Coaches navigating new rules pertaining to mission-bound LDS athletes
"He's going to have to recommit and re-sign when he gets home," said Carl Barton.
Sean Barton said that while no coach ever told him that serving a mission was a deal-breaker, some did try to undermine his plan.
"For the most part, coaches were pretty supportive," he said. "But a lot of them tried to change my mind later."
Carl Barton said coaches would "say what we wanted to hear" when the family was together, but then when Sean was alone with coaches, they changed their tactics.
"When they were talking with Sean alone, they'd say things like, 'So how strongly do you feel about going on a mission?' Or, 'You're bigger, faster and stronger than anyone we have starting at linebacker.' "
Often it went "way beyond hinting" that if Barton would skip the mission, he could earn a starting role as a freshman.
"One coach even came to me and said, 'I've talked to Sean and he doesn't seem like he wants to go on a mission that much and we'd like to have him here,' " said Carl Barton.
Sean admitted the enticements were tempting.
"It was a temptation," he said, adding that getting his mission call early in his senior year helped him stay committed to his decision. "It definitely was (a conflict) and, at certain points, I'd think about going to college instead of my mission. A mission is tough to come back from, and two years without football, but I just figured out that I've been blessed with football, so I could give two years of my life to serving other people. Football will still be here when I get back."
Carl Barton said the family gravitated to the programs that understood missionary athletes and supported them with more than verbal niceties. For Sean, that meant focusing on Pac-12 and Mountain West schools because not only did they have more experience with missionary athletes, but they nearly always had specific programs to deal with their unique issues.
The coach assigned to recruit the state of Utah for Stanford is a returned missionary and there are two missionary athletes there now, Carl Barton said.
But there are no guarantees that any school will accommodate a future missionary's plans.
It's not just out-of-state schools that may prefer athletes who don't want to serve missions. Interestingly, Carl Barton said some in-state schools were initially supportive of the idea but then tried to make the mission less appealing to Sean during the recruiting process.
Still, the majority of high school coaches contacted by the Deseret News said it's out-of-state coaches who tell them they're not interested in mission-bound players.
"To some degree, I think it's honest ignorance on their parts," said former Herriman head coach Larry Wilson. "I would think personally, if some of these guys get educated, I think they would see it's a real benefit to them. I think it's just a matter of them not understanding what it really is, (and) are they going to come back to them? There are so many unanswered questions because they have not had that type of experience with it."
Carl Barton said he believes as more schools recruit in Utah, they will come to understand and even incorporate missionaries in their efforts.
"People will gain a level of comfort with it like they have in the past," Barton said. "But I do know that in the last couple of months, many football programs, they tell the coach behind closed doors, 'I don't want to talk to any mission kids.' Some even say, 'No LDS kids,' which seems counter-intuitive, because before there were so many uncertainties. But now if a kid says, 'I'm going on a mission,' they generally go right away."
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