Heaps Recounts Stories of Inspiration

Making time in an already busy schedule, the Cougar coaching staff and a former Cougar gathered in the state of Washington to recount inspirational stories at a LDS fireside. Jake Heaps and his family were among the people in attendance.

After Coach Mendenhall and his football players became actively engaged in strengthening the saints through firesides, the stake centers and wards hosting these firesides have been filled to the brim with people - including some not of the LDS faith - eager to listen to their messages. Quarterback Jake Heaps was able to attend the recent Washington fireside, and he shared with Total Blue Sports the messages heard that evening.

"It was all about church stuff and being like Christ and living a Christlike life," said Heaps of the fireside. "It was about keeping Heavenly Father as a priority, and everything else will follow."

Being from the area in which the fireside was given, former BYU quarterback Matt Berry addressed the congregation. Following his time as a BYU Cougar, Berry entered the National Guard, and he shared a story from when he first got to boot camp and was introduced to his drill sergeant.

"The drill sergeant looked at the list and said, ‘Oh great, a Mormon kid,'" Heaps recounted. "I guess Matt Berry didn't really put two and two together. All of a sudden, the drill sergeant started yelling at him, saying, ‘Are you Mormon?' Matt Berry replied, "Yes drill sergeant!' Throughout the whole time he was at basic training, the drill sergeant didn't cuss at him or the other Mormons that were there. They were just as hard on them as everyone else but they treated them a little differently. They never cussed at them but they said some pretty mean things to them, but they never cussed at them.

"It turns out that this specific drill sergeant had worked side by side with other LDS soldiers, and later said that no other soldiers were more reliable or more trustworthy to be next to. He said they were all just great soldiers, and this is why he had a great respect for the LDS people."

Berry learned a great lesson that day. He learned that one must always stand for they you are no matter what circumstance they may be in.

"You could tell it was very special moment for [Berry] to be able to share that story with us," said Heaps. "Being from this area, you could tell he had a great time talking to all of us and seeing some familiar faces."

Following Berry's talk, Coach Reynolds - who had served a mission in Seattle - took the podium and shared an experience he had while he was a football player.

"He talked about what a neat thing [the Priesthood] is to have," said Heaps, "and [how it is] unlike anything else in this world, and how you are able to do so many things [with it].

"He told us a story about when he was playing football and his quarterback got all messed up during the game. He said when the team was in the huddle with everyone surrounding him, he gave their injured quarterback a priesthood blessing right there in the middle of the field.

"While he was giving the blessing he thought, ‘Man, how cool is it that we are doing this?' It's just neat to see men with that kind of testimony because I just couldn't imagine a football player giving a teammate a priesthood blessing in the middle of the field in front of thousands and thousands of people, so that was a pretty neat story to hear about. I would love to see the film on that one."

After Coach Reynolds spoke, Coach Mendenhall gave a talk about how football is not the most important thing for him or the football team. As part of his talk, he related the experience he had during his final interview to become the head football coach at BYU.

While Coach Mendenhall had a game plan for the interview, he was taken off guard when he learned that the person conducting the interview would be none other than LDS Apostle Henry B. Eyring.

"Coach Mendenhall said he was pretty taken back and he didn't know what to do with himself at that point," Heaps said with a slight laugh. "He didn't know who he was going to be interviewed by. Here he was ready to give a presentation of his football strategy and talk football in-depth in a football language.

"The last thing he expected was to be interviewed by Elder Eyring, and he was quickly taken back. Elder Eyring went on to talk to Mendenhall about how it's more than just about football, it was about being spiritually ready and growing in every aspect of life. Not one question was about football, not one question.

According to Heaps, Coach Mendenhall could only remember two things that Elder Eyring said to him during the interview. The first thing was an unusual question for an interview for a head coaching job.

"[Coach Mendenhall and Elder Eyring were] knee to knee and eye to eye," said Heaps, "and the first thing Elder Eyring asked Coach Mendenhall was, ‘How is your testimony?'"

Heaps said the other thing that Coach Mendenhall remembered Elder Eyring saying was, "Hey, you're our guy."

"It was pretty funny because [Coach Mendenhall] said at that point he wasn't ready to be anybody's guy," said Heaps. "He said he was still thinking about this whole head coaching thing himself. It's just a really neat side of how things are done there that you don't hear about."

The story Coach Mendenhall shared with the congregation gave a unique glimpse into what it means to be called as the head of BYU's football team.

"It's unbelievable," said Heaps. "I mean, it's unlike any other place in college football. This is the Apostles' and Prophets' institution, and they want someone there who is going to reflect what the institution is all about. Where else do you hear about something like that? It's something that just doesn't happen and it's really neat. I'm sure it was a really cool experience for Coach Mendenhall. I'm sure it was a remarkable experience for Coach Mendenhall to be able to be there with Elder Eyring. I can only imagine how nervous he must have been because I don't think any of us are ready to go talk to Elder Eyring and go face to face and talk with him, especially when the first question is ‘How is your testimony?" [and] you're not even comfortable in your seat yet. It's quite a remarkable thing and was really neat to hear that. I have nothing but respect for Coach Mendenhall."

With a new and profound perspective from Elder Henry B. Eyring on the stewardship of being head coach of BYU, Mendenhall would set out to incorporate principles into his program that he deemed of greater value than football.

"Three days after he was named the head football coach of BYU, ESPN came out with an article saying, ‘Could BYU be successful and still maintain the honor code?'" said Heaps. "It was basically a four page article, and at the end it flat-out said that no you can't; it's impossible."

With that article having been proven wrong, ESPN is now taking a much different approach to covering the BYU football program.

"Right now Coach Mendenhall is at ESPN doing an article there on the reason why BYU is so successful," said Heaps. "It's because of the honor code and principles that he has in his program. You're representing yourself at all time and in all places, and it's such a big deal to always represent what you believe and never back down no matter how hard it may be or who may think you can't do it.

"I didn't know what kind of scrutiny Coach Mendenhall went under when he first got the head coaching job, but now to see what he's been able to accomplish in those first three years despite that is quite remarkable. It's funny how quick people's minds can be changed. I mean, here we are three years later, and now ESPN is now writing about BYU's success being because of those things like the honor code [and] the morals and integrity of his program."

Following the many stories of inspiration and insight given by current and former Cougars at the fireside, the congregation was reminded that the true meaning and purpose of the meeting was not to recruit.

"At the end of the fireside they made an announcement that if there are any student athletes in attendance, they weren't allowed to come talk to the coaches," said Heaps. "As that announcement was made, I was sitting right in the middle of everybody and felt a thousand eyes come staring at me. It was pretty funny because it's so much more than just me being there. I think me being there is probably the last thing on their minds. There was a great turnout there with a lot of non-LDS members in the audience. Coach [Scott] Pelluer was there, who actually gave Coach Mendenhall his first job down at Eastern Arizona. He was there with people that really meant a lot to Coach Mendenhall and they were non-members. That's what it's all about and is a really neat thing."

Although the coaches could not speak to any student athlete in attendance at the fireside, members of BYU's coaching staff paid a visit to Skyline High School to watch Heaps and his teammates work out.

"Coach Reynolds and Coach Doman stayed in the area after the fireside and visited my high school," said Heaps. "Coach Mendenhall had flown back to do the interview for ESPN, but USC coach Rocky Assetto - who is in charge of the Washington area - and Coach Reynolds and Doman were able to stay and watch us lift. Afterwards I was able to throw a little bit for them. It was really cool because my teammates got a big kick out of it. You could see that everybody was lifting as hard as they could that day.

"It was a lot of fun and I was just happy to see those guys and be able to work out for them. I've been down to USC before and have met their coaching staff, and so they told me they were going to send up Coach Setto during the evaluation period. I felt I threw the ball really well and I'm excited to hear what Coach Doman and the other coaches thought about the workout."

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