Dulan also spent time with Mendenhall, discussing football, church and a potential mission.
“Coach Mendenhall helped me realize the path that I should go,” Dulan said. “I met with him a few times where we talked about my mission. He also gave me a few books to read, which I still hold close. It was just a great helping moment to me.”
Happy, excited, hopeful, faithful and glad are the words Dulan used to describe his coaches’ reactions when he announced his plans to serve a mission.
“I was so happy for them,” Kaufusi said. “I never thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to lose two starters.’ That was never in my mind. My happiness was when they made that change in their lives and they wanted to go because I knew what growth was going to take place in their life.”
The 6-foot-3, 265 pound Tialavea, who also lettered in basketball in high school and is a big Utah Jazz fan, served in the Chile Santiago West Mission from 2009-2011. The pair kept in touch during their two-year service, offering support to one another. Dulan even made a CD and sent it to Tialavea.
Dulan returned in 2011 from serving in the Illinois Peoria Mission and spent the football season as a redshirt in order to try to get back into football shape.
“Since coming back I have really felt a heightened sense of determination, ability, speed, quickness, mental capacity — all those types of things,” Dulan said. “I feel like I’ve been blessed by the Lord for serving.”
This year, Dulan, who credits his brother Barry for helping him become a great football player, plans to use those enhanced talents to achieve his senior year goals of getting healthy, getting at least one sack per game, loving and supporting the team, his family and the gospel.
“Then help the team win in every way possible,” Dulan said.
With six seniors anchoring the defensive line this year, there will be a variety of player combinations on the field at any given time.
“I understand my role this year, which is to just help out the first three guys,” Tialavea said. “If they get tired, if they’re injured or something, I can fill in and help out. I know what to do, I have a lot of experience so I just want to be a really good example and work hard and show what Coach Mendenhall wants as a player. After all these years I think I understand what he wants from us: to be disciplined, obedient and work as hard as we can.”
Kaufusi recognized a change in the two players when they returned from their missions. He said although they still enjoy football, their priorities in life seem to be much different.
“I noticed when they came back, they had grown so much and matured in every way,” Kaufusi said. “You can see the changes in their life. It’s not just about them, there are other purposes in their lives. It’s been great to watch them mature and to spiritually grow, just from serving their missions.”
Throughout fall camp, neither player talked much about football or had much to say about playing time, personal sports goals or for which games they were excited.
Instead, their focus was on how they could help others succeed. “I want to be a role model because I’m not the most outspoken guy on the team,” Tialavea said. “Riley [Nelson], [Brandon] Ogletree, those guys have a strong presence. I just want to be helpful to the younger kids, get them on their missions. I’ve just been hanging out with those younger players, giving them rides and inviting them to Family Home Evening.”
In just a few months, the football season will be over. The two senior linemen will have played their last down at BYU. Each will look to move forward to their next part of his life.
Tialavea graduated in August and wants to work as a youth counselor when the football season ends. He then plans to attend graduate school in a couple years.
Dulan, who got married to his wife Gabriel during the summer, said his ultimate goal is simply to provide for his family, whether he plays football professionally or through another avenue.
“It’s always been a goal to do my best and if my best gives me a chance to play at another level again, I’m fine with that,” Dulan said. “I’ve always had the idea that you need to do your best and if it comes, then it comes.”
Although their futures are still undecided, they both feel their lives will be better because they served.
“We don’t have much different stories than someone who goes on their mission at 25 or 26,” Dulan said. “We’re just football players who happen to be at BYU which makes our story a little unique. I believe everybody out there who has a desire to serve a mission when they’re young, they should never forget [that desire] and keep on the right path.”
Aaron Sorenson is a sports information director at BYU.
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