BYU football puts faith first with fireside tradition

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Ari Davis
BYU football player Algernon Brown speaks to a standing-room only crowd at a fireside in Glendale, California before playing UCLA on Sept. 19. The BYU football team regularly holds firesides the night before road games. (Ari Davis)

The BYU football team has a longstanding tradition of putting on firesides the night before away games. Players put aside thoughts of the upcoming game to focus on sharing the gospel message of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The team shares spiritual thoughts and musical numbers, and takes questions from the audience throughout the evening. These firesides are open to the public and take place in LDS churches near the game sites.

“The firesides have been a way for us to make a very clear statement of what our priorities are, or should be,” Coach Bronco Mendenhall said in a press release. “Football is simply the vehicle we use to help others come to a knowledge of what really brings joy and happiness to our lives. These firesides are a way for all of us to help consider our priorities through understanding the purpose of life.”

Mendenhall says BYU’s mission of spreading the church’s teachings is his top priority. In fact, Mendenhall wants his players to structure their lives with emphasis in the following five areas and in this order: faith, family, knowledge, friends and football. This balance is rare in the world of college football and sets BYU’s program apart for both LDS and non-LDS athletes.

Mendenhall started the fireside tradition on a trip to New Mexico in 2005. Only 13 people showed up to the first fireside. The team has been holding regular firesides throughout the football season ever since. This season the team received extra attention following their fireside prior to the Michigan game on Sept. 16. It was during this fireside that inured quarterback Taysom Hill scootered up to the pulpit to speak to a crowd of over 1,000 people and share how the gospel has given him the faith to withstand trials and injuries.

The players and coaches hold a question – and – answer session following each fireside program prepared by the team. Audience members use this time to ask questions on everything ranging from how players balance their lives to what it’s like to throw a game-winning Hail Mary pass.

Ari Davis
BYU football player Mitch Matthews takes a picture with fans after the fireside the night before the game against UCLA on Sept. 19. The firesides are held at local LDS churches the night before away games and are open to the public. (Ari Davis)

At a 2014 fireside in Bloomfield, Connecticut, Hill was asked how playing on the team has helped him grow closer to Heavenly Father.

“Things like this, firesides, help us realize that we’re part of something greater,” Hill said. “We represent something that’s far beyond ourselves. We have an opportunity to reach out to others and be on our best behavior and be examples.”

Each season the team holds an additional fireside at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah before a selected home game in addition to the firesides before road games. The most recent of these firesides was held prior to the game against Wagner on Oct. 24.

“We come to help, if we can,” Mendenhall said following the team’s fireside at the state prison. “We’ve been doing this for a few years now, and this is the one that our players most look forward to. It says something that this is a completely voluntary experience, and 95 of our 123 players signed up to come.”

Mendenhall recently commented on the fireside tradition during a radio interview with Greg Wrubell, saying that it has given him one of his favorite memories. This particular memory came from one of the team’s regular firesides at the state prison.

Each year the inmates anxiously await the chance to hear from the young men of the BYU football team and often prepare a musical number to share with them. The inmates often express their respect and appreciation for the players and the examples they set during the question and answer session.

“I just want to let you guys know that I’ve seen what you’ve done in the fourth quarter this year,” said one inmate during the team’s October fireside. “It makes me feel like I can have my fourth quarter and make a comeback in my life.”

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