How Far Is 49 Yards?


Goals in the Life of a Young Latter-day Saint Athlete

A detached pom-pon streamer rustles up off the track in a light breeze and then falls; an empty soft drink cup bump, bump, bumps down the bleachers. A cheerleader falls silent in the middle of a timid “go team!” seeing that no one is listening. An absolute hush and stillness envelops the crowd; the flag hangs limp. Even the crimson and gold leaves of the trees beyond the scoreboard are motionless, and the low sun of a cold autumn afternoon seems to wait. A young man in a green and white jersey leans forward, his arms hanging limp. Then there is the snap, the distant clash of shoulder pads, the steps, the flashing shoe; and as the ball distorts under the impact of the square toe, there is an exhalation of breath, and then a roar from both bleachers while the ball is still in the air—while it’s still too early to tell.

There is no man on any football field so alone as the field goal kicker at his moment of truth. Every eye is on him. Every fan is for him or against him, and the work of a moment will leave him the hero or the scapegoat.

The fellow in the green and white jersey is 17-year-old Latter-day Saint Brad Cordery. He kicks field goals and PAT’s (point after touchdown) for the Olympus High School football team in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Brad is a good one. He has a 49 yarder under his belt and has converted 30 out of 38 PAT’s for 79 percent. And most of the PAT’s he failed to convert involved bad snaps or blocked kicks.

It doesn’t seem very pertinent to him, and most fans don’t even know it, but Brad kicks with an artificial leg. He was born with a deformed right foot and stunted lower leg, so his foot was amputated when he was still a baby to make it possible for him to wear an artificial limb. But as opponents who let the Olympus team inside the 30-yard line can testify, it’s no handicap when it comes to kicking field goals.

It hasn’t stopped Brad from doing much else either. He says, “A handicap is in the mind first. I could tell myself, ‘I have an artificial leg; something’s wrong with me.’ I could really feel bad and go into my room and lock myself up or something, but what good would that do?

“I don’t feel I have a handicap,” he insists. “I think I’ve overcome it, and it’s no problem anymore. The handicap is in other people who don’t understand. It’s no handicap to me.”

Brad’s preoccupation with goals isn’t confined to the football field either. At a young age he learned to meet challenges, mastering his artificial limb so well that he could hold his own in sports competition with his young friends, and it became an unwritten goal to live a completely normal life. It is a goal that he has entirely realized. His experience with the Aaronic Priesthood Personal Achievement Program converted him to the importance of writing down his goals, and goal achievement became a guiding principle in his life.

When Brad set a goal, it had a way of getting accomplished. He decided to become an Eagle Scout with three palms; and he did it. He decided to meet his Aaronic Priesthood Personal Achievement goals, earn his Duty to God award, maintain a high GPA in school, and become a place kicker and kick a 40-yard field goal; and he did them all. He decided to become proficient in basketball, volleyball, softball, handball, tennis, swimming, karate, and golf (among others); and he did it. He decided to learn to both snow and water ski; and he did it.

Brad feels that goals are essential. “If you don’t have some definite goals and keep them in front of you, I don’t see how you can accomplish very much in life,” he says. He also adds a more practical note, however. “You can write goals down,” he says. “You can see them; you can think about them; but all your thinking won’t do any good unless you decide what you’re going to do to accomplish them and then do it.”

Brad’s approach to football illustrates this attitude. The summer before his sophomore year he had the man who makes his artificial legs throw together a makeshift kicking leg out of a wooden block on the end of an old “fishing leg,” a sort of plastic peg leg that Brad uses for swimming and showering. He then hit the practice field with an armful of footballs, his family, and half the neighborhood kids to help retrieve balls. Then he kicked and kicked and kicked and kicked, and when the kids had become tired of it and gone home, he kicked some more while his father held for him. He kicked, and learned to allow for wind, and kicked, and got his timing down, and kicked some more. Even with the ad-libbed leg, his aim was deadly.

That fall he was suited up and kicking field goals and PAT’s for the sophomore team, with a brand-new, made-to-order kicking leg. This year, as a junior, he was the starting place kicker for both the varsity and junior varsity teams.

“He’s a real competitor,” his football coach says. “He’s always emotionally ready to play. He’s a hard worker, and he has a good positive attitude. Those things are important for any position.”

Brad’s entry into the football scene wasn’t an easy one. He had to miss several games his sophomore year because of a rule dispute about artificial limbs, and he had to earn his assignment in the face of some talented competition.

“The kids on the team don’t look at Brad as someone who’s handicapped; they just think of him as a valuable player,” his coach emphasizes. “He’s the best kicker on the team. He had to compete with another very fine kicker for the position, and Brad just plain beat him out. He’s the best kicker I’ve had in my years of coaching. I’ve always made it clear to Brad that he’s got to make the team on his own. He’s not going to play just because he’s handicapped. He’s got to be the best, and he is the best.”

Brad’s head, which is capped by a crop of unashamedly red hair now subdued to a football crewcut, has undergone no noticeable swelling since the discovery of his talent. He regards the world rather philosophically from behind a disarming smile and modest sprinkling of freckles, and keeps his perspective. “A field goal is a team effort,” he says. “The center has got to deliver the ball right on target, the holder has got to put it down just so, and the line has got to hold, or I can’t do a thing.”

Brad has always been very active in the Church and is presently serving as a home teacher and as chairman of a stake youth conference. He feels that the gospel is an indispensable part of his life and finds his patriarchal blessing an especially valuable aid in decision making.

Brad’s seminary teacher is impressed by his thorough understanding of the gospel, and a priesthood leader says, “He is tremendously spiritually inclined. He’s a warmhearted and cordial individual, and everybody loves him. He’s everybody’s buddy. He’s a self-starting kid. When he sets his goals, he goes out and accomplishes them without a lot of pushing and encouragement from parents and leaders.”

In Brad’s wallet there is a folded and refolded sheet of paper, and on the paper are some of his goals. There is another list in his head, an ever-growing list of goals he hasn’t gotten around to putting on paper yet. Some of his unwritten goals reflect the exciting, stimulating dreams of a young man—goals of success and worldly accomplishments, goals of firsts and biggests and bests and adventures and wide horizons such as can make a young man’s eyes shine. Knowing Brad, it’s a fair bet that he’ll reach them. But the goals on the wrinkled piece of paper in his wallet are mostly of another sort. They’re mostly the calmer, deeper sort of goals that remind him of who and what he is and who and what he is to become. Some of them are—

  1. 1.

    Obey and reflect the teachings of the gospel.

    1. (a)

      Honor my priesthood.

    2. (b)

      Keep myself morally, physically, and mentally clean.

    3. (c)

      Obey the Word of Wisdom.

    4. (d)

      Be guided by my patriarchal blessing.

    5. (e)

      Sustain the prophet of the Lord and all my leaders.

    6. (f)

      Complete seminary graduation requirements.

  2. 2.

    Take out my endowments in the temple.

  3. 3.

    Go on a mission.

  4. 4.

    Marry a virtuous woman in the temple.

  5. 5.

    Give of myself—help others—value service.

  6. 6.

    Go through all the temples in Utah.

  7. 7.

    Take advantage of and appreciate all my blessings.

These aren’t unusual goals. Most of us probably have similar ones. But Brad puts them into his life with exceptional determination.

People who know Brad relate that he has a rare ability to see inside other people and understand their feelings. He works very hard at learning how to really listen to others instead of just hearing them.

Brad is a real champion of the underdog. “I know what it’s like,” he says. His desire to serve others is almost a passion. He has spent long hours in local hospitals helping amputees adjust to their new life with artificial limbs, comforting them and showing them that they can live normal lives.

Once when Brad was three, an eight-year-old who faced an amputation was brought to him for encouragement. Brad gave a virtuoso demonstration of his artificial limb’s versatility by climbing to the top of an upright piano and jumping off. Brad’s parents were horrified, but the successful outcome completely converted the young visitor.

Much later he met a Vietnam veteran who had lost a leg in combat. The man was discouraged and felt that he would never be able to walk normally. Brad says, “I showed him how and explained to him that it would be a while before he really could walk, but I told him he could do it if he really wanted to, because it starts in the mind. You can do whatever you want.” The man learned to walk.

When Brad was six he helped give a five-year-old girl with a congenital defect similar to his own the courage she needed to undergo an amputation so she could get an artificial limb and walk normally instead of having to hobble about with a lift and a brace.

On another occasion he helped a man who had lost part of his leg when he jumped from a 30-foot bridge while under the influence of drugs. “I talked to him and told him how it could be if he wanted it,” Brad recalls. “He listened to me and took it up.” And these are only a few of the many people whose lives Brad has touched.

Giving of himself is of overriding importance to Brad. He plans to spend his life in some career where he can help others, possibly social work or medicine. He has helped train student nurses at BYU in the care of amputees and has worked with rehabilitation at the Utah State Prison.

Brad took to Scouting with the same gusto as the other boys his age. Hiking, swimming, and other strenuous activities didn’t discourage him. He asked no special treatment in passing his Scouting tests, and he got none. A Scoutmaster recalls the astonishment of canoeing instructors at Bear Lake when Brad emerged from the water wearing his “fishing leg.” Some of the merit badges, Life Saving for example, were especially difficult, but they were goals, and they were met.

Brad’s leg has never been a source of embarrassment to himself or his family, so it has never been a source of embarrassment to others. There is something about Brad that makes it easier to envy him than to pity him. He was always expected to do his share of the work at home and to accomplish just as much outside the home as the other children. He was also allowed to take part in the rough and tumble play of the neighborhood boys the same as everyone else. His “handicap was simply never treated as a limiting factor.

In fact, it gave him a rather novel way of having fun. Throughout school he delighted in playing tricks on substitute teachers by such little devices as calmly turning his leg around backwards in class, or kicking it off entirely in the middle of a spirited game of playground ball. One little classmate was so impressed with the possibilities that he went home and tearfully demanded “a leg like Brad’s.”

An incident that took place one summer typifies Brad’s attitude. “I was at the swimming pool and had on my fishing leg, of course. A little boy saw it, and of course he pointed and said right out loud, ‘Look, Mommy! That guy’s leg!’ His mom was embarrassed. I walked over to her and said, ‘Don’t worry; you’ve got a good boy there; he’s observant. Don’t try to cover it up. I’m not.’”

Now is the time of year when most of us get out a clean sheet of paper and write down a list of new year’s resolutions we have absolutely no intention of keeping. We will find plenty of “handicaps” along the way to use as excuses for failure, and then next year we will still have the same unaccomplished goals to put down on another clean sheet of paper.

This year when we get ready to abandon the last resolution on the list, perhaps we should form a mental picture of a red-headed young man with freckles, in a green and white jersey, with absolutely no handicaps, lining up a field goal.

Maybe we can’t all kick a 49-yard field goal; our talents don’t all lie in the same areas. But we can do a lot more than we are doing, and there’s no better time to begin than right now at the beginning of a new year.

That’s part of Brad’s philosophy too. “What you do now—your habits, studies, morals, goals—it all adds up to what you’re going to be in the end.”

[photos] Photos by Eldon Linschoten