The old saying goes that behind every great man is a strong woman.
When it comes to the wives of BYU football players, this certainly holds true. After all, not just any woman could handle being home alone up to six nights a week for more than four months of the year. Or, have the confidence to truly understand that just because time with her husband has to be squeezed in between football practices and classes she’s not any less of a priority.
“It’s all about your attitude,” explained Brooke Heaps, a senior studying human development and new wife to sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps. “If you are selfish and you’re giving them the silent treatment because they’re not home as much as you’d like, you need to understand that this is their job. Priority-wise you are ahead of football, but you can’t make them make that choice.”
Instead, football wives have to learn to be more independent, and provide additional support to their busy husbands, Heaps said.
“To be a college athlete requires a lot of determination and sacrifice,” she said.
Senior running back Bryan Kariya works hard in his classes to be a competitive applicant for dental school, and has said his wife Sam’s support is crucial to his ability to succeed in school during the football season.
“During the school year she really tries to take off as much burden as she can so that I can focus on my main obligations,” Kariya said.
So while the women are busy supporting their husbands, who supports them when their husbands are away? The other wives, of course.
BYU is home to the only NCAA football wives club in the country, and this season will have almost 40 members. Between them is a vast array of talents and professions: business school graduates, culinary students, singers, models, dancers and more than half a dozen young moms.
Every year, the quality of the women surprises club founder Michelle Kaufusi, wife of defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi.
“Everyone thinks that football players only date and marry a stereotypical kind of girl, but in reality they are all educated, fun, smart and talented individuals,” Kaufusi said. “A lot of them carry the pay for the family, several work at the temple as volunteers. … These girls inspire me every time I’m with them.”
Kaufusi started the wives club — which she modeled based on her experiences as vice president of the NFL Players Wives Association — when Bronco Mendenhall became head coach.
“I used to have the defensive line players and their wives over for dinner once a month,” Kaufusi explained. “The players told Bronco about it and he asked me to head up a club for the wives of the whole team.”
In addition to monthly events, members of the wives club frequently sit together at home games, and participate in at least one big service activity per season. At the beginning of the season, they host a potluck for all the married couples and typically finish the season with group activities surrounding the bowl game. Kaufusi also issues the women an open invitation to watch all road games at her house.
“Basically, it’s a resource for the girls so that when our husbands are gone, there are things for us to do and people for us to hang out with,” said Sam Kariya, adding that a ready pool of potential friends was a comfort for her when she first moved to Provo after getting married.
“I didn’t have any friends here, and it could have been tricky,” said Kariya, admitting that she at first feared a cliquey atmosphere. “Some people probably think that it’s just a bunch of jersey chasers getting together, but it’s not like that at all. In reality, it’s a solid support system and some of my very, very closest friends from my whole life have now come from the wives club.”
For fellow co-President Kori Brown, wife of wide receiver Rhen Brown, one of the first benefits of the club was gaining a better understanding of the game that occupied so much of her husband’s time.
“When you marry into a football family and you don’t come from a football family, it’s a lifestyle that you have to adjust to,” Brown said. “There is all this jargon you don’t understand.”
The patience of the other wives in explaining positions, plays and field calls, as well as their friendship, eased the transition and helped calm the exasperation of spending so much time alone, Brown said.
“When I first got married, I was kind of bitter,” she admitted. “I didn’t understand the time commitment. The other wives helped give me perspective. The more I embraced football and Rhen’s dedication to it, the more it’s paid off for us.”
Plus, she added, there is something to be said for the old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
“Being at home in bed alone at night during the season and hearing all the bumps in the night, you really appreciate it when they are there,” Brown said.
Brown also said she’s grateful for the example provided by Mendenhall and his wife, Holly, and the support they show the married couples. The support includes question and answer sessions, visits from counselors and married player activities.
“It’s so beautiful to watch them together,” she said. “The way they balance football and a family, I can’t even imagine. They understand the strain that football can put on a marriage and they want to make it as easy as possible.”
Other members of the coaching staff provide strong mentorship as well, Heaps said.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable with Jake spending so much time on football if I didn’t know he had these coaches,” she said. “Coach [Brandon] Doman is such an influential person in Jake’s life and not just on the field; he’s a life mentor as well, like when Jake was getting his Melchezidek priesthood.”
Ultimately, Heaps said, the challenges of a young football bride are offset by so many sources, even the fans themselves.
“I love just watching Jake interact with fans,” she said. “It makes everything so much more worth it when you see how much people really care about BYU football.”