A Cougar converted: Mark Bellini, the '84 national championship and beyond
Although part of the football team and enjoying college life, Bellini still felt like an outsider at times.
“I wasn’t part of the club. I had a different cultural background than most of the guys,” Bellini said. “But I was intrigued by the (LDS) culture and what it was that made them so devout. It made me curious.”
There were several “philosophical discussions” with friends about religion that provoked some deep thoughts, Bellini said, but these debates rarely resulted in any resolutions.
Going into his sophomore season in the fall of 1984, Bellini enrolled in the second of two classes that covered the Book of Mormon. He wasn’t in the class because he wanted to study Mormonism — he was in it because it was a graduation requirement. What Bellini didn’t expect to find was the friendship of an “incredible” teacher in John P. Fugal.
“He took an interest in me and we became friends,” Bellini said. “You could feel the Spirit in his class.”
Fugal started teaching seminary in 1946 and was a member of the BYU religion faculty from 1966-86. Even now at age 91, Fugal remembers Bellini’s class was held in the Joseph F. Smith Building and contained about 50 students. He tried to learn each name by assigning seats. Then he opened his scriptures and did his best to bring the stories and characters of the Book of Mormon to life.
“Each class I tried to teach by the Spirit and bring the message into their hearts,” Fugal said. “Then I would go to my knees in my office and thank the Lord.”
The class required Bellini to read the Book of Mormon, and by the end of the term he knew it was true.
“Although parts of me fought it, in my heart I just knew it was true. I couldn’t deny it,” Bellini said. “The Book of Mormon became the foundation of my testimony.”
Bellini redshirted in 1983 and spent the season schooling BYU’s secondary in practice as a scout player, according to former teammate Vai Sikahema.
“It irritated the defensive players, who were often embarrassed when Mark burned them on routes and made spectacular catches,” Sikahema said. “He ran such precise routes and possessed sure hands. It was clear Mark was a good receiver.”
Bellini cracked the receiving rotation as a sophomore in 1984. By the end of the season he was starting opposite Glen Kozlowski, another standout Cougar receiver. Bellini made notable contributions in victories over Tulsa, Air Force and UTEP before finishing the season with 35 catches for 572 yards and four touchdowns — the best season by a sophomore receiver to that point in the school’s history.
Legendary BYU coach LaVell Edwards described Bellini as an “outstanding” player and person.
“There was never any question about his athleticism or ability to catch the ball,” Edwards said recently. “But when I think of Mark, I’m reminded of a deer, almost prancing along. He was so quick and light on his feet.”
For Bellini, three things stand out from the ‘84 season.
First, he appreciated the influence of faith and prayers, felt individually and as a team.
“Football is dangerous, especially for a receiver because you are going to get creamed. I prayed before and during games, in the huddle and while walking the line of scrimmage. I prayed for help to do my best and for the Lord to keep me safe,” the 48-year-old said. “At team meetings the night before a game, the coaches would leave and a teammate would lead us in prayer. We were a pretty religious team.”
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