Dick Harmon: New mission policy impacts BYU football recruiting in a big way

Published: Saturday, Oct. 6 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

Taysom Hill, second from left, of the Brigham Young Cougars celebrates scoring BYU's only touchdown during NCAA football in Boise, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News


The new minimum age requirement of 18 for LDS missionary service will immediately impact college recruiting of athletes and rosters at all universities — especially in Utah.

And nowhere will the impact be felt more than at BYU, whose rosters are lined with more returning LDS missionaries than any other athletic program. BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall currently has 38 players serving missions in 17 different countries around the world.

To say this new decision impacts BYU sports is an understatement. It changed the world for LDS athletes who are now 17 and juniors or seniors in high school.

"We've already received tweets from people on this," said Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve. "They can go sooner and return sooner and play four straight years."

Tanner Mangum of Eagle, Idaho, is an Elite 11 quarterback and has been standing around at BYU's practices this fall semester with a missionary call in hand as he attends school, paying his own way. If he'd been able to serve when he turned 18, Mangum may have already been in missionary service.

Magnum said Saturday the new policy is great for the church's missionary work.

"I'm not sure if I would have gone right out of high school or not," he said. "I'm fully enjoying my time at BYU right now and looking forward to leaving for my mission to Chile in January. In the long term, it didn't make a difference for me."

The No. 1 high school recruit in America, Chicago's Jabari Parker, just narrowed his college choices down to five schools including Duke, Michigan State and BYU. As he considers missionary service and his future choice of college — and if and when he might leave early for the NBA — the door just opened for him to put it all on hold if he becomes a full-time missionary right after high school, if he so chooses.

Dallin Leavitt, a Portland, Ore., safety/linebacker and 2013 BYU commit, is enjoying his senior year at Central Catholic High and is 18 years old. The new policy allows Leavitt to leave for a mission right after high school instead of attending BYU for a semester in 2013. Leavitt won't do this, he explained Saturday, because he believes he needs the experience of living away from home in college before going on a mission. "I think it is good, however, to now have more flexibility," he said.

BYU basketball coach Dave Rose has obtained commitments from recruits in the high school graduating class of 2013 that could give him a top-five recruiting class if it contains Parker.

Like all BYU coaches, managing missionaries is a Rubik's Cube. But if you add the missionary departure-and-return component, his job is like none other.

Rose has a board that helps him organize when recruitsexpect to serve missions, some have given notice of their intentions. That spreadsheet could be outdated if mission plans change due to the new policy.

That happened in the case Lone Peak guard Nick Emery, already 18 in September; hes a guy who planned on serving his mission next fall at 19. After he learned of the new policy, Emery moved mission plans to immediately after his high school graduation so he can return and play four years. Another case is Emery's Lone Peak teammate, forward Eric Mika, who tweeted Saturday the new guideline specifically targets him and his choices.

"Well, that's a direct impact on me if I've ever heard one in conference," read his tweet.

In another tweet, Mika, who was named one of the top seven basketball players at a national AAU tournament in Milwaukee this summer, said: "Still don't know what to think or say right now … I'm frozen solid but my head is spinning. Turn 18 in four months."

He let his Twitter followers know he's still wrapping his mind around life right now, but his overall plan is still the same.

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