Bronco reported that 51 of his players are carrying a 3.0 or better grade average.
Bronco reported that BYU ranks 2nd among Western Division I schools with current players in the NFL. USC has 30. BYU is second with 27 former players in the NFL. I wondered if that included coaches, but didn't get a chance to ask. So much for players thinking they have a better chance at making a roster with another school.
Missions beget leadership
"If you looked out my window at the practice field any given day, you would swear that there are several of my coaches out their illegally instructing the players," Bronco bragged about his team leaders. "These are not coaches, but they might as well be. We have a core of about 10 leaders that have taken the lead during this off-season. He calls them his leadership council.
For BYU fans, players and coaches, there has been an almost underlying guilt as they try to dispel advantages of Mission service.
Should we feel guilty?
Is the LDS Missionary program a positive or negative issue for BYU?
Well if you ask BYU's football coach, Bronco Mendenhall, he would say it is a "tremendous advantage."
"Tremendous advantage"? What is he thinking? Why would he believe that? Why would he say that? How can he believe it?
The reality is BYU is a religious school. It's going to attract a lot of athletes that want to serve LDS missions. BYU will never discourage their athletes from going, quite the contrary; BYU's coaches will encourage and embrace athletes that are considering Missions.
The bottom line is that Bronco has initiated a new attitude at BYU. Included in his attitude is an unabashed admission that Missions are a great advantage for BYU.
Shamelessly with brash boldness, he has embraced his out of shape, older, slower, love preachin', God praisin' advocates of the good word. He has willingly agreed to trade team chemistry, continuity and stamina for maturity, spirituality and wisdom. In reality it's a trade that most Division I coaches would avoid at all costs.
The reality is that Coach Mendenhall would love nothing more than to claim that a large portion of a successful BYU program is its advantage because of the many return missionaries.
Get your own missionary program!
To call it unfair is rather fallacious. It would be akin to complaining that Florida State has an unfair advantage because they work harder in practice, or that Air Force's success is undeserved because they have a more disciplined program. Should we complain about Wyoming because they get to practice daily at a higher altitude?
No school in all of Division I has excluded LDS students from their school.
Any school can recruit a returned missionary the same as BYU or Utah can. For that matter, any Division I program is welcome to start their own missionary program. Team up with the Peace Corps and mandate a two year hiatus for your players before they graduate! It's not like BYU is doing something sneaky behind the NCAA's back.
Bronco Mendenhall can approach this in a couple different ways. He's chosen to call this a great advantage for BYU. He's elected to use it as a recruiting tool and to make it one of the ensigns for his programs. Why complain, defend and lose sleep over something that you could instead praise, boast and have pride in!
Bronco say's his "Leadership Council" is a group of athletes that magnify the most outstanding attitudes towards practice, workout programs, academics and the BYU football program. "No program has the kind of leadership available to them that BYU does," said Mendenhall.
Honoring the Honor Code
Under Coach Mendenhall, the honor code is given the same acknowledgment. Bronco has elected to make it a positive recruiting tool. He's elected to use it to his advantage to find and recruit players of great moral and ethical character.
From his own mouth we have heard how the number of stars doesn't matter as much as a recruit's will to be a part of the program, which includes at it's core, a willingness to live the honor code.
How many coaches have lowered standards and turned heads to get the great recruit, or appease sordid desires of players.
In the National Football League, Bill Parcells has always been a coach who looked closely at the character of a player. It was not always a priority over talent, but a good character has always been mandatory for being on a Parcells team.
I will guarantee that if Bronco is successful in bringing BYU back to a premier program, schools will begin to imitate BYU's "Honor Code". It certainly is appealing to parents who are sending their kids off to live alone for the first time.
With out going into a psychology lesson or Sunday School sermon, just imagine the confidence that a team would have that is full of honorable kids that are living clean lives. Many of whom have returned from missions and married. They're big, mature and clean. Wow.
This is Mendenhall's dream, his hope. He wants some of Helaman's warriors out there. It is a new concept, a new approach. We could call it an experiment. Can men of moral fiber be more successful on the field because they live more righteous lives? If it works, it opens a brand new door for sports psychologists. Even BYU teams of glory years cannot boast so many returned missionaries.
Bronco Mendenhall has made his dream and desires very clear to his players.
He has implemented a more rigorous screening system, and he is intolerant of improper behavior. He said that before a recruit is even allowed onto campus, he must have clearance from either a bishop or other clergy. The recruiting process is as much a process to see if a young man will qualify to come to BYU and will abide by its rules as it is to see if the school appeals to him.
We have nearly four months before we get to see if this new coach, this new team and this new approach will pan out in the form of success on the field. After having feelings of optimism scorched the last 3 years, it's hard to embrace hope completely, but there is a glimmer.
The question is, if this works, if BYU returns to glory, if character, effort, righteousness and attitude make a difference in a team and pull it from mediocrity to champions, will Bronco be able to stay ahead of the curve when others try to follow?
That's the great and unique thing about BYU. It can't be duplicated, because it has to do with a faith, conviction and commitment that can't be duplicated.
Let the wait begin.