It was a bit of a surprise, and from the audience’s reaction, also a relief, when BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said he was going to break tradition with his Education Week address.
Holmoe said he wanted to talk more informally about athletics information, but he said, “I will say I have had many spiritual experiences.
Holmoe shared a few of these experiences, but focused most of his address on the past years of BYU athletics. It was a banner year for many of the departments, and Holmoe said it’s the students, not the department or coaches, that make it great.
“The athletes are the secret sauce of our athletic department. They are the most important part,” Holmoe said.
Many teams last year went on to play in their respective NCAA tournaments, and many athletes received top honors as well.
One of these was Miles Batty, a track athlete who recently graduated. At a ceremony in January, Batty was honored with the NCAA Top 10 award. The NCAA selects 10 athletes total for the award from all sports, divisions and genders for the award, which is one of the most prestigious athletic honors. Batty became the seventh BYU athlete to win the award and Holmoe praised Batty as one of the greatest student-athletes to ever attend BYU.
Holmoe said in all of his years at BYU, Batty is the greatest student-athlete, with not only excellence his sport, but in academics and beyond.
“His is a name you should know. But he will be known more for what he does off the track than what he ever will on,” Holmoe said. “That is one of the greatest things about BYU athletes.”
Dylann Duncan Ceriani, a former Cougar volleyball player and NCAA Top 10 winner, was honored with the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award at the same ceremony.
The award is given to six former student-athletes on the 25th anniversary of their graduation based on their achievements after the athletic career. Ceriani has been successful as an entrepreneur developing medical braces and apparatuses for athletes.
Holmoe said this was a unique experience and was glad to see two recipients of these awards from the same school in the same ceremony. “I talked with people at the NCAA. They said this never happens.”
The BYU women’s soccer team reached unprecedented heights last year. The team was ranked No. 2 in the country and received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, losing to the eventual champions, the University of North Carolina. The team goes into this season already ranked No. 6 in the nation.
The remarkable story of Ezekiel “Ziggy Ansah” was also discussed. Ansah went into the NFL draft earlier this year and was picked No. 5 overall by the Detroit Lions. Many forget that when he first arrived at BYU from Ghana, Ansah tried out first for the basketball team, but was cut twice. Ansah later walked on to the BYU football team — having never stepped foot on the gridiron — and had a standout senior year.
“Let’s just say he’s a late bloomer,” Holmoe said. Not only is Ansah dedicated to his new team in Detroit, Holmoe said he plans to give back to his home country when he can. “He has a strong desire to go to Africa and pay it back.”
Holmoe noted that the cultural makeup of the athletes who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has evolved over the past several decades. Ansah, Manti Te’o and Jabari Parker are all very prominent athletes and are also Mormons who may not have had such opportunities years ago.
“The point I’m trying to make is three of the most prominent LDS athletes in the country are of ethnicity,” Holmoe said. “Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t have seen LDS athletes who are African or Hispanic, and now we have all kinds of ethnicity.”
Holmoe emphasized that the future looks just as bright as the past and highlighted many athletes to watch for this season.
Taylor Sander helped the men’s volleyball team to the NCAA championship game last year, and plans to again this year. Tyler Haws recently played in the World University Games and can use that experience of international competition to bring the basketball team out of their rut and back into the NCAA tournament.
Cody Hoffman and Kyle Van Noy were explosive on the football field last year and have nowhere to go but up. Erica Owens is the star goalie for women’s soccer and with her help, the new recruits will have someone to rally around and pull another No. 1 seed.
Holmoe said this year holds a lot of promise for each sport. They must simply look back to the previous season and build upon their successes and correct their failures.