Dallin Rogers and returned Mormon missionaries in college football

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 16 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

Utah tight end Dallin Rogers (89) locks eyes with Washington Huskies linebacker Princeton Fuimaono. Rogers served an LDS mission to Tallahassee, Florida.

Deseret News File Photo

SALT LAKE CITY – A mission call rarely comes when it’s convenient.

Prior to the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl, University of Utah freshman Dallin Rogers was in a San Diego hotel room with his parents when he was overcome with the realization he needed to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after the season.

“It hit me so hard that I couldn’t deny it,” Rogers said. “I told my parents I needed to serve a mission and I needed to serve it now. I didn’t know why.”

The awkward thing was that Rogers didn’t turn 19 until the following August. Because of this, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound tight end had committed to play two years for coach Kyle Whittingham before departing to preach the gospel. The fact that Rogers had played significant minutes as a first-year freshman made the decision more difficult. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who isn't a member of the LDS Church, was expecting Rogers to return in 2008. How would he react?

Despite his uncertainty, Rogers submitted his mission papers and was sent to the Florida Tallahassee Mission, where he had several marvelous experiences. He returned to the University of Utah in 2010. Before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Pittsburgh this year, Rogers had 22 receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns. What he learned in the mission field has helped him on the football field, he said.

“The mission has changed the way I think about football — it’s a blessing to play now,” Rogers said earlier before his injury. “Everything translates over from the mission field to life — battling adversity, being a good example, relying on the Spirit. It means everything to me.”

Rogers is one of more than 100 returned Mormon missionaries on Football Bowl Series team rosters this season, most of whom are at the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and Utah State University.

As it turned out, Whittingham was supportive of Rogers’ decision. Ludwig struggled to understand why Rogers couldn’t wait, but didn’t stand in the his way. To the freshman’s surprise, church officials allowed Rogers to start a month before his 19th birthday so he could return in time for the fall 2010, a rare privilege. When he walked off the plane in Florida, his mission president’s wife started singing “Utah Man.” Rogers knew he was in the right place.

Parts of Rogers’ mission was spent in Alabama and on the campus of Florida State University. He was in Prichard, Ala., when the Utes played the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. He said people were respectful despite Alabama’s loss. People asked Rogers it if was hard to be so close to the big game and not get to see it or be part of it. It was, he says, but he was proud of the team and glad to be teaching the gospel.

When he was assigned to the Florida State University campus, he and other missionaries received permission to run the stairs of Doak Campbell Stadium on preparation day. He also impressed several potential investigators when he hit four 3s and dunked in a pickup game of playground basketball.

Rogers will never forget getting an early morning phone call from an investigator who reported he’d been shot in a service station drive-by. The man was calling to ask for a priesthood blessing.

Among his many experiences, Rogers and his companions taught and baptized several individuals and families. He knew in his heart he had done the right thing in leaving to serve when he did. His mission president, Elder Lynn Summerhays, an Area Seventy, said Rogers was someone whom everyone loved.

Elder Summerhays described a scene where an elder made an embarrassing comment at a zone conference. Not wanting the missionary to feel bad, Elder Rogers, following an awkward pause, stood and expressed love for the elder, turning the situation into a positive one.

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