Paying tuition often feels like giving up your arm or leg, but Junior Lartey chose to decline a full-tuition scholarship so he could serve an LDS mission.
Lartey, BYU men’s soccer center back, decided he wanted to play soccer outside of Utah. He felt that he would have more opportunities at Division I schools on the east coast.
“I started looking at records of teams in the NCAA outside of Utah,” Lartey said. “The Tarheels stood out, so I flew out and went to their camp for a week. It was awesome. I had a really great time.”
At the conclusion of the training, Lartey was named camp MVP. All of the coaches and scouts were impressed by Lartey and his talent. The coach from the North Carolina Tarheels was particularly interested in recruiting Lartey for his team, but did not want him playing if he planned on serving a full-time mission.
“He mentioned that there was room on the team and we would have to keep in contact to make sure everything is in place,” Lartey said. “I told him that I would be serving a mission. He said, ‘Okay, contact me if anything changes,’ and he expressed how good an opportunity it would be to playing Division I soccer.”
Lartey still turned him down despite a once in a lifetime opportunity. It seemed like his soccer career was over. But then came another opportunity to play at BYU. The BYU men’s soccer team competes in a semi-pro competitive league giving their players maximum exposure to quality teams around that nation. This competitive league was just the place that would enhance Junior’s skills.
But the competitive nature of the soccer team was not the only reason Lartey chose to play. His father, who emigrated from Ghana as a recent convert to the LDS church, also played for the Cougars when he was at school in the 80s.
“Growing up, we used to come and watch the men’s team play down in Provo,” Lartey said. “I also loved to would watch my dad play soccer in the Smith Fieldhouse and I always thought it was the coolest thing watching him play.”
Lartey’s decision to play at BYU also gave him the opportunity to serve a mission. In preparation for his mission, he was associated with others on his team who had already served missions.
One particular highlight that Lartey remembers was when he traveled with the team down to Puerto Rico. The Cougars played some of the best teams in Puerto Rico, but the highlight of the trip was when they held a fireside for the local members.
“It was amazing hearing the members as well as members of my team talk about their missions,” Lartey said. “It made me that much more excited to serve a mission.”
Lartey was later called to serve in the New York, New York North Mission. Upon completing his mission, Lartey made it a goal to impact the younger players on the team, just as the senior players had done for him when he was in Puerto Rico. Lartey’s influence on and off the field is one of the key contributors to the teams success.
“Junior is an awesome leader,” said Jake Miles, a junior on the team. “Not only as a talented player, but his constructive attitude on and off the field shows how great of an example he is.”
Ryan Botcherby, a junior who walked onto the team last year, found Lartey’s leadership encouraging as he adjusted to playing with the Cougars.
“He is always building others up and celebrating others’ successes,” Botcherby said. “Junior looks at the big picture and how the whole team can continue to make progress.”
Lartey found that his mission has helped shape his positive character both on and off the field and that is a price that is worth more than any scholarship.