Returned Mormon missionaries in college football, Part 2

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 23 2011 1:01 p.m. MST

Stephen Atrice, an Air Force linebacker, served an LDS mission to Puerto Rico.

Colorado Springs Gazette

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Air Force linebacker Stephan Atrice used to dream about being a football star. The idea of serving an LDS mission was light years away.

“Mission, shmission,” Atrice told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “I didn’t even think about it.”

Then his big brother collapsed and died in a boxing ring.

Suddenly football wasn’t as important. Atrice became more serious about life and spirituality. His brother’s tragic death eventually led Atrice to want to serve a mission, and he was called to Puerto Rico and other locations in the Caribbean islands. Not only did he spread the gospel, but he said he found personal peace.

Atrice is one of more than 100 college football players in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season who have served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound linebacker shared details of his life and mission with writer Frank Schwab of the Colorado Springs Gazette last April:

Walker Atrice III, a Golden Glove boxer and former University of Georgia football player, felt winded during a boxing match in March 2008. When the fight stopped, the 30-year-old couldn’t catch his breath and died in the arena. There were no warning signs and the autopsy revealed nothing.

Stephan idolized his brother and took his death hard. That’s when his father said he changed. Serving a mission helped him cope with his brother’s death and he returned with a different focus in life.

“I believe God put me on this Earth to do something great,” Atrice told the Gazette. “Before … it was, ‘Do whatever it takes to get on the field.’ Now I don’t feel that way. I feel, ‘Do whatever it takes to make a difference.’”

Atrice has made 18 tackles and recovered one fumble this season.

An Aggie in Ghana

New Mexico State defensive lineman David Niumatalolo said he thinks about his mission every day.

“It was a great experience,” Niumatalolo said in an October interview with the Albuquerque Journal. “The best two years of my life so far.”

Niumatalolo is one of three Aggies who served LDS missions. Teammates Maveu Heimuli (offensive line) and B.J. Adolpho (linebacker) also left football to share the gospel.

Niumatalolo played two seasons (2005 and 2006) at New Mexico State before he embarked on a two-year mission to Ghana, Africa. The majority of his time was spent preaching the gospel and performing service, but he included 30 minutes of daily exercise. He didn’t think about football for about 18 months, he told the Albuquerque Journal.

When Niumatalolo left, he weighed 265 pounds. When he came back he was 210. It was a challenge to regain the weight. He redshirted in 2009 and played a limited role in 2010. This season the senior has returned to full strength. As the season draws to a close, Niumatalolo, a 4.0 biology major, has recorded 60 tackles, seven sacks, forced one fumble and recovered one fumble.

After football, the 25-year-old Niumatalolo wants to use his education to bless the African people.

“Seeing all that suffering (there), I want to do something in the medical field,” he said in the Albuquerque Journal. “The mission kind of sparked the interest in that field.”

Journey to N.C. State

McKay Frandsen’s journey from high school to North Carolina State has had more twists and turns than a canyon highway.

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