I grew up Mormon. In a fairly strict Mormon household where we didn’t drink and went to church almost every Sunday. I didn’t have any close friends that were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I was unique and different than almost all of my peers. I was the “designated driver” every weekend. My friends respected my views and were even protective of me when someone would offer me a drink at a party. “He doesn’t drink!” they’d jump in and say. I liked being different. They also knew I wasn’t going to have sex until I found the right person and got married. They thought I was nuts, but they respected my beliefs.
When I had my missionary farewell the chapel was filled with great guys and girls. All non-LDS. Some dressed like punks and gangsters. It was beautiful. I stood up and spoke and told them all why I chose to leave my family and friends and football for two years. I cried. My parents cried. All my trouble-causing, hoodlum friends cried.
Two years later when I returned from England I was very surprised at how ‘diverse” and different the roster at BYU was. Back then you thought of BYU Football, for the most part the rosters were made up of Mormon, white, returned missionaries from Utah and Idaho. But Lavell and his coaching staff had been recruiting hard in California and Texas. LaVell had his staff recruiting “non-traditional” BYU recruits. And it was beautiful. Guys like Ronney Jenkins, Tim McTyer, Ommar Morgan, Margin Hooks, Kaipo McGuire told me they’re recruiting stories. I was blown away that these great guys, non-Mormon guys, would choose BYU over all the schools that were recruiting them.
We had a secret recruiting weapon in Brian Mitchell. He could relate to these young men. And they could relate to him. LaVell and coach Mitchell would sit in the living rooms of these kids’ and their families in South Central LA or Waco, Texas and explain why BYU was where these kids needed to be. The kids and their parents believed them. These athletes came to BYU and were changed forever. And they changed BYU for the better.
So here’s is our challenge; BYU used to allow LaVell and his staff to make judgement calls on who they should bring in to BYU even if they weren’t your “typical” BYU student-athlete. Many of these kids weren’t “student-athletes”, they were “athlete-students”. They put football first. Academics was something that came second. And that was okay, because they usually got immersed in the BYU experience and benefitted greatly from getting an education and a degree from here. But these guys wanted to play football. They “endured” the Honor Code and didn’t always live it. But they stayed close to LaVell and their teammates and made it work.
We have coaches on this staff that can recruit the athletes we need in order to win more games. Jernaro Gilford can be our secret weapon. Our Brian Mitchell. He can go into the homes of real athletes, guys that are complete “dawgs” on the field, guys that grew up in environments that are the exact opposite of BYU, and he can close the deals. But BYU “Upper Campus” has to let him. And they won’t. They have to give our coaches the ability to take chances on guys that are maybe not great fits with the BYU culture, but can really add a lot to our team and possible change their own lives for the better forever.
When I returned from my mission in 1996 and rejoined the team I was a Caucasian Mormon, 22 year old virgin, that had never had a drink of alcohol and got great grades and liked giving fireside talks to the young men in the church. Guys like me are a dime a dozen at BYU. We need more guys like Jamaal Williams, guys like Steve Sarkisian, guys that aren’t really “a fit” at BYU. Guys that didn’t get good grades in high school. Guys that got arrested for assault as a teenager. Guys that don’t understand the Honor Code and don’t really want to live it, but say they’ll try. We need guys that are faster than I was. Guys more athletic than I was.
BYU Upper Campus and Admissions look at BYU as some “pristine” place where all the kids admitted need to be “lilywhite” and in some special mold. BYU needs to take the opposite approach, not just for the sake of football and basketball, but for the betterment of the entire university. We need to be bringing people of every color, culture and religion. BYU needs to abandon it’s current arrogant, exclusive, pompous way they think about our school. BYU needs LESS Derik Stevenson’s and MORE Jamaal William’s and Steve Sarkisian’s.