BYU football recruiting is about more than just football

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Though football fans generally think of it as a fall sport with games spanning from August to December, in many ways football is a year-long operation; recruiting is one aspect that never stops.

BYU is a unique institution and requires unique recruiting measures. The mission of BYU is to “assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life,” and according to that mission, a BYU education should be “spiritually strengthening, intellectually enlarging, character building and (lead) to lifelong learning and service.” Subsequently, BYU football coaches and staff must incorporate the aims and mission of the university during the recruiting process.

“This university is unlike any other,” said Paul Tidwell, an inside linebacker coach. “It is owned by the Church and directed by a prophet. In recruiting, if you recruit a young man, even if he’s a member, if he’s from out of state, it’s different. If you don’t grow up around here, it’s different. Our job is to educate recruits on what they’re getting into when they get here.”

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Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has a tradition of recruiting athletes that care about more than just football. (Photo courtesy BYU Photo)

One of the most important aspects of recruiting prospective players is that coaches and staff inform them about BYU’s honor code and strict academic requirements. Tyler Anderson, head football coach at Orem High School, has experienced this during recruiting as a player and coach.

“I think they do it so the kids know up front,” Anderson said. “If a kid shies away at that, they know it might not be the type of kid they want.”

When athletes are being recruited to play at BYU, many times the discussion is not even about football, but rather, athletes are educated on the school environment and the priorities student-athletes are expected to set.

“When they recruit, they talk about how BYU is a unique place and how it takes a different type of kid to succeed,” Anderson said. “It’s not all about athletics.”

Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has said that football should be fifth on the team’s priority list behind faith, family, knowledge and friends.

“When we recruit, it’s not just about his position,” Tidwell said. “When we recruit a young man, he’s representing something higher than the school.”

BYU’s expectations and pressure can sometimes be too much for recruits, and both the coaches and prospective athletes conclude it may not be a good fit; sometimes athletes commit to BYU, fail to uphold school and team standards and leave the school.

The athletes that do embrace the challenges and expectations, however, benefit from the team’s emphasis on BYU’s mission and aims before stepping foot on the field.

“It’s all about the attitude,” said Russell Tialavea, a former defensive lineman. “I think there’s a lot more pressure because of what we represent. It definitely brings us together. We aren’t playing for ourselves.”

Tialavea told a story about how the team was described as “peculiar” by a sideline judge during a game. Several BYU players had learned Spanish on their missions and spoke to one another in Spanish on the sideline. A Spanish-speaking official noticed and began speaking to the players; he was curious how they knew Spanish. Tialavea and his teammates were able to share their mission experiences and thoughts about the Church and gospel.

“He told coach Mendenhall after the game that he was just amazed at how the group of young men carried themselves on the field,” Tialavea said. “It was a whole different environment on the field. He had never felt that vibe on the field before. Coach Mendenhall talks about opportunities to share the gospel. Through football we can share the gospel.”

There are many BYU athletes that did not grow up as members of the Church, and some may know very little about the LDS faith, but still embrace the standards and expectations.

“They come away with a good experience,” Anderson said. “They understand the importance of God in their lives.”

With such a focus on more important things than athletics and improving one’s self, BYU has found success recruiting non-LDS athletes to the school.

“Parents of non-LDS kids like the environment,” Anderson said. “They know (their kids are) going to be in a place where trouble is not going to be as rampant.”

When recruits come to the school, they quickly learn about the program’s unique qualities that set it apart from other schools. Both Tidwell and Tialavea talked about prayers and spiritual thoughts being shared during team meetings. Players also have opportunities to fulfill the fourth aim of the university — service — while at BYU.

“One of the biggest things is the community service,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “A lot of players like myself go to local schools. … It is beneficial to them but probably more beneficial to us.”

BYU’s unique recruiting brings many athletes to the school’s football program each year. Thanks to the high standards of the university athletics programs, these athletes experience the benefits of the school’s mission and aims during their education at BYU and beyond.

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