Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
PROVO — In the six-plus years since her husband took the reins of the BYU football program, Holly Mendenhall admits she's changed.
And she's much more comfortable in her role.
In December 2004, when Bronco Mendenhall was promoted from defensive coordinator on the heels of three consecutive losing seasons, Holly didn't know what to expect from the journey on which her family was about to embark.
"At first, I wanted to try to do everything, and I realized that I couldn't," she told the Deseret News. "Now I feel a lot more seasoned. I'm still amazed at the interest in BYU football and the level of interest in Bronco."
BYU fell to Boston College, 20-3, in Bronco's head coach debut in September 2005, which included his questionable decision to punt late in the game that was met with some boos at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"After that first game when people booed him, I remember thinking, 'What have we gotten ourselves into? Where do we go from here?' I didn't have a clue."
As a wife, mother and First Lady of Cougar Football, Holly Mendenhall has put her signature on the program and found ways to make an impact on the community over the years in quiet, behind-the-scenes ways.
In 2010, the Mendenhalls started the Fully Invested Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides inspiration, resources and hope to children and families facing significant life challenges.
The Fully Invested Foundation is sponsoring the Cowboy Ball, to be held in a barn in Wallsburg, Utah, on May 21. (Tickets for the fund-raising event are $100 per person and available for purchase at www.broncomendenhall.com/cowboyball.)
Proceeds from the event — which features dinner, dancing, live music, a silent and live auction, and even a mechanical bull — go to the Thursday's Heroes Program. Every Thursday during the season and in spring practices, the football team honors and lends support to an individual or a family coping with major trials.
"I love the Thursday's Heroes program," Holly said. "It's been a real highlight for Bronco as well."
Putting on a Cowboy Ball is something she hopes will become an annual tradition.
"I'm from Montana. Some friends from up there have done a Cowboy Ball. I always said to Bronco when we first got married that I would love to do a Cowboy Ball if we ever get to the point that we started a foundation. We believe it's important to give back. I've been really passionate about this for a long time. I've kind of had to get Bronco to see my vision, but he's latched onto it as well. Football is so time-consuming. He was like, 'When can I do that?' Now that our youngest child is a second-grader, I have time now to devote to something like this. I'm having a great time doing it."
Though she's involved with worthy causes, Holly's top priority remains centered around her three sons — Cutter, age 11; Breaker, 10; and Raeder, 8. In fact, much of the motivation behind reaching out to others is because of her boys.
"We wanted to do it to teach our children about service, about giving back and letting them be involved," she said. "We would like to do things that are age appropriate for them and help them learn about service. That's kind of the big picture. I really don't do a lot because the boys are so busy. Because Bronco is gone so much, if I were gone all the time as well nobody would be here for them. I want them to know I'm here for them always. That's been my approach. Our boys come first. Our time with them is so short, I want to be there for everything."
In addition to her efforts with the foundation, Holly speaks at the team's pregame firesides.
With the demands and time commitments placed on Bronco, the Mendenhalls have found ways to spend time together as a family. They take their sons to many of the road games and the boys also hang out with BYU players.
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