To say that BYU’s football program is unique would be a gross understatement. It is the only Division 1 School to have an Honor Code that requires students and football players to live by standards that most of the collegiate world would view as positively puritanical in today’s society, yet the system works remarkably well.
This weekend a crowd of over one thousand filled the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Bering Drive in Houston to hear and meet some thirty members of the BYU football team. BYU had come to play the University of Houston, marking the first-ever meeting of the two Cougar clubs.
An interview with BYU Head Football Coach Bronco Mendenhall shed further light on the uniqueness of the school’s programs.
Balance is important in the Mendenhall coaching style, for which he has borne criticism. #55, senior defensive tackle from Anchorage, Alaska Eathyn Manumaleuna said, “God comes first, family comes second, then school and then football. That is coach’s priorities too.”
According to Mendenhall “…all sports are for us to teach the most vital lessons about our Father in Heaven. The school in which I work represents my faith and football is not first in life and I don’t want it to be first in theirs yet I do want to win a national championship and I do want to show that you can have a completely balanced life through academics, through social conduct, through spirituality through service and be great at what you do.”
BYU currently has over 30,000 students and 98.7% are members of the sponsoring LDS Church, yet all who are enrolled, including the athletes, agree to keep the Honor Code. Mendenhall describing the code said, “we don’t think alcohol is good for you, we don’t believe that tobacco is good for you. We think the law of chastity and being moral in your relationship with young ladies is essential…and ask you to commit to no pre-marital sex while you’re here. There aren’t any drugs. We ask you to be honest. Hair, dress and grooming standards above the ear, off the collar, no ear rings (for men)”.
Concerning recruiting and the school’s honor code Mendenhall commented “…it’s the greatest thing we could ever have”. The coaches visit with prospects and explain the code and how they would be expected to conduct themselves “…and then we ask is this for you? We don’t try to convince or persuade and if it is, where else in the world can you get this”? The incoming freshman class has a 3.86 (GPA) and a 29 ACT and basically share the same values according to Mendenhall. He continues “It’s completely OK if people don’t want that but what I don’t want them to do is to come to BYU with this ‘I have to do this, I have to live this rule’. They’re designed to make the best version of you”.
Tyler Beck, #45 a senior inside linebacker talked about code. He said “it’s something that you sign up for and you like to have that integrity so that when you say you’re going to do something no matter what is, you just do it.” Beck took a two year hiatus from sports and school to go on an LDS Church Mission which he served in Houston. About 70 of the BYU football roster of 120 have similarly served 2 year LDS Church missions and many of them now speak foreign languages.
Manumaleuna is married with a 1year old, and currently in the middle of midterms. “The honor code has a huge impact. It promotes a healthy lifestyle that they want us to live by so we can reach our full potential to be successful in life. It is a grind each day to balance my life, so many things- it’s tough. That’s the challenge lots of people face. It has rewards. It’s worth living for,” said Manumaleuna.
“Any of us could live imperfectly at any time and you accept the visibility that comes with that”, according to Mendenhall. “When they make mistakes they are noticed by the world and are written about which is unfortunate, yet by how they handle those they can instruct and inspire others…in what we call falling forward, meaning that sometimes by falling you can move forward at a level and to a place that you could have never gone before without it...”.
Not being in a conference for football has allowed BYU to play in front of more people in different places and different venues. “Out of 125+ Division I programs, only 8 have been seen more by national audiences…If you include BYU TV, no one has been seen more in the world than BYU,” said Mendenhall.
Saturday’s game was epic. The four hour and seven minute marathon was played in the NFL Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans. Several records were set including most offensive plays and most first downs in a game in BYU Cougar history. In the end BYU outlasted the previously undefeated University of Houston Cougars by a score of 47 to 46.
Mendenhall said, “…the intent that I hold myself to is winning a national championship. I don’t want anything less than that. And that is to substantiate to the world the other values and hierarchies. Winning adds credibility.”