Junior Day Educates, Emboldens and Inspires

In attendance were many potential recruits, some even with members of their family. They were shown around the various facilities designed specifically around the interests of the athletes, but it wasn't all the million-dollar facilities and equipment that stole the show. Instead, it was a humble Coach Mendenhall who simply sought to educate young men.

The players and various family members gathered into the film room where old highlights of Steve Young, Ty Detmer, Chad Lewis, Jason Buck, Robbie Bosco and many other BYU greats were playing.

"After everyone was in, Coach Tidwell came in and started talking to all of us," said Craig Bills. "He introduced Coach Anae and Mark Atuaia."

Coach Anae played the guitar while Atuaia played the ukulele, and the two sang a song together for those in attendance.

"They played a song and sang it in Samoan," said Bills. "It was really neat and was really peaceful. It was really good."

Following the song, the recruits were able to watch a highlight film of BYU's second-consecutive undefeated MWC season and Las Vegas Bowl victory.

"It was really sweet because I haven't seen it before," said Bills. "It was just an awesome, awesome highlight film. They showed a lot of great plays."

After the highlight film, Coach Tidwell introduced the main speaker for the gathering: Coach Mendenhall. Mendenhall addressed the gathering as one with no credibility.

"[Mendenhall] started out by saying he wasn't going to recruit us, which really surprised me," said Bills. "He said he was here to educate us about the program and then we will recruit ourselves. He then explained the program and what it was all about. He said that if we really wanted to be there we would have to work hard and do things not required anywhere else."

Mendenhall drew upon the words of President Hinckley, whom would pass away the very next day.

"He said to us that maybe many of them didn't know who he was and that maybe he didn't have much credibility with us because of that," said Bills. "He then pulled out an Ensign magazine and started reading from it. He read something that the prophet Gordon B. Hinckley said about BYU, and then maybe they would then believe [Mendenhall]. He read how the prophet said that BYU was a unique institution and the best place.

"He said how at BYU you are kind of like grinded through a molding process. I thought it was awesome because it just shows how the Church is related to the university. It's a big part of why I'm coming to BYU. I know that it would be the best place for me like the prophet said, and no matter what other school is recruiting me, I'm not going to even take a second look."

While reading the words of Gordon B. Hinckley, Coach Mendenhall highlighted specific words used by the former LDS prophet to describe the privilege of being able to attend this unique institution.

"He pointed out the words ‘unique' and ‘best,' Bills said. "[He also pointed out] how things referred to the atmosphere and the kinds of people that are there, and the morals that are taught there."

Another aspect that stood out in Craig Bills' mind was how Coach Mendenhall talked about the word ‘commitment,' and what it means to be committed to something. Mendenhall referred to recruits committing to coaches only to rescind their word in the end.

"Keeping your word shows a lot of who you are," said Bills. "If you back out of a commitment, it kind of says a few things. Coach Mendenhall said he would always keep his word to you and expects us to keep our word to him or to any coach. If you decommit from BYU, it kind of says that BYU isn't good enough for you. A commitment means a lot even if you haven't signed anything yet, because your word is who you are."

Coach Mendenhall continued the education about why BYU's football program is different than any other football program in the country.

"Coach Mendenhall talked about how as a football player at BYU you're there for more than just football," said Bills. "You're there for the academics and the spiritual aspect that's a part of the program. He looked out at all of us sitting in the room and said that many of us won't want to come to BYU and that's fine. He said that BYU won't be the best place for some and that some won't make it to BYU. He then said that if we're coming to BYU just to play football, then we're coming to the wrong place."

Coach Mendenhall then touched upon those things other than football that make BYU unique.

"He talked about how it takes more than just a football player to be at BYU," said Bills. "He said that not every good football player will be able to come to BYU, and that they shouldn't look down on BYU because of it. If you're not willing to work hard in the classroom to meet his basic GPA goals for the team, then you shouldn't be there. If you're not willing to do community service, then BYU doesn't even want you. If you're not willing to be more than just a football player, then BYU isn't the right place for you. He said if all you care about is football, then it would be better if you went to another school. He said…at BYU, you're playing for and representing more than just a football team."

During his speech, Mendenhall spoke about how those that wear the blue and white represent something much bigger than themselves.

"Coach Mendenhall talked about how you're not just playing for BYU," said Bills. "He talked about how you're representing and playing for a community, how you're playing for LDS people, because BYU is the only university that holds the standards of the Church as part of the school requirements. He talked about how when you play for BYU, everyone knows that you're supposed to live a higher standard and represent that standard. He said that no matter where we go, we are supposed to be flag bearers because everyone knows what BYU stands for, and if you're not willing to uphold that standard, then you won't be a good fit to represent BYU, the community or [the LDS] faith."

Coach Mendenhall accompanied his speech with a PowerPoint presentation that summed up with a single picture what it means to be a BYU football player.

"He showed a picture of a BYU football player holding up the BYU flag," said Bills. "He said that the flag bearer is the most visible person on the battlefield, and that when you're a BYU football player you automatically become a flag bearer because of what BYU is. He said that no matter where you go, people will know who you are and what you stand for without even knowing who you are. He said we are supposed to carry that flag no matter where we are; if we're on a date, or on the field or any place, we're supposed to be the flag bearer.

"He then told a story about how he went to the home of a recruit, and they wanted to show him the house. He said he really didn't want to go through a tour of the kid's house, but they went to the room of the younger brother and he said there were BYU stickers, posters and all kinds of BYU stuff hanging on the wall. He then went to see the room of the recruit and he said hanging above his bed was the flag bearer motto of BYU. He said that really stood out to him.

"There's a good chance you're not going to go to the NFL," continued Bills. "What Coach Mendenhall wants to do is make sure he helps you develop other aspects that will help you succeed in life if you're not able to make it. You look at all the players that come out of BYU like my brother [K.C. Bills] who played at BYU. You can really see how the opportunity to play there really changed him."

Following the conclusion of Coach Mendenhall's speech, the football team's leadership council - comprised of Jan Jorgensen, Andrew George, Max Hall, Austin Collie, Manase Tonga and Travis Bright - sat down in the front to field questions from the audience.

"One thing that really stood out to me was when we were asking the players questions," said Bills. "Max Hall was asked about Arizona State and why he chose to transfer to BYU. He said that if you want to slack off in school, party all the time and then play football, then those schools are the places for you. He said if you want more than just football, then BYU is the place for you. That really stood out to me and I thought it was awesome."

At the conclusion, the overall experience of BYU's Junior day helped to rejuvenate Bills' own resolve in being something more than just a football player, and reminded him about the reasons why he committed to Coach Mendenhall and his Cougar staff.

"Even now I'm representing BYU since I'll be going there," said Bills. "A lot of people know that I'm going there and a lot of people look up to for that, and even though I haven't signed anything, I have to be a flag bearer right now."

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