A former Cougar quarterback and Utah safety are among many Mormon NFL players who have something to prove this season.
Mormon Times counts 32 players on active NFL rosters who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with seven more on practice squads.
New to the list this year is Max Hall, who went undrafted last April. Hall recently silenced his critics by not only making the Arizona Cardinals’ roster, but landing the backup quarterback spot. He impressed the coaching staff so much they released former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart.
On the final day of cuts, players loitered around the practice facility awaiting their fate. If not cut before a mid-day meeting, they had made the roster. Hall’s reaction to making the team was one of elation. Then he found out he would be No. 2 on the depth chart.
“They were impressed with everything and said to keep working hard,” Hall said. “Needless to say I was pretty excited.”
Finding success with the Cardinals was a combination of preparation, hard work and getting an opportunity to show what he could do, Hall said. “I knew I was going into a tough situation being an undrafted free agent, but I think the coaches were very fair, they gave me opportunities. I worked extremely hard and tried to take advantage of those opportunities,” Hall said. “A couple of things went my way. It ended up the coaches trusted me enough to be the No. 2 quarterback.”
Being undrafted and undersized were large obstacles for the 6-foot-1 signal-caller. He said his years at BYU and the coaching staff, especially quarterback coach Brandon Doman, prepared him well for the pros.
“There is no professional team in Utah, so the BYU quarterback really is treated like a professional quarterback as far as media and fan attention.
\"The offense we ran puts a lot on the shoulders of the quarterback and gives you the freedom to make checks and do things. I had to be a student of the game,” Hall said. “I am still not perfect, I am still working on it, but I give a lot of credit to Doman and how he prepared me.”
A year removed from throwing passes in Provo, Hall is now throwing bullets to veteran receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet. He could get used to this.
When asked if he had anything else to say to the people of Utah, there was an awkward silence, and then Hall chuckled.
The reporter, realizing what had been said, then clarified “the state of Utah, not the university.”
Hall laughed again. (Although the quarterback apologized; he will always be remembered for comments he made toward Utah and its fans after his final home game.)
“I miss being in the state and around the guys at BYU,\" he said. \"BYU will always have special memories. But I am excited about our team and for what can happen. I am excited to be in the spot I am, working hard, doing what I can to help the Cardinals.”
After swallowing a bitter playoff loss to the New York Jets last January, Eric Weddle, a former Utah all-American, vowed to do more individually during the offseason to help his team reach the Super Bowl.
“My team needs me to become an elite player,” said the San Diego free safety. “For myself and for the team, I needed to do more than I have in the past. By doing the little things better I plan to take things to the next level.”
So instead of waiting for workouts in April, Weddle started in March. He made time for workouts while on vacation. The 20-week NFL season is a long grinding journey, Weddle said, and those who are in the best physical and mental shape stay healthy and win in the playoffs.
Anticipation for the first game has butterflies fluttering in the stomach of the 5-foot-11 defensive back.
“The emotion, the passion, the love, it’s all out there in each game you play,” Weddle said. “For all the hours and hours you put in per week, you get to play for a total of about 25 minutes, and you have to play each down like it’s the last of life because you never know when it will be taken away. It’s how I live my life.”
The Chargers open the season tonight at Kansas City.
As the season gets under way, three factors are already affecting Weddle in various ways. First, he misses his family. The demands of an NFL player’s schedule don’t allow for a lot of time at home, which he knows will wear on his wife, Chanel. From August to January, Mrs. Weddle will virtually be a single parent.
“She is a warrior,” Weddle said. “I couldn’t do it, but it’s part of the deal. She does an amazing job.”
Second, the former Ute captain is in the final year of his current contract. What the Chargers’ organization decides is out of Weddle’s hands, but he doesn’t want to leave any doubts about his effort.
“Let the chips fall where they may, but it’s not really worth worrying about,\" Weddle said. \"Whether or not they want me back, I am going to play the best I can to help my team win.\"
Third, team chemistry, at least in the San Diego defensive secondary, is much improved since the departure of former cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
“We got into it a couple of times. His personality and mine didn’t go well together,” Weddle said. “It’s been great to go to work each day with the group we have now.”
Mormons in the NFL
C.J. Ah You, DL, Rams, Oklahoma
John Beck, QB, Redskins, BYU
Austin Collie, WR, Colts, BYU
Chris Cooley, TE, Redskins, Utah State
Stewart Bradley, LB, Eagles, Nebraska
John Denney, LS, Dolphins, BYU
Jonathan Fanene, DL, Bengals, Utah
*David Hale, OL, Ravens, Weber State
Max Hall, QB, Cardinals, BYU
Todd Heap, TE, Ravens, Arizona State
Eric Heitmann, OL, 49ers, Stanford
Chris Hoke, DL, Steelers, BYU
Bryan Kehl, LB, Giants, BYU
Brett Keisel, DL, Steelers, BYU
Maake Kemoeatu, DL, Redskins, Utah
Paul Kruger, DL, Ravens, Utah
Spencer Larsen, FB, Broncos, Arizona
Deuce Lutui, OL, Cardinals, Southern California
*Marcus Mailei, FB, Saints, Weber State
Brandon Manumaleuna, TE, Bears, Arizona
Fili Moala, DL, Colts, Southern California
Tony Moeaki, TE, Chiefs, Iowa
Haloti Ngata, DL, Ravens, Oregon
David Nixon, LB, Texans, BYU
Dennis Pitta, TE, Ravens, BYU
Brady Poppinga, LB, Packers, BYU
Sione Pouha, DT, Jets, Utah
Derek Schouman, TE, Bills, Boise State
Naufahu Tahi, FB, Vikings, BYU
*Harvey Unga, RB, Bears, BYU
*Fui Vakapuna, RB, Bengals, BYU
Eric Weddle, DB, Chargers, Utah
Practice squad players
Dallas Reynolds, C, Eagles, BYU
Tim Toone, WR, Lions, Weber State
Travis Bright, OL, Cowboys, BYU
Manase Tonga, RB, Raiders, BYU
J.D. Folsom, LB, Bears, Weber State
Shawn Murphy, OL, Panthers, Utah State
Garrett Mills, TE, Eagles, Tulsa