By GREGORY BENNETT
At a time when most 18-year-old college freshmen were still trying to find their dorm rooms, BYU running back Junior Mahe was having the time of his life scoring a touchdown against the University of Alabama in his first collegiate game.
It was an experience that Mahe cherishes.
“My first touchdown in the Alabama game was one thing I’ll never forget,” Mahe said. “The crowd was huge and everyone was in awe. It was cool to be there.”
It was cool enough that Mahe did it six more times before his freshman season ended last December. And he hopes to do it a lot more next fall when he comes back as the returner with the most yards rushing from the 1998 season.
With the absence of Ronney Jenkins, Mahe should be a mainstay in the Cougar backfield after rushing for 425 yards and six touchdowns last season. He also had 181 yards receiving and caught a touchdown pass last fall.
Mahe admits that his success last year will bring him more attention and make it harder for him to go into games relaxed.
“Last season was a lot easier,” Mahe said. “I didn’t have anything on me. If I messed up it was OK because I was a freshman. There will be a lot of pressure this year.”
And the pressure on the field isn’t the only kind of pressure Mahe has been feeling lately. Mahe said this semester has been trying for him. His grandmother died, his father has been having problems with work, Junior, himself was bedridden with the flu for a week and to top it all off, his girlfriend dumped him.
“It was really hard because I’d never been dumped before,” Mahe said. “It seems like when something goes wrong, everything goes wrong.”
His winter problems, though, seemed to melt away with the snow and life got better at the beginning of March with spring football practices.
“When you’re working out, everything else kind of goes away,” Mahe said. “You forget the other things.”
It is this reliance on emotions that has helped Mahe in his transition from being the Utah Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior in high school to a running back for the Cougars.
“I was just hoping to play a little when I came in,” Mahe said, “but I never thought I would play as much as I did. I don’t want to sound weird, but I was blessed. I was on a big spiritual high all season. I developed a lot of faith. I had faith that I would get the chance to play.”
The playing time Mahe contributed was also a bit of a surprise to BYU running backs coach Lance Reynolds. Reynolds said the Cougars expected Mahe to contribute, but didn’t expect a significant level to be achieved so soon.
“He exceeded our expectations just because he learned everything so fast and then took advantage of the opportunities that were given to him,” Reynolds said.
That same faith that enabled Mahe to learn the system so quickly and excel in his freshman season is what has helped Mahe make another important decision with his life. Mahe turns 19 in June and will have the opportunity to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His faith has already helped him make the decision whether or not to serve.
He will return to play for the Cougars next fall and start his full-time LDS mission after the season.
“A mission is my decision,” Mahe said. “It is something I’ve always wanted to do. A lot of guys go because their parents want them to, but I really want to go.”
Along with the added pressure of running the ball more for the Cougars, Mahe also knows he will be a guy younger runners look to for answers. BYU has two incoming freshman running backs, one of whom is Mahe’s second cousin, and Mahe believes that by helping them, he will learn more.
“When you teach someone, you learn just as much,” Mahe said. “When you learn more, your confidence grows.”
Confidence is a key to success that Mahe was taught by All-WAC linebacker Rob Morris when he first came to BYU.
“Morris always says that if you lie to yourself long enough by saying you’re the man, then you become the man,” Mahe said. “That is something I believe.”
That self-brainwashing is something Mahe hopes will make more of the experiences like he had in Alabama happen. As the apparent starter in the backfield, those touchdowns will be imperative to the Cougars’ hopes of winning the first-ever Mountain West Conference championship.