By Dallin Turner
TUPELO, Miss. — For one night, Elvis wasn’t the king of Tupelo, Miss.
On Friday night, the birthplace of Elvis Presley was taken over by the BYU football team.
While Ole Miss fans began setting up tents and barbecue grills at the Grove, BYU fans, LDS faithful and curious Mississippians packed the local stake center to be inspired by the Cougars.
In fact, there were so many people in attendance, that every available seat in the building was occupied. Beyond that, dozens of people stood in the halls, occasionally taking a quick peak inside the chapel to catch a glimpse of the football players.
All in all, approximately 1,150 people came to the fireside, according to usher Mark Westcott.
“This is the most people we’ve ever had in this building,” Westcott said. “We were expecting 600 people. We had two rooms set up for overflow, and ended up using five.”
One of the overflow rooms was the small library, which had about 20 people crowded around a small TV.
“We didn’t expect this many people,” said local resident and BYU alumna Julie Thorderson. “With all the city officials and everything, it was amazing.”
The fireside began with BYU president Cecil O. Samuelson being presented the key to the city.
“It’s nice to have other Christians come in and realize that [Mormons] aren’t always odd,” Thorderson said. “They were particularly impressed that it wasn’t all about football.”
Showing the world that the BYU football is interested in more than just football has been one of coach Bronco Mendenhall’s greatest goals since taking over the program in 2005.
“Winning games is just a side note to what we do tonight,” Mendenhall said during his fireside talk.
He explained that the football players voluntarily sign up to give the prayers, talks and provide musical numbers to share their testimonies of Jesus Christ.
“How does football blend with that?” Mendenhall asked. “I say, ‘If it doesn’t, then it should.’”
Mendenhall has taught his players the importance of using sports to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“I think that if we can be good role models as far as representing not only the Church, but the team as well, I think that can go a long way for kids who might not have their mind made up with what they want to do in life,” said senior running back Bryan Kariya. “They can have a good role model and something to aspire to.”
So far, the message seems to be carrying over well. Well enough for the Mississippi police to have to direct traffic after a football fireside, at least.