03449_000_007BYU’s football program is becoming famous for its great quarterback … and its returned missionaries.
It’s the same basic story, told four times.
The high school hero, star quarterback of the team, achieves his lifelong dream of playing college football. There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of competition, a real concern about total concentration and dedication to the sport.
Then the decision is made to lay football aside for two years, regardless of the consequences, and serve the Lord instead.
Some people might consider the two goals incompatible. But according to the top four quarterbacks at BYU, those people would be wrong.
“There is absolutely no reason you can’t do both,” Steve Lindsley said. “It’s hard. But you can do it. Actually, around here it’s becoming the norm.”
Lindsley was an all-state quarterback at Skyline High School in Salt Lake City, where he led his team to the state 4-A championship. As a freshman in 1980, he led Ricks College of Rexburg, Idaho, to its first conference championship in a decade. Then he left for the California Anaheim Mission.
Mike Young had big football shoes to fill. His father, LeGrande, led BYU in rushing and total offense in 1959. His brother Steve, a former BYU All-American, is now quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mike did well in high school, leading his Greenwich (Connecticut) High School team to a state championship. He was named athlete of the year and set school records in pass completions and passing yardage. He was a junior varsity quarterback at BYU in 1982, then spent 1983–84 in the Honduras Tegucigalpa Mission.
Bob Jensen was all-state in basketball and won awards in track as well as football at 2-A Millard High School in Fillmore, Utah. His strong arm attracted the attention of college football scouts, and he had a successful freshman year at BYU before accepting a call in 1983 to the Colorado Denver Mission.
Sean Covey played high school ball in Provo, Utah, and set records for most passing yards in a single game, season, and career, and for most touchdowns in a season and career. He was named 3-A most valuable player and first-team all-state as a junior and senior. In 1983, playing for BYU’s junior varsity, he completed 135 of 241 passes for 1,537 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was called to the Johannesburg South Africa Mission in 1984, then served in Cape Town when the mission was divided.
The New Era interviewed all four quarterbacks. Here are their feelings about missions and football.
While you were growing up, what were your feelings about serving a mission? How did you come to the decision to go?
Covey: I was born in the mission field, in Ireland while my father was a mission president. So I guess I was born a missionary. I turned 19 after my first semester at BYU, and that was when the decision became final. It wasn’t even a question for me because I’d decided ever since I can remember that I was going to go on a mission.
Jensen: I guess going on a mission is something you always have in the back of your mind, but I hadn’t made the commitment as early as I should have. Then when I started having a lot of success in sports, I wondered if I couldn’t motivate people with that example instead. I remember sitting down with Coach (LaVell) Edwards. The things he said had a great influence. He said that if I was thinking about a mission I should go and that he would support my decision. I remember talking to my dad and my old high school coach and some of those people that had been an influence on me. I decided that a mission would really help me in a lot of ways.
Lindsley: My dad would often speak of his mission in Virginia and North and South Carolina, how he loved the people. Some of them would come and visit and stay in our home. It made a big impression on me to see the love they had for him. And my brother Jim had been on a mission, and he absolutely loved it.
There was a lot of respect paid to missions and missionaries in my home. It was kind of a sacred thing. It wasn’t a question of if I would serve a mission, it was a question of when.
Young: As I grew up in the Church, people would always say, “Hey, Mike, are you going on a mission?” and I’d say yeah, just to avoid the conversation. But I never really decided I was going. I came to school here saying, well, maybe next summer I’ll think about it.
It was kind of a crazy thing. All of a sudden it started weighing on my mind. It’s almost like something else took control. By the end of October my papers were in, and I was in the MTC in December. No one pressured me. I just felt like it was something I had to do, so I did it.
What was your initial reaction to the mission field?
Lindsley: When I first got my call, I was talking to a teammate who had served his mission there, and he told me the mission was great but that there was one area that was bad—it was an inland area with smog, lots of people, and a high crime rate. It was a tough place to serve. I couldn’t believe it when my mission president told me that would be my first area. But it ended up being one of the highlights of my mission.
Young: On one of my first few days in Honduras, I remember I woke up and I said, “Oh man, what did you do? You threw your life away, that’s what!” But as I got out in the field and started working, seeing myself progressing and leaving the world behind, the question never came to my mind anymore. I knew I was doing something that was really meaningful.
What outstanding experiences do you remember from your mission?
Young: I could go on for an hour if you want. At the beginning of my mission, I remember praying and praying that I would feel like I was doing something worthwhile. After about two weeks, we started teaching a little family out in a village. Most of the conversation was going right by me, because I was just starting to get hold of the language. The mother started crying, and my companion asked her what was wrong. She wanted to explain that she’d had a dream. In the dream she had seen a great white building. Down in Honduras there aren’t too many of those. People were dressed in white and they were going in and out of this beautiful building. Then she said, “Outside that building, waiting to take us in, was Elder Young.”
I realized she was talking about the temple, even though she didn’t know it. And I said, “Look what I’m involved with, helping people to be eternal families.” And it happened. The family was baptized a couple of weeks later and I got a letter last summer telling me they were sealed in the Guatemala Temple.
That’s something more important than any football success I might have. That’s something I can say for myself later, that I was involved in something like that.
Lindsley: In the apartment complex where we lived, there was a military man and his wife. Often in the evening we would sit out on the patio and talk with him about the Church. We ended up baptizing both him and his wife, people who lived right next to us. He gave up a ten-year-old smoking habit in three days thanks to a priesthood blessing. He quit and never picked it up again.
In another area, my companion and I had just finished teaching and had ten minutes before a dinner appointment. Rather than wasting time we knocked on some doors, and one family let us right in. They had just returned from visiting a ranch in Arizona that was run by an LDS family. They had been impressed by how clean and well run it was.
We started the lessons and ended up baptizing the whole family, mom and dad and two kids. They got right in and became involved with the ward. They brought several of their friends into the Church, and both of the children are now at BYU. One’s leaving on a mission soon.
They’ve come and visited our home a couple of times, and now I know why my father felt so good when people from his mission came to see him.
Jensen: In Laramie, Wyoming, I was only there for four weeks, but we helped a man. He was a chain smoker. He was opposed to the Church. His wife was a member but hadn’t attended meetings in years.
But they had a young boy who was active in Scouts, and the other boys in the troop kept asking him why he’d never been baptized. He told his mom, “I want to be baptized.” It was the first time the father and mother were able to seriously discuss religion. He didn’t like the hypocrisy he’d seen. He said, “If a church believes in the two great commandments, to love the Lord and your neighbor, if they believe that and live it, then that’s the church I want to be part of.”
So they went to their boy’s baptism a week later, and as they walked in, written on the chalkboard was the scripture, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
“This is the first and great commandment.
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:37–39).
He said, “I can’t believe this. Somebody’s trying to tell me something.” The speaker spoke on the same subject. The congregation sang a hymn on the same subject. Needless to say, he went home feeling good.
He started reading the Book of Mormon, and apparently he had a spiritual experience. He says one night he fell asleep one man, and woke up another. He hasn’t smoked since. Tears would stream down his face as we taught him. In one month he was baptized. Two months later he was made Sunday School president. Then he was made an elder, then called into the elders quorum presidency. Now the whole family has been sealed in the temple. The gospel changed his whole life.
Covey: I was in one Afrikaans area for a long time, an area I had heard was “tracted out.” I was with a South African companion when we knocked on the door of this lady whose husband had died just a few days before. She was very religious; in fact she was baking a cake for a bazaar in her church. After one month she and her daughter were baptized, and a few months later she was called to be the Relief Society president. She helped bring many people into the Church. All in an area that was supposedly “tracted out.”
What about exercise while you’re in the mission field, and getting back in shape when you get home?
Young: Exercise not only helped me out for after my mission, but while I was there it would get me going for the day. I couldn’t go running for miles, because you have to stay with your companion. So I’d have him sit out on the front step while I ran about 20 times up and down the street. Some companions would join in. One was a baseball player. He enjoyed it. It was a chance to do something with your companion after you’d been out teaching all day.
Jensen: While I was out on my mission Coach Edwards spoke in general priesthood meeting. He said that if a guy is a good athlete before he goes on his mission that he’ll probably be good when he gets back, and if he’s not then he probably won’t. But by going on a mission you gain a greater understanding of yourself and what it takes to be successful.
Covey: Of course, once you’re out in the mission field, your body starts falling apart and you wonder a little bit. I went out with the attitude that I wanted to stay in shape, but I didn’t want to compromise my mission. Getting back in shape took longer than I thought. I said, seriously, “Well, I have two months before spring ball. That’s enough time to get in shape.” But it took me six months.
Lindsley: I withered away to nothing, physically. The first time back in the weight room was quite an experience.
What things did you learn as a missionary that have helped you in sports?
Lindsley: I think that the biggest thing I learned on my mission was that you can really be happy when you’re unselfish. The times when I spent 20 minutes on my knees before I went to bed, and then when I got in bed I realized that I hadn’t mentioned myself once—those were wonderful.
Another thing you learn is persistence. You’re rejected a much bigger part of the time than you’re accepted. I believed in an ultimate goal, but I had to wade through the rejection.
Young: It’s been a completely positive experience in every aspect of my life. In terms of football, it gave me some time to mature physically. It also taught me a lot about leadership skills when I had to guide and direct other missionaries. That’s an awesome responsibility.
If you had to choose, would you choose a mission over football?
Covey: I’m not sure that’s a fair question. I think you can do both. Even in sports such as tennis, gymnastics, or golf, I think you can come back if you really desire it. I feel more motivation now to succeed in football than I did before my mission.
Lindsley: You can do both. You’ve got to want it, but you can do both.
Jensen: If you had asked me before I left, I probably would have chosen football. If you ask me now, I would choose a mission. It’s more important.
Young: I would choose a mission because it brings many more long-lasting effects, important things that sometimes football doesn’t bring about.
What’s the relationship between you four as quarterbacks?
Young: I think that had we not been the kind of people that we are, having gone on missions, the competition could have been more vicious. But we got along very well, because we were able to put it in perspective and say, “Hey, this is football. It’s not worth losing friendships over.”
Lindsley: The pressure was intense, because we were battling for the position. But it was healthy because it was clean. There wasn’t a lot of gossip or backstabbing. I really don’t think that every time I’d step back to throw the ball Mike was thinking, “I hope he’ll throw an interception.” It was a mature relationship, and it was livable because of that.
What advice would you give to youth about serving a mission?
Covey: I think everybody should go. Not only has the prophet asked us to, but I think there is a lot of good you can do for other people, and in the long run for yourself as well. It gives you a basic, solid background for life which is hard to acquire in other ways.
Young: Seminary was the best preparation I had, spiritually and scripturally. Seminary was a great experience for me. It’s a great opportunity that most kids in this world don’t have. I was the only Mormon in my high school other than my sister Melissa. I remember looking out at this big room full of 2,000 students one morning after seminary and wondering why I was the only one that got that opportunity. Be appreciative of the opportunities you have.
Jensen: By going on a mission you gain a greater understanding of yourself. I’m really grateful that I decided to go. In my patriarchal blessing it reminds me to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and then I’ll be blessed.
Lindsley: First of all, I would encourage the young men to remember they must go because it’s an obligation. But second of all, I would let them know that a mission can be a great asset in whatever else they plan to do. To be a strong member of the Church and believe in God and really believe in the plan of salvation, then you’ve got to go on a mission. It’s a blessing to be in a position where you lay down your life, so to speak, and devote all your time and everything you have to a good cause.
Young: Decide now. If you’re a deacon, decide now. If you’re a teacher, decide now that you’re going to go on a mission. It kind of scares me to think that I hadn’t really decided. I was lucky I ended up going. I can see how guys turn 19 and there’s a lot going on in their lives right then, so they think they don’t want to go. It’s easier to decide when you’re younger and say, “I’m going.” Then when you turn 19, there’s no question.