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Archive for June, 2007

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.