Mike Terry, Deseret News
Faith, Family, Knowledge, Friends and Football— the five subjects BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall has chosen to focus on for his team.
Two of this year’s senior defensive linemen are products of those teachings. Ian Dulan and Russell Tialavea, two of the most experienced players on this year’s roster, can both testify about the effect of Mendenhall’s coaching.
“Ever since I came to BYU, all the coaches have talked about faith, family, friends and school before football,” Dulan said.
Both Dulan and Tialavea were three-year starters and were expected to start again their senior years. The two players combined for 64 games played and 101 tackles during their first three years.
But just before their final year, both Tialavea and Dulan decided to forego the next football season and serve full-time missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
While many LDS young men serve after their first year of school, they are allowed to go at any age between 19 and 25.
“I always wanted to go on a mission since I was a kid but I kind of lost my path, so that’s why I left after my junior year,” Dulan said.
“I had an Alma the Younger experience where I remembered the words of my parents and it just burned into my soul. It just hit me and I started reading my scriptures every day, started going to church and talked to my bishop. Things fell into place and I left.”
The 6-foot-1 lineman from Hilo, Hawaii, also credits his older brother Paul who helped him grow spiritually and to be a “good boy.”
“My brother served a mission and I saw the changes in him,” Dulan said. “That instilled in me the desire to go out and serve. Even though it took a little while to get to that point, I still felt the need to serve because I’ve always been taught by my loving parents that if you serve God first, then everything will fall into place.”
Tialavea, a product of Oceanside, Calif., likewise faced a difficult decision. If he left for a mission, he might not get to play football again. He didn’t have an extra year of eligibility, which meant he would need to appeal to the NCAA to play his senior year upon returning home.
“But he didn’t hesitate, he didn’t care,” BYU defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi said. “The one thing for sure is Russell wanted to go on a mission.”
His strong desire came from studying the scriptures. His mom is a seminary teacher and encouraged him to read regularly. The two would read over the phone together.
“During my fourth year, I finally started reading the Book of Mormon,” Tialavea said.
“I finished it in three months and I knew I had to go. I actually knew I needed to go when I was halfway through the book.”
Both Dulan and Tialavea said the coaching staff played a big role in their decisions to serve.
“The best experience I had is when I was with coach Mendenhall,” Tialavea said.
“We were into summer and I was training hard, it was actually the best physical shape I’ve ever been in my life and that’s when I decided to go on my mission.
“I went to his office and I was so scared to tell him because I was supposed to start that year and he was counting on me. I sat down and I was nervous and I just started crying.
“I said I can’t do anything right now but serve my mission. Then he broke down crying, too, and you knew it was just pure love, from a coach to a player. That was one of my favorite moments I’ve ever had here at BYU, more than any football moment.”
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