Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Current and former BYU stars explain what it takes to be a professional athlete

Corbin Kaufusi declined yet again. 

As a student at Timpview High School, it was difficult for his friends to understand why he wouldn’t be able to stay out late on a warm summer night — they were on vacation after all — but the aspiring football star had yet another early morning practice and couldn’t afford to be tired the following day. 

Just like Corbin, former Cougars who have turned their collegiate careers into professional accolades say the key to their success has come through sacrifice and passion for their sport. 

Holly Parkinson Hasler found a passion for tennis as a young girl. She began to play the sport with her father, Dan Parkinson. (Holly Parkinson Hasler)

Social Sacrifice

Holly Parkinson Hasler was 12 years old when she moved eight states away from her family of seven. 

While the move from New Jersey to Florida was difficult, it enabled her to practice in a sunny location with pristine conditions year-round — an essential factor for an up-and-coming tennis player. 

For three years, Hasler would live with a friend as she attended a Florida tennis academy. 

This separation, along with missing school dances, family ski trips and even her high school graduation, were sacrifices made to dedicate optimal time and commitment to her all-encompassing goal: the U.S. Open. 

Hasler’s dream was realized in 1997 when just after one year of attending BYU, she halted her academics and entered into the professional tennis world.

Hasler’s success on the court deemed her the winner of six International Tennis Federation singles titles from 1997-2002, an international personal ranking of No. 83 in 2000 and an indictment into the Utah Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017. 

Holly Parkinson Hasler in the U.S. Open in 1997. Hasler become ranked as No. 83 in the world-wide Women’s Tennis Association Top 100 in 2000. (Holly Hasler)

Hasler continues her legacy today as the BYU women’s tennis head coach. 

“Although there were sacrifices, I was blessed with opportunities most kids my age only dreamed of having,” Hasler said. 

Financial Sacrifice

Current BYU student Peter Kuest began leisurely playing golf in the seventh grade while he waited for the baseball and soccer seasons to begin. Little did Peter know he would become the No. 1 U.S. collegiate golfer in the nation in 2019. 

The 5-foot-11-inch senior began competitive play at a later start than most professional athletes, but soon channeled all of his energy to golf after heavy recruitment from his high school coach. Because of his physical stature, Peter felt he had a better shot of playing on a varsity team if he were to trade in his soccer cleats for a shiny new putter. 

Peter was ranked a Division I PING All-American during his junior year and was named the No. 1 golfer in the nation by the NCAA for the 2019-20 season. He plans to go professional after he graduates in April. 

The largest sacrifice Peter saw throughout his athletic career wasn’t the forfeited social events, but rather the financial sacrifice he watched his parents make for him over the years.

Instead of using the summer to get a job and save money, Peter said he was expected to use his time wisely on the golf course and enhance his game. This was the tradeoff the family accepted. 

One-year-old Peter Kuest “plays golf” for the first time. (Cindy Kuest)

Mother and father, Cindy and Pete Kuest, said they knew he had potential to be an athlete at a young age. 

“He had the desire and determination to perfect whatever he set his mind to,” Cindy said. “Peter would put in more time and work harder than any of his teammates. He did this without us pushing him and it always paid off.”

While the couple owns a small business in Fresno, California, they said they have budgeted wisely to fully support their children’s dreams. Instead of forgoing golf tournaments, the family made it a point to make “mini” family vacations out of Peter’s golf tournaments. They established golf as a special part of their family life. 

“We did have one very important rule, though. Whatever they decide to do, they must give it one hundred percent and we will give one hundred percent,” Cindy said. “That not only meant financial support, but it meant time and dedication on everyone’s part.”

Jaren Wilkey/ByU Photo
BYU senior Peter Kuest will be entering professional play at the Canada PGA Tour in 2020. He is currently the top-ranked golf collegiate athlete in the nation according to the latest 2019-20 NCAA ranking. (Jaren Wilkey)

Physical Sacrifice

BYU alumnus Bronson Kaufusi suffered from a torn ACL, a broken ankle and countless lacerations, bruises and strains on the football field. The current New York Jets defensive end said to achieve his dream, his body has taken a beating. 

Bronson Kaufusi is a current football player for the New York Jets and was drafted in the 2016 draft. (Daryl Kaufusi)

“You learn to play through a lot of pain,” Bronson said. 

Bronson analyzes injuries with the end result in mind. If the injury will heal up within a few weeks, the 6-foot-8 football player said he will keep playing. 

“Something really bad has to happen for me to come off of the field,” Bronson said.

Bronson’s passion for football began at an early age. As a student at Timpview High School in Provo, the defensive end was well-known for his talent, having 70 tackles and nine-and-a-half sacks in his junior year alone. 

Corbin Kaufusi, left, and Bronson Kaufusi play as Timpview Thunderbirds in Provo, Utah as high school students. (Daryl Kaufusi)

His senior season was cut short when Bronson tore his ACL. It was his first major injury on the football field. 

Even with the minor setback, Bronson was ranked as the No. 1 Utah recruit and went on to play for BYU. The Cougar defensive standout finished his BYU career ranked No. 3 in tackles for loss and second all-time in sacks. 

The Baltimore Ravens picked up Bronson in the third round of the NFL draft in 2016. Unfortunately, he broke his ankle during training camp and didn’t play his rookie season.

Bronson was later traded to the New York Jets in September 2018 and continues to remain optimistic despite injuries.

“I think that it’s always hard, but it’s good for you because you build a lot of character,” Bronson said. “It’s something that might not go your way, but you always come back stronger.” 

Dedication

BYU women’s volleyball coach Heather Olmstead played as a professional libero on the United States’ team, as well as on a European team in 2002-03. After a quick two years in the pro league, Olmstead switched her focus as an assistant and then head coach of BYU women’s volleyball team. 

Olmstead has helped various volleyball players play at higher levels, including current BYU player Mary Lake, who played with Team USA in 2018. 

“I think that you can definitely see some of the girls that already know they want to go professional. They see it a little bit more as a job,” Olmstead said. “I definitely see a little bit more drive and desire when they know that they’re going to play after.” 

Olmstead said the differences between those who go professional and those who don’t is they tend to have more focus and passion for the game.

Corbin Kaufusi, younger brother of Bronson Kaufusi, agreed. 

“To be honest, after going through the process (of becoming a professional athlete), I think a lot more people could do it if they were truly dedicated to the cause,” Corbin said. 

The Kaufusi brothers, Bronson, left, and Corbin, right, both entered the NFL after their time at BYU. Bronson was traded to the New York Jets, while Corbin was drafted to the Saints before being signed by the Jets. (Daryl Kaufusi)

The lineman now plays alongside his brother with the New York Jets for the first time since 2009. Corbin said amidst all social, relationship and financial sacrifices he has made, he wouldn’t change his opportunity in the NFL for anything else. 

“Once you’ve tasted what it’s like to play or make big plays,” Corbin said. “You just always kind of remember that, and you’re like, ‘I want to get that feeling more.’”  

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