football program is full of outstanding young men that want to give back to their communities through service. These firesides have become increasingly more popular, particularly among the youth of the church, and they have provided the opportunity to serve.

We have received requests from many area church leaders to come to their communities to put on these firesides. In response to these requests I have decided to participate in this 9-city spring fireside tour that ranges from Orlando to Hawaii.

CG365: Would you consider these firesides to be part of your recruiting strategy?

BRONCO: This fireside tour is not used as a recruiting tool, rather, it is a vehicle to add value to the ever growing need that the youth of this country has to grow spiritually, create and maintain goals, and have a relationship with their Heavenly Father.

CG365: Still, are you finding that these firesides help your recruiting efforts?

BRONCO: Any exposure that the youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints can have to Brigham Young University and its mission is encouraged. We feel that BYU Football is the Flag Bearer of Brigham Young University, through football excellence. These firesides represent an important role that I and our team have embraced. We are not concerned with the effect that it might have on recruiting, but we do know that it can have an effect on the lives of the youth and hopefully help aid them to make the right decisions in their lives.

CG365: DO you expect to have verbal commitments from the majority of your recruits before fall camp like you did last year?

BRONCO: We have worked very hard in recruiting and we do anticipate having several commitments before we begin fall camp.

CG365: Is the fireside tour something you might consider reprising next year?

BRONCO: So far, these firesides have been outstanding. We believe that they have produced a good result with the youth. We plan to continue these spring firesides annually.

CG365: How do you embrace student-athletes (like J.J. DiLuigi and Ryan Kessman) who are not LDS and support and respect their choice to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience?”

BRONCO: “J.J. Diluigi and Ryan Kessman chose to attend BYU with a very good knowledge of what they were signing up to do. Although, we do know that they will need to be cared for. Their choices of faith will be encouraged and developed as students here at BYU. We are fortunate to have their diverse backgrounds in our program.

We have many programs in place to care for them and all of our new incoming freshman. Ryan and J.J. fit the model of what we are looking for, and we are excited that they are coming to BYU. Both of these young men had other options available to them and both chose to represent BYU. They are excited and anxious to a part of this team.”

CG365: You are responsible for restoring the tradition of BYU football as it was under Lavell Edwards. What does that mean to you?

BRONCO: Coach Edwards is BYU Football. Quite simply, we want to make him proud with how we conduct ourselves on and off the field.

Q&A: Outland Trophy Winner Kris Farris on Mark Weber

In this interview, former UCLA All-American offensive tackle Kris Farris offers BYU football fans some unique and personal insights into the Cougars’ new offensive line coach, Mark Weber.

Under Weber’s guidance at UCLA, Farris earned consensus first team All-American honors as well as the Outland Trophy award for best interior lineman in the country as a junior in 1998.

Farris didn’t give up a single quarterback sack that year. In fact, the entire Bruin line yielded only 10 sacks in 1998, while helping their offense rack up a single season school record of 5,847 total yards. UCLA won the Pac-10 title that year and lost a heartbreaking 38-31 nail-biter to Wisconsin in the 1999 Rose Bowl Game.

Following his junior season, the Pittsburgh Steelers made Farris the 74th pick overall in the 1999 NFL Draft.  Two weeks after the draft, Farris broke his ankle, which kept him off the playing field for two years of painstaking rehab. He then signed with the Buffalo Bills and cracked into the starting lineup, only to break his leg against the Steelers. He decided to retire after being picked up by Atlanta in 2003.

Farris earned a bachelors degree in English at UCLA and is currently working toward an MBA at his alma mater. He is Sales Manager for Crest Steel, a steel distributor serving the Western United States.

CG365:  Do you recall the first time you met Coach Weber?

KF:  I actually first met him during recruiting when I was in high school, but he was at UNLV, I think.  It wasn’t more than a handshake at the time, but he reminded me later when he came to UCLA that we had met.

Aside from that, I didn’t officially meet Coach Weber until my sophomore season.  We were in off-season conditioning and Coach (Bob) Toledo walked in with him and Weber was this bald, stern-looking guy and I thought, “Oh boy, what are we in for now?”

Now, he always talks about the first time we met, too. The year before he got there—my freshman season—I had played really poorly. It was like I was starting more because the cupboard was bare.  So, I walked into his office, and he always says the first thing I said to him was “I’ll bet you already heard how bad I am.” He says my shoulders were slumped over and we sat there and talked for a while. It was the first of many talks we had over the next six months. He had a lot to do with helping me get my confidence back and helping me learn how hard I needed to train in the off-season in order to succeed.

CG365:  Would you credit Coach Weber with helping develop you as an offensive lineman?

KF:  I credit him more than anyone else. Coach Toledo gets credit, and it didn’t hurt to red shirt behind Jonathan Ogden for a year—watching him work and how he did things, obviously, helped me a lot.  But, Coach Weber guided me a lot. He talked me through a lot of things. We’d go out to practice and one of the main things he taught me, and I actually still use it in life, I’d go out to practice and run around like a chicken with my head cut off, because I thought, “I’m so bad. I want to be good.”

Coach Weber would say, “Look, you’re not going to get there overnight.  Let’s pick out one thing together everyday that you can work on, and we’ll keep on working on that one thing until you master it, and then we’ll move on to something else.”

That made learning all the nuances of the position and developing my skills a lot more simple.  By the end of my college career, it evolved from “let’s work on your stance” into “let’s work on getting this one step a few inches wider.” We had really got to the point where we were honing in a lot more on refinements that elevated my game. It really helped me out.

CG365:  As you were working on all those little intermediate skill steps, did Coach Weber help you put it all together and see the big picture?

KF:  Yeah, big time. I remember walking into the film room after the Washington game late in my first season under Coach Weber and he told me that I had finally put it all together. I had a dominant performance in a really important game for our team against a top player in the conference. I am still proud of that moment; it showed me that all of the hard work I had put in during the off-season and after practice every day was paying off.  That game skyrocketed my confidence and it carried over into the USC game, our bowl game, and the next season. Twelve months later I won the Outland Trophy.

CG365:  What were your observations of Coach Weber as a recruiter at UCLA?

KF:  He was a really good recruiter. He brought in a lot of key players. He brought in Cade McNown’s replacement, who started for four years, and several blue-chip offensive linemen, that I know of. He was just a really good recruiter.

CG365:  What do you think are Coach Weber’s greatest strengths as a position coach?

KF:  He is great at fundamentals. In that position, especially when you’re trying to mold raw players coming out of high school, you need to spend a lot of time teaching them what to do with their footwork and their hands. You know, “Put your hands right here.  Don’t put it on their chest, I want you to put it three inches to the left of their number.”  You know, he’s just real precise with the fundamentals.

I always found him really approachable, too, where we could just go in and watch film together or talk things over after practice. We could sit out on the field a half hour or more after practice talking about things, even the most mundane stuff, but that’s how committed he was to fundamentals and helping make his players better.

CG365:   What was he like during game time, say, like if he noticed something that your opponent was doing differently than what you saw in their game film?

KF:   He’s really solid in game situations. We’d huddle up after we got off the field every single time, and he has that great ability to tell which players need to be yelled at and which players just need a pat on the back, like “Hey, you’re better than this. Calm down.  Stop worrying about all this other stuff and work on this one step because the player you’re going against is coming upfield more than going outside,” or something like that.

CG365:   As a junior, you didn’t allow a QB sack, and your entire unit only gave up 10 the entire season. How do you think those accomplishments reflect on Coach Weber and his responsibility for your offensive line unit?

KF:  Well, Coach Toledo was always talking about how good our offensive line was and how we were dictating the tempo in practice and our team’s success in the games. Coach Weber really impressed on us how we were pretty much the key to how the team was doing.  If practice wasn’t going well for the whole team, he’d pull us aside and say, “Hey, you can’t let this happen—you guys set the tone for the whole thing.”

If he felt we needed more intensity, he’d ratchet us up a notch and all of the sudden, we’d have more intensity and the whole team would get more out of practice.

He was really big on us being the core unit of the team and instilling pride in us that we were responsible for the quality of the team’s preparationity. And Coach Toledo definitely bought into that philosophy.

CG365:  What kind of memories do you carry with you from that incredible season when you received a lot of personal awards, UCLA won the Pac-10, and you played in the Rose Bowl Game?

KF:  It was unreal—a once in a lifetime type of experience. We were such a close knit team. The offensive line unit we had that year are still good friends of mine. We were close and spent a lot of time off the field together. We’d go out to dinner together once a week.  We knew each other’s personality so well and how we would react to different things, and we communicated really well.

We had a couple sophomores who had joined the starting unit that year and they stepped up and did a great job. It was a kind of a whirlwind year but really exciting. I think we all have a lot of pride in that year. I got a lot of the accolades that year, but I was just the guy the media chose—our entire line play was incredible.

CG365:  What special skill does Coach Weber bring to BYU’s offensive line that they haven’t seen in previous coaches?

KF:  I keep thinking of the word “polish.” He knows how to polish a player’s skill set.  Like I said, he’s really good at fundamentals and if they’ve got a solid unit already, he’s going to step in and really analyze their game and figure out how to make them even better. He knows how to make a good player great, and a great player even better. He helped make me a lot better than I would have been, and everyone else in our unit, too.

CG365:  BYU plays UCLA this coming season in the Rose Bowl Stadium.  How might Coach Weber’s experience at UCLA and playing in Rose Bowl Stadium help prepare the BYU squad for that game in September?

KF:  Well, he did work with Coach Dorrell for a year or two so he probably knows a bit about how UCLA prepares and such. There might be something valuable there he can tap into and relate to his players. As far as playing in that environment, I’m sure he’ll bring them to the stadium the day before and show them that at the end of the day it’s just a grass field like the one they practice on. For sure, he’ll know how to help keep his unit focused in that game.

CG365:  Do you recall any favorite stories or quotes of Coach Weber that have stuck with you throughout the years?

KF:  Not really that I can recall, but what I’ve always remembered and loved is the fact that he instilled a lot of pride in us and it was always just like, “Hey, this game’s on you guys.  If we’re gonna win this game, it’s on you guys.” That’s such a great feeling.

It’s a lot of pressure he put on us, but we’d respond to it and perform because he’d prepared us and we were ready to go. And none more so, than when there were six minutes left in the game and we had a little bit of a lead. He’d just huddle us up and say, “Okay, just like I said.  It’s on you. You guys are gonna win this game for us right now.”

CG365:  One of the most important responsibilities a college coach has is to help young men prepare to survive, succeed, and make positive contributions to society when they finish playing football.  What are your thoughts and feelings about how Coach Weber helped you prepare in that regard?

KF:  Well, it’s been nine years since I left for the NFL, and I still talk to him about every six months.  I think that says a lot about the type of impact he has on his players.  He wasn’t one of those coaches that are all football, football, football. He always asked me how I was doing in my classes. Graduating was always really important to him.  Since I was leaving after my junior year, he always impressed upon me the importance of returning and completing my degree.

I’ve talked to him about jobs I was going to take like the career I have now after I retired from the NFL. I consulted with him back when I was trying to decide whether to take the Buffalo Bills offer or one from New Orleans after I left the Steelers.

He’s been like a life mentor to me. He’s a good friend and his advice and help has gotten me a long way and I trust him. His expertise on the football field carries over off the field.  Football’s a great metaphor for life, and when you’ve got a great coach like Coach Weber who has helped you on the field, it easily carries over off the field.

CG365:  Based on your collegiate experience with Coach Weber, what advice would you give to a young college lineman at BYU regarding this coming season?

KF:  I would say that you need to trust him.  He might tell you to do some things differently than your previous line coach said.  He might take something you think you do really well and say, “Let’s break this down and start over and kick it up a notch.” He understands the big picture, and the fundamentals he teaches are correct, so I think the big thing is to just really trust him.

BYU Gains Revenge – Smashes Arizona

The BYU Cougars waited twelve long months to settle a score with the Arizona Wildcats but the wait is finally over. Taking a 20-0 lead into the final minute of the game, the Cougars christened the 2007 season with a convincing 20-7 smack-down of Arizona today.

The surprise story of the game was running back Harvey Unga. The redshirt freshman scored two touchdowns and totaled 196 yards (68 rushing, 128 receiving)—nearly as much real estate as Arizona’s team net total 255 yards.

It’s difficult to fathom the backfield weapons the Cougars will have at their disposal when you consider that Fui Vakapuna is not yet 100 percent healthy and Manase Tonga will be rejoining the squad for next week’s game against UCLA.

Just as important, though, for Cougar fans was the question answered about their untested quarterback Max Hall and whether or not he can play at real game speed.  He can. In his first game college game against one of the better defenses in the country, Hall’s line was 26-39, 288 yards, and 2 TD passes with no interceptions.

As a matter of comparison, Miami Dolphins rookie QB John Beck was 28-37, 289 yards, and 1 TD pass for the Cougars last year against Arizona.

Hall, a redshirt sophomore, was cool under pressure, showed excellent pocket presence, a quick release, and a live arm.  He was only sacked once, by a blind side corner blitz, and displayed good field vision with capable foot speed the few times he was forced to scramble.  His upside is enormous this season if the hogs protecting him continue to dominate the line of scrimmage like they did today.

The “Granite Wall” offensive line was as good as advertised. They didn’t give up a sack today (the one sack on Hall was not the O-line’s responsibility). Particularly impressive was BYU’s new offensive line coach Mark Weber yanking Ray Feinga out of the game for a talk after Feinga was flagged for holding on a critical play in the third quarter.

That type of accountability is sure to raise the bar in Cougar land.  More proof of raising the bar?  In last season’s home opener against Arizona, the Cougars gave up 3 sacks compared to one by cornerback Antoine Cason in the first quarter today. They also lost 76 yards in penalties last year compared to 27 yards this time around.

Additional proof that BYU football is rapidly reconnecting with its tradition in the Mendenhall era occurred with 5:58 left in the game and the score 13-0.  BYU had stopped Arizona on a fourth down attempt at the Wildcat 43-yard line and the chains reversed direction.

Instead of running the ball and trying to drain the clock, as offensive coordinator Robert Anae would have done in his past two years helming the Cougar offense, he went to the air. Hall zipped a strike to TE Vic So’oto for an 18-yard gain and a first down at the Arizona 25. It was a dagger to Arizona’s heart, and three plays later Unga carried the rock in from 11 yards out to ice the game.

Nice surprise:  The defense looks even faster this year.  Solid play from backup safety turned starter Corby Hodgkiss and the trio of nose tackles taking over for the injured Russell Tialavea.

Not so nice surprise:  BYU’s kicking and punting units are a glaring weakness that must be addressed.

Post game reflection: Mike Stoops can thank his lucky stars that Appalachian State pulled off a miraculous upset in Ann Arbor about six hours earlier in the day. Michigan’s collapse at home to a D-1AA program will help deflect attention national sportswriters might have given the whipping the Wildcats received in Provo. Stoops was facing the likelihood of that oft-mentioned hot seat getting quite a bit hotter if Arizona suffered a shut out at the hands of a non-BCS foe.

Next up: UCLA at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA on September 8. Former Cougar star recruit Ben Olson is now the starting QB for the Bruins. Cougar fans have largely forgotten the hurt caused when Olson transferred after completing a church mission to Canada back in 2005.  Still, nothing would feel better than to have Hall outshine Olson in next week’s clash.

A Different Type of Star QB

In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Daily News, UCLA quarterback hopeful Ben Olson responded to a remark made by the reporter who was perpetuating the mythical notion that no quarterback who served a two-year Latter-day Saint mission had ever returned to become a star quarterback.

Olson, who served his mission to Canada from 2003-2005, offered a response oozing with confidence, one that ought to have UCLA fans drooling at the thought of having him at the helm of the Bruins’ offense for the next three years:

“It’s important to me, plus I’m blessed with a lot of talent,” Olson said. “I’m better than any other guy that’s gone on a mission.”

You have to love that sort of self-assurance from this redshirt sophomore, even if it’s not exactly wrapped up in fact. You see, there happens to be a respectable group of returned missionaries preceding Olson who have already delivered Big Ten, Pac-10, and Mountain West Conference championships, not to mention bowl game victories, including two in “The Granddaddy of Them All” during the past twelve years.

So, the question that begs to be asked is “what does it take to be a star quarterback?” John Elway gained star status as a quarterback in college, even though he never led Stanford to a Pac-10 title or even a bowl game appearance. Who determines star worthiness—the critics or the fans?

The following five returned missionary quarterbacks accomplished star-quality achievements on the gridiron after volunteering two years of their lives to religious pursuits. Did their success translate into stardom?

Darrell Bevell, Wisconsin Badgers

Bevell served his mission in the Cleveland, Ohio region. He was a four-year starter (1992-95) in Madison and finished his career as Wisconsin’s all-time leading passer with 19 school records and two Big Ten marks.  He is best known to Badger fans as the quarterback who led Wisconsin to a victory over highly favored UCLA in the 1994 Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl championship was the first ever for Wisconsin, and it capped a 1993 regular season which saw the Badgers go 10-1-1 and claim a share of the Big Ten Conference championship, the program’s first conference title since 1962.

Brad Otton, USC Trojans

Otton served the beginning of his 2-year mission in Italy and completed it in Brooklyn, New York. A transfer from Weber State, the lanky 6’5” field general led USC to the Pac-10 title in his senior year (1995 stats: 196-of-370, 2,649 yards, 20 TDs and 10 interceptions). His remarkable performance in the 1996 Rose Bowl Game victory over Northwestern was a fitting exclamation mark to his college career (29-44, 391 yards, 2 TDs).

Brandon Doman, BYU Cougars

Doman served his mission in Argentina.  He didn’t win the starting quarterback job at BYU until the next to last game of his junior year. He engineered back-to-back wins in those two starts with the final victory of the season coming on the road over instate rival Utah in the last game of LaVell Edwards’ sterling career. As a senior in 2001, Doman was a unanimous All-Mountain West Conference first team selection and Heisman Trophy candidate, leading the Cougars to an undefeated conference championship season, a Liberty Bowl appearance and 12-2 overall record. He was the second ranked passer in the nation and second in total offense (2001 stats: 261-408, 3,542 yards, 33 TDs, and 503 yards rushing and 8 TDs).

Paul Peterson, Boston College Eagles

Peterson served his mission in Nicaragua.  After earning 2002 J.C. Grid-Wire All-America honors as a quarterback at Snow College (leading the NJCAA in passing yards and TDs) he transferred to B.C. and immediately challenged for the starting QB job. He took over starting duties with three games left in the season and promptly led the Eagles to victories over Virginia, Rutgers and 12th ranked Virginia Tech. He went 16-25, 244 yards, and 2 TDs in a 35-21 win over Colorado State in San Francisco Bowl. The next season B.C. won their first two games, making Peterson the only Eagle QB to ever go undefeated in his first six starts.  He finished 12-2 as a starting quarterback at Boston College, capping it off with an MVP-winning performance (24-33, 236 yards, 2 TDs) over North Carolina in the Continental Tire Bowl—even though he broke his leg and missed the bulk of the second half action.

John Beck, BYU Cougars

Beck served his mission in Portugal.  He is the quarterback that Ben Olson would be competing against for the starting role at BYU had Olson remained in the Cougar program.  He is one of only two quarterbacks to start all four years in the BYU program, with Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer being the other.  As a freshman, Beck earned Academic All-Mountain West honors and second-team All-Mountain West honors as a sophomore.  Last year was his breakout season, being named team offensive MVP, Academic All-MWC, and All-MWC first-team. He threw for 3,709 yards, and ranked fifth nationally with 309.1 yards-per-game average.  Beck currently ranks second all-time in Mountain West Conference history with 7,136 career passing yards and this year he has already been named the MWC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year by The Sporting News and Blue Ribbon and projected as a Top 10 NFL QB prospect by nearly every draft analyst.

So what is it that makes a college quarterback a star?  What will be the measuring stick for Ben Olson when compared to other returned missionary QBs? Is it conference championships, bowl game victories, eye-popping statistics, gutsy performances in the clutch, or a combination of these achievements?

All five quarterbacks, with the exception of John Beck, have led their teams to league titles or bowl game victories, and he has one year left to do it.  If you ask Beck, he’ll tell you that glossy stats and postseason awards mean nothing without achieving team goals. For his part, he won’t consider himself a star quarterback until he has helped BYU win a conference championship and a bowl game. His only comparison for greatness is found in the accomplishments of the legendary signal callers who came before him.

Ben Olson doesn’t need to measure himself against other returned missionary quarterbacks to be considered a star quarterback.  He need not look any further than Westwood for inspiration and a more meaningful measuring stick. Former Bruin QBs like Gary Beban, John Sciarra, Tom Ramsey, Rick Neuheisel, Wayne Cook, and Cade McNown all delivered Pac-10 titles and four Rose Bowl victories in six appearances to their alma mater.  And, Ben, be happy in knowing that most UCLA fans also consider Troy Aikman a star—and he accomplished neither.