FLASHBACK: A Father's Dying Wish

A month before his son, Drew, accepted a scholarship to play football for BYU in October, <b>Mark Mugleston</b> was playing tourist in Provo with his wife, Kendall, and her sister Kristen and went to see <b>Ty Detmer's</b> Heisman Trophy on display at the university's football office. As they walked past a secretary's desk, a man he didn't recognize glanced at them, smiled and introduced himself as <b>Gary Crowton</b>.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This was the cover story in the January issue of TOTAL BLUE SPORTS magazine.)

Mark, a 1979 BYU graduate, is "not a huge Cougar football fan" and doesn't watch many games, so you can understand his surprise at meeting the BYU head coach in such an unexpected and unannounced manner.

"Drew hadn't verbally committed to BYU yet, but he (Crowton) knew all about him and asked me about my health. I was amazed. I had never met nor spoken to him before. He was exactly what I was hoping he would be in the man who will be a future replacement dad for my son. I just can't say enough good things about him and coach (Paul) Tidwell" – the BYU assistant who has scouted and recruited Drew since his sophomore year. The exchange was brief, but memorable. It was also the first and only time Mark has spoken with Crowton.

"If Drew is lucky enough to have men in his life like my mission president (John Covey, brother of bestselling author Stephen Covey), then I couldn't have asked for anything better. I wasn't always the most active person, but I stumbled into BYU and I stumbled into my mission. I pray every night that Drew meets a man like him (Covey). He was the greatest man in my life."

Mark Mugleston was marked for death as early as December by his doctor, who told him last June he had six or so months to live after cancer blotted one of his lungs and areas of his spine. The diagnosis was terminal. He had his cancer-ravaged left lung removed, underwent chemotherapy and continues with ongoing radiation treatments. He still has tumors in his spine, and the cancer has now spread throughout his rib section.

In spite of his diagnosis, Mark appears as vibrant in mid-December and outwardly healthy as any normal 48-year-old man in great shape. The inset photo of Mark, Kendall and Drew on the January cover of TOTAL BLUE SPORTS magazine was taken Dec. 10 and belies any indication of the fatal affliction he is quietly enduring.

A former LDS bishop for six years in Seattle before he moved his family to Mesa, Ariz., Mark is a remarkable and inspirational source of positive energy and motivation for his family – four daughters (Anne, 23; Alison, 21; Madeline, 15; Michelle, 10), son Drew and his devoted wife, Kendall – and many of Drew's closest friends. "Sometimes when I'm at school, my buddies come over to the house and hang out with him. He's just like one of the kids," says Drew.

Mark received news of his terminal six months after he began X-rays and tests because of his mysteriously deteriorating health. "At first they thought it was pneumonia; then they thought for a long time it was Valley Fever, a common fungus ailment in Arizona that affects the lungs," he said. When doctors finally discovered and confirmed it was lung cancer six months later, it was already too late. A lifelong and faithful LDS member, Mark never smoked in his life nor was there any history of lung cancer in his family.

"It was almost surreal," Mark recalled. "It wasn't devastating. I think I had a premonition something was wrong a year earlier."

In perfectly fine health, he recalled taking his then 14-year-old daughter, Madeline, to Melbourne and Tasmania, Australia, in February, 2002, where he had served an LDS mission from 1974-76. They were accompanied by his close friend and former mission companion, Randy Holmgren (a former ASBYU vice president), and his 14-year-old daughter, Emily.

"We were sitting around one evening after dinner during the trip. It was a wonderful trip and it was so spiritual. I remember telling the others that, ‘I feel like my life is complete. If I'm dead in a year, I just want you to know I've had a spiritual confirmation, a still small voice, that everything will be OK. I served a good mission and I've had a great life.' I came home from Australia in great health and went on a camping trip to the Grand Canyon. When I found out 15 months later I had terminal cancer, my first thoughts went back to that night in Australia."

Shortly after his diagnosis and in the midst of Drew's college recruiting exposure, Mark had an emotional, heart-to-heart, father-and-son discussion outlining his dreams and wishes for his 17-year-old he calls his "very best friend."

"I told Drew I didn't care about football; I want you to go to a school where you will associate with players, coaches and others with strong (LDS) church values. I told him I wanted him to go on a mission. I wanted him to go to BYU, but I didn't pressure him. It was his decision alone. I don't bleed blue, but it's a great school."

His wife, Kendall, told TOTAL BLUE SPORTS that "it breaks my heart that Mark won't be able to watch Drew play football at BYU. He's watched all of Drew's games in high school."

Moved and still mystified at why his father was struck with such a deadly diagnosis in his youthful middle age, Drew Mugeleston made his dad promise he would be at every game during his final season as a star receiver and defensive back for the Mesa Mountain View High School Toros. He hoped it would happen more than he was really expecting it to.

Four months of debilitating chemotherapy treatments took their toll on Mark during the summer and into the fall football season, but he was as good as his word. Still, the treatments left him weak and nauseated. "I was at all his games, but I don't remember 90 percent of them."

In a recent interview for the East Valley Tribune in Arizona, Mark confided, "There were nights I wanted to die. I remember thinking, ‘Who wants to get better knowing that months from now you're going to get worse again?'"

He sat through games in the miserable, unrelenting Arizona summer heat. "The sweat would just be pouring off me. I'd have to go lie down on the grass (beyond the end zone) to try to cool off," he told the newspaper. Afterward, he would ask his wife what happened during the games.

More importantly, he was there for Drew, who dedicated his stellar season to his dad. Before every game, he would write his father's initials, "MBM (for Mark Bernard Mugleston)", with a black marker on his forearm and played each game as if it were his last in front of his ailing father.

On the afternoon of Dec. 6, as Drew's Toros prepared for the 5A 2003 state championship game against the Hamilton Huskies, the entire team surprised Drew, paying tribute to Mark Mugleston by writing his initials on their forearms; just as he had done all season. "I loved the support. It was great to have that team unity and bond," Drew said.

Unfortunately, the Toros lost 38-31 to the Huskies in a barnburner of a triple-overtime game at Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium.

Slim Smith of the East Valley Tribune further wrote of Drew: "At 6-0 and 200 pounds, he is the kind of player who seems to have been rolling off that Mountain View assembly line forever: Lean, tough, relentless, disciplined. Yet, even by Toros standards, Drew Mugleston stands apart for his tenacity, his dedication. He had always been a serious kid. He is more serious now."

Mark's personal thoughts and feelings about his only begotten son were sweet and simple: "I don't worship at the altar of Drew, but he's a great kid. He's a 4.0 student and he's never been anything but my very best friend. He's never, ever been any trouble for us.

"Right now, he takes very seriously the responsibility that he will inherit the role of being the only man in the house and taking care of his four sisters and mother. At first, he was in denial. I sat him down and told him, ‘When I die, being mad can't be your response. Our family cannot fall apart.' He had to think about how he would respond. In 30 days, he grew up and became a man," Mark said softly.

Drew remembers his father's counsel vividly. "It was a real tough time for me; a much tougher deal than football. It made me realize how much of a better person I have to be for him while he's still around. I decided as hard as my days (football practice and study) are, they are minute compared to what dad is going through."

When asked how his daily routine has changed in recent months, Drew said, "I hang out at the house more because I want to spend more time with him. He's so strong and he's fighting it every day." He even joked, "I am much more willing to listen to his advice now."

During this past season, Drew added that, "I did not miss an opportunity to let him see me do my best on the field." He vowed to do the same when he suits up in Cougar blue next fall. While his father would prefer his son redshirt his freshman year, Drew is hopeful a spot may open up in the playing rotation based on team needs and his renewed conditioning commitment during the off-season. "If I'm lucky enough to play next year, every play will be my very best for him. He's my best friend and I hope he can see me play at BYU."

Recalling his all-time favorite memory with his father, Drew said it was as a 6-year-old when the family still lived in Seattle. "He bought me a complete fake football uniform, outfit and helmet with the No. 32 (the only number he has worn as a football athlete). He'd throw the ball all the time and I'd dive to catch it" before it landed on the muddy, soggy ground."

Chuckling at his son's childhood recollection, Mark agreed it was a memorable time. "I've still got video of it and we love watching it. Drew would never catch the ball without diving for it, even when it was not required." The mid-air TOTAL BLUE SPORTS cover picture of Drew reaching for a pass as one of the stars of the BYU summer camp in June is evidence he hasn't changed much.

Both father and son agreed the second-most compelling memory together was a fixer-upper pickup truck Mark bought for Drew so they could tinker on it together. "My dad's almost a complete mechanic. He knows so much and I've learned a lot about engines working on it with him. It's a lot of fun."

Mark, on permanent disability from his job selling annuities, mostly spends his days walking, resting, occasionally playing golf and spending quality time with his family. His oldest daughter, Anne, is married and lives close to the family home. So far, Anne has also produced the only two grandchildren, 16-month-old Luke and 3-month-old Ashley. They visit grandpa a lot.

In the Arizona newspaper interview, Kendall noted that "a friend asked me if Mark and I sit around and hold each other and cry all day," and chuckles at the thought. "It's not like that at all. This is the most time we've spent together since we were married. We enjoy it."

Indeed, Mark is too busy living a happy life with his family to be unduly concerned about dying. "When you know you're dying, you have to get done what has to be done. I just want to finish the course strong. Our house is in order, financially and spiritually."

Friends and family have been calling ever since they learned the news. Most everything that needed to be said or done has been. For Mark, it's akin to being alive and commiserating with loved ones at his own funeral – and he's absolutely glad for the experience.

"I've just accepted it," Mark continued. "It's like I'm observing it all as a third party. I just observe it all when I go in for CAT scans and treatment. I'm not afraid of dying. The best thing I have going is to make it as good as possible (for my family) as long as possible."

Mark and Kendall broke the news gently to their children shortly after the terminal diagnosis was confirmed last summer. They talked it out and they cried as a family and separately, in private. Mark said they talked about everything, smiling now at daughter Michelle's initial reaction that it might be contagious. "She didn't want me around her at first."

The one thing he wants his family to remember in the face of this omnipresent death sentence is his irrepressible joy of life and his undying love for them. "At this stage of the game, I've achieved my first short-term goal of being around to watch all of Drew's games this season. My next short-term goal is to spend July and August in Provo watching Drew practice with his BYU teammates. The way I feel right now, I don't see why I can't," Mark said.

"After the state championship game, I took Drew and bought him an X-Box video game system. The first thing he did was pull up BYU's team and add his name to the roster as a wide receiver and defensive back," he said.

One of his first friends to challenge him was Toros teammate and All-State quarterback Max Hall, a fellow LDS player who committed to Arizona State. Hall added his name to the ASU roster and the two went at it, putting aside friendship for the duration of their video game adventure. "I (BYU) took an early lead, but Max (ASU) came back strong in the end, but I (BYU) won 32-30. Max didn't like losing, but it was a lot of fun," Drew said.

Asked whether the Cougars' dismal record over the past two seasons has caused any wavering or second-guessing on his part, Drew responded emphatically: "Not at all. I'm not worried about two bad years. I'd much rather come to the team and help make them good than go to a team that gets worse. Coach Tidwell has been awesome, but I definitely think coach Crowton is the guy to turn the program around."

But first things first: Drew has ACL surgery in January to repair a knee he apparently injured in the second week of the season, but was not correctly diagnosed until week 13. "It didn't feel right, but it didn't hurt at all."

Drew plans to take only one official recruiting trip to BYU sometime after his surgery. Other colleges that recruited him the most included Arizona State, Washington and Washington State. Aware of his firm commitment to BYU and the unique family circumstances, other college recruiters have essentially stopped calling or sending letters.

"I plan to work harder than I've ever worked to get myself ready for my first season at BYU. I won't turn 19 until Feb. 18, next year, and I'll leave for my mission after one season," Drew confirmed.

For his part, Mark has no real expectations that he'll see Drew play as a true freshman this fall because of the quality athletes at BYU. "Actually, I hope he redshirts, but it would be the biggest thrill to see him run out on the field in his BYU uniform. I'm just happy to know he'll have a good 4-5 years there – as long as he goes on a mission. I'm looking forward to meeting and getting to know his dorm mates and the friends he'll be hanging around with.

In a strange way, Mark's death sentence has been the biggest blessing of his life. He's had the time and opportunity few people have to say and do the most important things to and for those who are dearest to him.

In a pre-mortem dedication to his son, Mark affectionately said: "It has been an honor to watch Drew and be around the kids of his generation. They are going to be so much better men than I'll ever be. Drew wants to make the right decisions in his life. He is totally driven and I respect him with all my heart.

"I was Drew's (LDS) bishop most of his growing up years in Seattle (when he was ages 10-16), so it was a drag for him. But it gave us a lot of time to go camping together. I know Drew will be one man who can handle losing his dad, and he'll be 10 times the man I am by the time he's my age."

Drew strongly disagrees, of course, but it won't stop him from trying on or off the field – in the eternal game of life.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: You can contact Mark Mugleston at markmugleston@hotmail.com)

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