Returned missionaries prepare for college football season

Published: Thursday, Aug. 25 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Will Hopoate, a rugby star in Australia, is planning to depart on an LDS mission in the coming months.

Sydney Morning Herald

As a Mormon missionary, Hamani Stevens didn't know much about the BCS national championship game — despite being part of the Oregon football program.

Stevens recently returned from serving the last two years in the Philippines. According to the Oregonian, the 6-3, 300-pound offensive lineman was so busy teaching the gospel and serving others that he didn’t know until months later that the Ducks lost to the Auburn Tigers in the BCS national championship.

“My parents would always tell me, 'Yeah, your team won this weekend but not much else,'" Stevens told reporter Lindsay Schnell. "They know how much I love football and how much I would have loved to be playing in the Rose Bowl, playing in the national-title game, but I think they were trying to keep me focused on my mission."

Stevens, a native of Hemet, Calif., is competing with redshirt freshman Hroniss Grasu and sophomore Karrington Armstrong for the starting spot at center. Oregon coach Chip Kelly said Stevens has been impressive in camp.

“He’s obviously had two years off and that’s something, but he’s doing a real nice job.”

Stevens is one of several returned missionaries preparing to play football at schools outside of Utah.

Drew Reilly is a 21-year-old true freshman at Colorado State University. He enrolled in classes last January after serving an LDS mission in the Laredo-Brownsville area of Texas. Reilly, whose brother Trevor is a sophomore linebacker at the University of Utah, hopes to earn playing time at safety this season.

After six months of training and exercise, Reilly’s football instincts are starting to return.

"All through camp, even just moving to safety, I really focused on learning the reads and just learning the defense," Reilly told Mike Brohar of the Denver Post. “Today I just felt like it was second nature, so I could play.”

William Vea is a redshirt freshman at UNLV who recently talked with the Las Vegas Review-Journal about his mission in the Bahamas. Vea, a 22-year-old fullback, served in Kingston, Jamaica, from 2007-09.

The 6-foot, 220-pound native of Pago Pago is competing for the Rebels’ starting fullback position.

While Vea, Stevens and Reilly prepare to play football this fall, a professional rugby star in Australia is preparing to leave on his mission in the coming months. Will Hopoate will leave millions of dollars when he departs.

“The 19-year-old justifies his decision with one simple sentence — ‘Two years of service for an eternity of blessings,’” wrote Jon Tuxworth of the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Sounds like a pretty good deal to me,” Hopoate said.

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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