Tom Smart, Deseret News
PROVO — Life isn't easy for a walk-on at a Division I football program. It takes determination, work and sacrifice to not only make it on the roster, but to contribute to the team during game situations.
That's why, in part, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall loves them so much.
He enjoys rewarding them for their hard work. For him, it's what college football is all about — or at least should be about.
The Monday before the New Mexico State game, Mendenhall had an opportunity to reward JD Falslev with a scholarship. As BYU's head coach, he often takes a no-nonsense, even a dour demeanor, but on this particular occasion he was obviously a bit more chipper.
"He took me aside and started grilling me, but I could tell that something good was coming," said Falslev. "He was in a good mood and excited, so he goes on and asks me when my birthday was, so I tell him that it's in April and he tells me that he has an early birthday present for me."
That birthday present was a scholarship that will begin in January. For Falslev and his family it's a dream come true.
Falslev, who hails from Cache Valley, turned down scholarship opportunities so he could walk on at BYU. A big reason as to why he decided on BYU was because of Mendenhall's track record with walk-ons.
"He treats walk-ons a lot better than most coaches," said Falslev. "At some schools, walk-ons just hold the yard markers during practice and really aren't treated like they're important, but that definitely isn't the case at BYU. My dad knew that, and for that reason he encouraged me to come here."
Falslev's family was willing to sacrifice some of its own time and work for him to make it at BYU. Everyone, from his parents to his sister, have made sacrifices of their time and resources for him to have the opportunity to play.
For that reason, he was completely thrilled to share the good news.
"I just thought about driving home, showing up and surprising them and how excited they'd be," said Falslev. "It's something we've worked hard for — everybody — not just me, but it's not something we were really expecting either. It's great knowing that I'll have an extra bit of money to help out every month — really great."
Falslev has definitely earned his spot at BYU as not only a receiver in the regular rotation, but as a punt returner. It's a role that he relishes.
"It's something that I became used to and yeah, it takes a different type of mentality to return punts," he said. "Some guys don't like having all the guys flying at you at once, but I like it and I've really grown to like it and hopefully I can continue to do a good job there."
Falslev hasn't just had the support of his family, as others have contributed mightily to his success at BYU. Most notable among those players is former BYU running back Harvey Unga.
At the time of his arrival into BYU's program, no player was perhaps bigger than Unga. He was on the cusp of breaking BYU rushing records, was the focal point of the BYU offense, and had been a full-ride scholarship player since arriving at BYU.
But with Mendenhall taking the lead — Unga was disposed to treat Falslev like an equal.
"Harvey was assigned as my big brother with the big brother program Bronco has here, and he couldn't have been more helpful to me," said Falslev. "We hung out a lot and really became good friends. He'd talk about all the injuries he'd had and tell me of how much he had to go through to get where he was, and it really humbled me and inspired me.
"He still calls me and texts me after games or during other times and I think that means more to me than he even knows. I look up to him a ton and there are things that he's had to learn from and things he's gone through that have really pointed me in the right direction."
Now that he'll be on full scholarship, like Unga, Falslev aims to not change all that much.
"I know how I earned my scholarship, so I won't change my approach to anything that I do," he said. "All that will change is that I'll have that extra bit of money at the start of each month — that hit me about a few days after coach Mendenhall told me that I'd be on scholarship. It's obviously a great thing for me, but it's also a great thing for my family and everyone that has helped get me to where I'm at. I'm probably more excited for them than I am for anyone."
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