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Mormons in sports: a quarterback's redemption and tales of Yale

Published: Saturday, Sept. 17 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Todd Mortensen sailed from discouraged BYU backup QB to being on the NFL radar in one year with University of San Diego coach Jim Harbaugh in 2004.

San Francisco Chronicle

Does anyone remember a BYU quarterback named Todd Mortensen?

In the summer of 2004, an emotional Mortensen told the Cougars’ then-coach Gary Crowton and his teammates that he was transferring to the University of San Diego to play his senior year for the Division I-AA Toreros under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. The Tempe, Ariz., native was a back up for three years, played in 14 games and completed 27 passes for 217 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.

“Todd really wasn’t looking to leave,” his wife Lori told BYU’s student newspaper in at the time. “This just turned out to be a custom-made opportunity for us. You can imagine how difficult this was, but he just wants the opportunity to play on Saturdays.”

Thus ended the hopes and dreams of another Cougar quarterback, right?

BYU fans might be interested to know what became of Mortensen, a straight-A student, recipient of the prestigious Gordon B. Hinckley Scholarship and accomplished pianist and composer. (Mortensen also served an LDS mission to Caracas, Venezuela.)

In a Sept. 11 article published by the San Francisco Chronicle, reporter Eric Branch details how Mortensen, “after one season with Harbaugh, sailed from the scrap heap onto the NFL radar.” He eventually signed free-agent contracts with the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots and later had stints in NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League.

Mortensen always knew he had the talent and grit to play quarterback at a high level.

“I felt like I had a lot of ability and a lot to contribute,” Mortensen told Branch. “But it just felt like the system and the way things were going, it just wasn’t clicking.”

The article goes on to talk about how Harbaugh tapped into Mortensen’s intelligence to find success and now hopes to do the same with San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith.

Toone’s take: I offer major kudos to Mortensen for having the courage to leave BYU and chase his dream. Perhaps we could learn a lot from this inspirational story. Too often people want to do more with their lives, but are afraid or unwilling to leave their comfort zone, routine, current miserable job, etc. More of us could be like Mortensen and take a leap of faith once in a while. Perhaps we are more capable of greatness than we realize.

The Mormon bulldog

There was another great story about a Mormon football player in the Sept. 14 edition of the Yale Daily News. The article, written by Max de La Bruyere, features the unique story of Austin Pulsipher, a returned missionary and the only married player on the Yale football team.

Pulsipher, 23, is a 6-foot-2, 230-pound defensive end from Temecula, Calif. According to the senior’s bio, his father Allen played football at BYU and his uncle, Daniel Pulsipher, was a kicker at Utah. His brother, Andrew, is a quarterback at BYU this fall.

The article tells about Pulispher’s mission to Taiwan and learning the Chinese language, the events leading up to his marriage to Laura Clayton and how he balances his life with college football. Aside from good-natured comments, Pulsipher says his religion isn’t an issue with teammates. La Bruyere writes Pulsipher is “an exception among college football players, who are often known for drinking and partying, because, according to his Mormon beliefs, he avoids alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. But he said he has never felt limited by those religious restrictions.”

“It just means I have to be more creative with my weekend nights,” Pulsipher said.

Pulsipher and the Bulldogs open their season Saturday against Georgetown.

Trent Toone blogs about LDS athletes at mormonsinsports.blogs.deseretnews.com.

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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