Archive for year 2007

Pre-Rose Bowl Game 2007

If you’re a true college football fan and you’ve never been to a Rose Bowl Game, make sure you put it on your list of things to do before you leave this world and head off into the Great Beyond. Even during what many critics consider a down year for the Rose Bowl, the feeling here is electric.

Acres and acres of tailgaters blanket the parking lots and public golf course that surround the stadium. Various strains of rock and rap music clash from competing portable sound systems, and the aroma of grilled tri-tip, burgers, and polish sausage overwhelm the senses.

Footballs fly back and forth between fans, while good-natured ribbing prevails between Michigan and USC fans. A lot of alcohol is shared amongst the revelers.  This is, after all, just a few hours removed from the New Year’s Eve bashes that many braved throughout most of the night.

These are folks who are used to visiting this venerated ground regularly; both teams have played in the Rose Bowl Game three of the last four years, and more than any other two programs over the past fifty years.

Forget what other sportswriters are saying about this game being a consolation bowl. It’s an instant classic. We’re talking tradition here. Rock-solid tradition. USC has won more Rose Bowl games than any other program in the history of the contest, and Michigan has won more games, period, than any other program in college football history.

If not for a few plays here or there, these two squads could be playing for the national title. More than 20 players in this game are projected to play in the NFL during the next few years. Both Pete Carroll and Lloyd Carr have won national titles with these programs in the past nine years, and both teams project to be highly ranked and among the favorites to play in the 2008 national championship game.

And we can’t forget the marching bands and two of the best-known school fight songs in the country. If they don’t get you revved up for some heavy hitting on the field, nothing will. I could go on, but it’s close to game time and I’ve got to pack up and race down the runway to that hallowed ground—a little piece of football real estate I like to call gridiron nirvana.

Troy Claims Victory in 93rd Rose Bowl Game

A 3-3 first half defensive stalemate between Michigan and USC turned ugly when the Trojans scored 16 unanswered points in the third quarter of the 2007 Rose Bowl Game.

Operating much of the second half with an empty backfield and four or five receiver sets, QB John David Booty picked apart the Wolverine secondary with touchdown passes to Chris McFoy and Dwayne Jarrett during the Trojans’ third quarter scoring spree. Mario Danelo added a 26-yard field goal to make it 19-3 at the close of the third quarter.

The Wolverines fought back at the start of the final frame and scored on a Chad Henne 11-yard TD toss to Adrian Arrington. Mike Hart powered in for the 2-point conversion and suddenly, with 14 minutes remaining, Michigan had gained momentum and it looked like they would make a game of it.

Booty and Jarrett would have none of that, hooking up on a 62-yard score with 11:29 showing on the clock. Danelo missed his second PAT of the night, but the scoreboard read 25-11.

Chad Henne marched Michigan right back down the field completing 6 of 8 passes, good for 61 yards, but his final completion of the drive fell two yards short of the marker on fourth down and USC took over on their own 22.

USC’s next drive was the final dagger in the heart of the Maize and Blue. Starting at the Trojan 15-yard line, Booty completed four consecutive passes—26 yards to Steve Smith, 29 yards to Jarrett, 23 yards to Fred Davis, and a seven-yarder to Smith for the score.  Just a minute and five seconds elapsed during the drive. The score stood at 32-11.

The Wolverines came up with a respectability score at the 1:19 mark of the fourth quarter when Henne connected with Steve Breaston on a 41-yard touchdown pass. The 32-18 USC advantage held up as the final score.

The two-touchdown margin was eerily reminiscent of the 2004 Rose Bowl Game won handily over Michigan by Matt Leinart & Co., 28-14.

The vaunted Wolverine run defense held USC to 42 yards on 23 carries (1.8 yard avg) but the Trojans exploited Michigan’s secondary with nearly the same game plan as Ohio State deployed in the final regular season game.

While USC had five sacks in the first half (six overall) and kept intense pressure on Henne throughout the contest, Booty frequently rolled out behind a moving pocket, and suffered only two sacks in the game. The Trojans also shut down Mike Hart (49 yards, 17 carries) forcing Michigan to pass more than planned.  Henne ended up with a line that read 27-42, 309 yards, and 2 TDs, with one interception. He also had one fumble.

Jarrett took home the game MVP trophy on the strength of his 11 receptions, 204 yards, and 2-TD performance. Steve Smith contributed seven grabs good for 108 yards and a score, and Booty ended up 27-42, 390 yards and 4 TDs.

The win gave Southern Cal a 22-9 all-time record in the Rose Bowl and a 6-2 record against Michigan in Pasadena. The Wolverines fell to 8-12 in Rose Bowl contests.

Look-back on BYU’s Keys to 2006 Season

The following article titled “Five keys for BYU to go bowling in 2006″ was published last August before the start of the 2006 regular season. As it turned out, the five keys were accurately identified, so we thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the prognostic elements of this article and add commentary where appropriate.

Five keys for BYU to go bowling in 2006

BYU should contend for the MWC title and give fits to every defensive unit it encounters this year, but two road games against BCS opponents might easily take a little wind out of the Cougar sails early in the season. An increasingly dangerous Arizona Wildcat team will have first taste of Brigham Young this year in its home lair, followed by Boston College two weeks later. Both games will be nationally televised, on TBS and ESPN2, respectively. Look for the Cougars to make both games close and exciting before they turn their attention toward winning the conference and securing another bowl berth.

Commentary: BYU certainly did challenge every defensive unit it faced this year and both the Arizona and Boston College games were “close and exciting.” The Cougars lost to Arizona on a last-second field goal and had a sure touchdown pass called back by Pac-10 officials for offensive interference (that even the TBS announcers hired by the Pac-10 to call the game disagreed with). The Boston College game was lost in overtime, but BYU clearly outplayed the Eagles in Boston.

Following are five keys to BYU making a successful challenge against TCU and Utah for the MWC title this year:

1. Avoid/Minimize injuries.

Easier said than done. As much as luck is involved, this also has a lot to do with strength and conditioning in the preseason, and preventing minor ankle, hamstring and shoulder injuries from festering into year-ending ones during the regular season. Some coaches lay off heavy scrimmages in the middle of the week as the season wears on. Legendary USC coach John McKay never allowed his players to have serious contact between the last regular-season game and their nearly annual Rose Bowl appointment, explaining, “If they don’t know how to hit by now, they never will.” BYU doesn’t have the veteran depth it would like at several positions, most notably at cornerback, receiver and the defensive line, so the team has to stay healthy to remain competitive deep into the regular season. Just one day into their August camp, the Cougars have lost promising Louisville transfer cornerback Brandon Bradley to a season-ending knee injury. The players the Cougars can least afford to lose this year, based on depth: QB John Beck, any of the defensive backs, and any defensive lineman who proves to be a real showstopper.

Commentary: Shortly after this was written, the Cougars lost promising 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive lineman Tom Sorensen, a post-mission transfer from Vanderbilt University. Running back Fui Vakapuna suffered an ankle injury and saw limited action through the second half of the season. Freshman defensive lineman Ian Dulan broke his leg early in the campaign and was lost for the rest of the season. John Beck sat out the Utah State game to rest his injured ankles and then toughed it out the rest of the season. Three defensive backs went down in the final regular-season game against Utah, and ultimately, Ben Criddle was lost for the Las Vegas Bowl game versus Oregon. All in all, BYU had one of its healthiest campaigns in memory and the general health of the team played a significant role in its season-ending 10-game winning streak.

2. Get veteran-like performances from a very young, inexperienced D-line.

It’s no secret BYU’s defensive strength is in its solid linebacker corps, hence Bronco Mendenhall’s change from his beloved 3-3-5 to a 3-4 setup this year. The linebackers need to play mistake-free and help the youngsters on the D-line gain quick confidence in their capabilities. At least one of the incoming freshmen or juco transfers has to step up and assume a starting role. Don’t think it can’t be done. Haloti Ngata started as a freshman at Oregon a few years back and gained all-conference honors for his play. The Cougar defensive backfield is not what you would call a “strength,” by any stretch of the imagination, but if they can remain healthy, and the D-line can create enough consistent pressure on the opposing QB, they are athletic enough to provide adequate coverage. If the D-line cannot deliver, the floodgates will be wide open and the pressure on the offense will be enormous.

Commentary: The Cougar defense was far better than anyone anticipated and it all started with the rock-solid linebacker corps and the young, inexperienced linemen who stepped up and got the job done in the trenches. Ian Dulan, Matangi Tonga, Jan Jorgensen, Brett Denney, Romney Fuga and Russell Tialavea are all underclassmen who will be holding down the front line for several years to come as they cycle in and out of the lineup (Dulan, Tonga and Fuga intend to serve missions within the next year or two). The defensive backfield managed to stay pretty healthy throughout the season, until the Utah game, and their coverage was drastically improved from the previous seasons. Much of the credit has to go to new defensive backfield coach Jaime Hill.

3. Manage the Schedule Effectively.

Shame on the MWC for allowing TCU a 12-day prep time for its conference home opener against BYU, while the Cougars have fewer than five days to prepare for the Horned Frogs on the road. Road games don’t come tougher than that. Mendenhall and his staff will need to be creative in resting and prepping the team for TCU on the road, while not allowing Utah State to sneak into Edwards Stadium and snatch an upset victory. Another challenging spot on the schedule comes with back-to-back road games in Colorado versus Air Force on Oct. 28 and Colorado State on Nov. 4. There are also two stretches where the battle weary and wounded Cougars can heal: They’ll have two weeks off after the Oct. 7 home game vs. SDSU and a nine-day break following a Nov. 9 home game versus Wyoming. One non-conference game that must not be underestimated is the Sept. 9 home opener against a wily Tulsa team that is sandwiched between the Arizona and B.C. road contests.

Commentary: Quick–name one national college football analyst who picked the Cougars to beat TCU on the road with just four days off last September. Was there really anyone so bold? Mendenhall and his staff managed the most dangerous twist in the schedule in Fort Worth with flying colors and BYU was off to the races for the remainder of the season.

4. Special teams need to become a positive factor.

Ask Texas coach Mack Brown or Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer how important special teams are. They’ll tell you it’s impossible to even challenge for their own conference titles without a top-notch special teams unit. In fact, Beamer even insists on handling the special teams for the Hokies himself. Special teams play is an element of the game that can quickly swing momentum in your favor. BYU hasn’t fielded an all-round terrific special teams unit since the 14-1 team back in 1996. Take a look at the Cougar coaching staff assignments on their official team Web site and you won’t find a designated special teams coach. Hopefully, that means Mendenhall is pulling a Beamer and personally handling the special teams from now on. With the offensive firepower BYU can field this year, a solid kicking game and a bevy of clutch turnovers by the defensive special teams will go a long way in helping make up for some of the points the defense is sure to yield.

Commentary: The Cougars’ special teams play improved tremendously from recent years. Opponents failed to score on kickoff or punt returns in 2006, while McKay Jacobson registered a 77-yard TD punt return and Nate Meikle ripped off an 84-yard kickoff return that replays later showed should have been ruled a touchdown. BYU blocked one punt and had one blocked. There were no field goals blocked on either side of the ball. Jared McLaughlin was 14 for 18 in field goal attempts. Two of those misses came in the overtime loss to Boston College on the road. In that game he connected on a 50-yarder, a 45-yarder and a 25-yard FG, while missing on tries from 44 and 49 yards. The Cougars forced 28 turnovers and ended up plus-14 in that all-important category.

5. Win the games you are expected to win.

In the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s famous blue collar ballad, it’s called “Takin’ Care of Business.” If the Cougars can do this, at the very least, they’ll be 8-4 and bowling at the end of the year. Add road wins at TCU and Utah and they’ll be 10-2 and MWC champs. Win ’em all and they’ll secure that coveted BCS slot, for sure. Improbable early-season road wins against Arizona and Boston College could make for a very giddy Cougar Nation, but if that happens, BYU needs to make sure it doesn’t have any letdowns in the games it’s expected to win. All too often in the Gary Crowton years, the Blue and White coughed up humiliating losses to inferior opponents like UNLV and Wyoming when they should have been slam-dunk, straight deposits into the win column.

Commentary: Dead on. The Cougars won all the games they were expected to win, and then they took care of the most difficult conference business by defeating both TCU and Utah on the road. They ended up 10-2 and won the MWC championship outright with an undefeated record in conference play. They ended up just a couple or three plays shy of an undefeated regular season; and had that happened, they would have played in the Fiesta Bowl instead of Boise State.

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.