Darrell Bevell had a decision to make. It wasn’t an easy one.
Growing up as the son of a football coach, Darrell had always enjoyed sports, whether it was basketball, baseball, or football. If his parents wanted to keep him happy, they put a ball in his hand. Consequently, whatever sport was in season Darrell was playing it. Big ball in the winter, small ball in the spring, oval ball in the fall. He was a good basketball and baseball player, but it was football where he really excelled. And as a quarterback it had always been Darrell’s goal to earn a football scholarship to a major college.
“I had been recruited by Arizona State, Washington, New Mexico, BYU, Utah, and Wyoming. Most of the big schools in the West were interested in me,” says Darrell. “I had a really good junior year and played well in the first two games of my senior season when I broke a finger on my throwing hand. I missed the rest of the season, and most of the teams that were recruiting me backed off because of the injury.”
Darrell eventually signed to play football at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. It wasn’t exactly a big-time college football program as had been his plan, but school would be paid for and he was going to play college football.
“When I signed for that scholarship to play football, that was my dream. That’s what I always wanted to do. Right then I said, ‘Nope. I’m not going on a mission.’ I didn’t stop and really think about it because I got caught up in the excitement and everything.” That was the spring of 1988.
After signing with Northern Arizona, Darrell headed north from his home in Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix, to Flagstaff for two-a-day football practices in August. All he had on his mind was football. The mission thing had been decided, he thought.
“During those summer practices, I had been playing pretty well,” Darrell recalls. “But for some odd reason, right before the season started, it popped into my head, ‘Go on a mission.’ I knew I was about ready to turn 19, and I was still going to church every Sunday. But I again said, ‘Nope. I’m not going on a mission.’”
And that’s when an amazing turn of events took place. Almost immediately after deciding for the second time he wouldn’t go on a mission, Darrell began struggling on the field. “It was really amazing. A guy would go out for a short pattern and I’d throw the ball at his feet,” Darrell says. “So I called my dad and told him how this dang mission kept popping into my head and that I was starting to play terrible.”
Darrell’s father, Jim, told him to think about a mission and then pray about what he should do. “I did that, but I told the Lord in my prayer that I couldn’t quit the team because the season had already begun. I did promise the Lord that as soon as the season was over I’d begin thinking about a mission,” he recalls.
There was only one problem with that plan. When the season ended, Darrell didn’t think about a mission again. He had redshirted during his freshman season, so even though he was a sophomore in school, he was still only a freshman in football eligibility. And when the Lumberjacks’s starting quarterback the previous two years went down with an injury in spring practice, Darrell emerged as the number one quarterback. His dream had finally come true. He was going to be the starting quarterback for Northern Arizona University.
“After everything had been decided and I had talked to the coaches about being the starter, boom, going on a mission popped right back into my head,” says Darrell. “It had been a long time since I’d even thought about going on a mission, so I started praying about it. I kept praying and praying until I finally knew a mission is what I needed to do. I already knew the Church was true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I just decided I should go on a mission too.”
Now he had a problem of a different sort. For two years, Darrell had been concentrating on football and telling everybody he wasn’t going on a mission. Now that he had decided to serve the Lord, he had to tell his coach he wouldn’t be his quarterback. Driving to Flagstaff with his father to break the news to the coaching staff, Darrell had a good case of butterflies in his stomach. “When I got to his office, I was really nervous,” he says.
After the quarterback and the coach shook hands, Darrell said, “Coach, I’m going to go on a mission for my church. I’m not going to come back next season.”
Obviously, finding out your starting quarterback is leaving the team for two years isn’t the kind of news that helps a coach sleep well at night. After hearing Darrell’s decision, he began trying to dissuade him. Darrell listened as his coach told him how football players who go on missions lose their drive to play after they return home, and how he was throwing away a chance at stardom. “I was believing a lot of what he was saying. But I’ve always been the kind of person who makes a decision then sticks to it. That’s something I’ve always tried to do. Since I’d already made my decision to go, it wasn’t that hard, regardless of what the coach was saying.”
So long, Flagstaff, Arizona. Hello, Cleveland Ohio Mission.
“I had a great experience, and I loved my mission. The work was really going well there, and we had a lot of good missionaries,” Darrell says. “Of course, I wanted to play football after my mission, but I figured the Lord would take care of that. I had always wanted to play football, and somehow I knew it was going to work out.”
When Darrell’s mission was almost complete, he began thinking more and more about football. He knew the coaching staff at Northern Arizona had been fired, so he was an unknown commodity to the new coaching staff there. The great mystery in Darrell Bevell’s life was where he was going to go to college. Would he ever get to stand on the field and throw balls to open receivers? Would anybody offer him a scholarship?
One of his assistant coaches at Northern Arizona had taken a job as an assistant at the University of Wisconsin, and he remembered Darrell. In need of another quarterback in the program, the assistant got in contact with Darrell’s dad and asked if he thought his son would be interested in playing football in Wisconsin. Considering Wisconsin competes in one of the country’s top football conferences, and that it plays its home games in a 75,000-seat stadium, Darrell’s dad figured he might be able to persuade his son to check out the school.
After he finished his mission in October of 1991, Darrell made his recruiting trip to the University of Wisconsin and became convinced that was the place for him. “I basically decided then that I wanted to go there,” he says. He sat out the entire 1991 season and got ready for 1992.
During his freshman season of 1992, Darrell broke into the starting lineup in Wisconsin’s second game against Bowling Green State, and helped engineer a win over then number-12 ranked Ohio State in the Badgers’s fourth game. What made that victory all the better is that it was televised nationally by ESPN. Needless to say, a lot of people in Scottsdale, as well as those who knew him as Elder Bevell in Ohio, were crowded around their television sets. A shoulder injury hampered his play the remainder of the season, but he still completed 51 percent of his passes and threw for eight touchdowns. The future is extremely bright for Darrell as he prepares for his sophomore season. And the missionary work continues.
“It seems like every time an article is written about me, the first thing it says is my name and that I’m a member of the Church or that I’m a returned missionary,” he adds. “If I were at BYU, nobody would have cared. It would have been the same old story. But here at Wisconsin, not that many people know about the Church so it’s a bigger deal.”
A big deal just like Wisconsin’s victory over Ohio State. However, Darrell still knows that was just one game, and winning football games isn’t the most important thing in his life. “Beating Ohio State on national television was nice, but how long does that last?” he asks. “Seeing someone going into the waters of baptism is so great. I remember I was able to baptize a woman the day before I went home from my mission. I know that ordinance is something that is going to last forever. It’s something I’ll always remember. I don’t think that when we get into the afterlife someone’s going to say, ‘How about that one drive against Ohio State when you were five for five and you were able to pull it out on national television?’ But I might see that woman I baptized and have her come up to me and give me a big hug and say thank you very much.”
Maybe it’s a little strange to Wisconsin football fans that while most 23-year-olds have already graduated from college, Darrell Bevell is only a sophomore. Maybe Darrell’s teammates can’t understand why he would take two years off from football, not make a cent on his mission, and not be able to go to movies, watch TV, or date while he was a missionary. Maybe they never will understand. But Darrell does. In his life, he’s glad his job on the football field didn’t interfere with his call to the mission field.