It’s Sept. 2, the night before the much anticipated Ole Miss game. As the team sits together, they hear their coach talking, but it’s not the typical “tomorrow is the biggest day of your lives” speech. Rather they hear about how fans and players should try to exemplify the Savior’s life. Welcome to BYU football.
On Friday nights before away games, head coach Bronco Mendenhall wants to make sure his players are focused on what matters most. To help them do just that, Mendenhall has the players dress in white shirts and ties and share their talents and testimonies with fans across the country. While critics claim this may distract a team whose main goal is to win a national championship, many players and coaches believe the opposite.
“We are not looking at [firesides] for ourselves,” said Jake Heaps, the starting quarterback for the Cougars. “We are looking to take the opportunity that we have and help other people, for fans to see us when we are in our environment.”
Daniel Sorensen, a recently returned missionary who plays safety for the Cougars, said he thinks it’s all a matter of viewpoint.
“It puts everything into perspective of why you are playing,” Sorensen said. “You’re not playing for yourselves, you are playing for a bigger cause. You are playing for these loyal fans and you are playing for the university.”
Austin Holt, sophomore tight end, said he doesn’t believe there is a negative impact; the firesides instead only help them.
“With us going out and helping the community, even if we are just speaking to go out and try to help people, I don’t see that as a hindrance,” Holt said. “The critics can say whatever they want, but I can’t really see trying to help someone as a hindrance to going out and playing football.”
Many of the players said their favorite part of the firesides is singing “We’ll Bring the World His Truth,” a song from the LDS Primary songbook. Holt said it is something which always brings special feelings for the players involved. He said that in comparison with some of his friends playing football at other schools, he can’t think of anything better they could do during that time on Friday nights.
Tanner Linton, a student from Clinton, said seeing the different sides of the players at firesides is a unique and special thing. For Linton, this is something he hopes BYU does for a long time.
“I think that it’s really cool they share spiritual things with fans,” Linton said. “When you think of football players you think of rough and tough on the field, so the firesides show that they aren’t just one way. The players have different sides and dimensions to them.”
In a recent news release Mendenhall said the purpose of the firesides is to help others understand their purpose in life, and football is just a way to help the message spread.
“The firesides have been a way for us to make a very clear statement of what our priorities are, or should be,” Mendenhall said. “Football is simply the vehicle we use to help others come to a knowledge of what really brings joy and happiness to our lives. Football is not the priority. Some people don’t understand that. These firesides are a way for all of us to help consider our priorities through understanding the purpose of life.”
Firesides will be held at many locations this year; the schedule can be found by clicking on the link for the firesides at byucougars.com. In addition to the firesides, the football team does other service projects, and one is planned for later this season.
Although most other universities may think it is crazy for a team to spend outside time the night before a game helping others, it is something BYU football players and fans look forward to all season.