BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe tells about his Mormon conversion

Published: Thursday, July 18 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Holmoe was a huge UCLA fan. He wanted to follow in his older brother Steve’s footsteps and earn a scholarship to play for the Bruins.

But Holmoe, a star quarterback, suffered an injury to a finger on his throwing hand in the state playoffs his senior year, causing some recruiters, including the Bruins, to lose interest.

Despite the injury, BYU never lost interest in Holmoe. The 6-foot-3 athlete was also being heavily recruited by Oregon, Washington State, Harvard and Air Force.

Although family, friends and coaches encouraged him to go elsewhere, his January visit to BYU left quite an impression. He connected with coaches, players and personnel before watching Danny Ainge lead BYU against Utah State in a packed Marriott Center.

“I loved my trip. I thought, ‘I could do this, I could come to BYU.’ The people were great. It was beautiful — snowed like crazy,” Holmoe said. “On the way home, I thought, that was something, it’s going to be tough to beat this.”

Subsequent trips to Oregon, Washington State and Harvard didn’t compare to BYU, Holmoe said. On national letter of intent day, Holmoe signed with the Cougars.

“From the time I committed, I knew that was the right choice,” he said.

Observing, praying, dating

With plenty of talented quarterbacks, Holmoe switched positions and became a defensive back in 1978. He redshirted his first year and developed a reputation as a solid special teams player the following season. In his third year as a sophomore, the hard-hitting safety led the Western Athletic Conference with seven interceptions.

Off the field, he enjoyed campus life and attended a local Lutheran church.

“I was content; I was happy,” he said.

At the same time, he was being exposed to the LDS Church through religion classes and devotionals. He also gleaned knowledge from returned missionary teammates.

Holmoe recalls one significant event that transpired in the chaotic moments following BYU’s memorable comeback win over SMU in the 1980 Holiday Bowl.

Prior to the game, Holmoe said he had been half-heartedly asking the Lord, “What about this church?”

Then quarterback Jim McMahon and the Cougars erased a 20-point deficit in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to escape with a 46-45 victory.

Holmoe said the locker room was a scene of “pure pandemonium." Still dressed in full uniform, he found himself kneeling to pray in the shower area.

“My prayer was, 'I’m so grateful (for the win).' ... I won’t stop trying to find out about the church. I know there is something about this church. I will never quit,” Holmoe said. “It was weird. I was emotional. Then I returned to the festivities.”

Shortly thereafter, Holmoe began dating his future wife, Lori Wright, a cheerleader.

Lori later told the Deseret News, “My mom sent me to BYU to meet a nice Mormon boy, and I came home with the only Lutheran in the whole school.”

She invited him to attend church with her, and he accepted. Holmoe enjoyed the meetings. He enjoyed being around her family and discussing church doctrine. He agreed to meet with the missionaries, but at his own pace. He started reading books written by church leaders. He loved the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve. When the late President Spencer W. Kimball spoke at BYU, he was there.

Holmoe was progressing but not ready for baptism.

“I can remember specific things in my mind that made me think, 'You are making me sweat over this, Lord,’ ” he said. "This is hard.”

As the couple prepared for marriage, Holmoe was still undecided about the LDS faith, but he committed to Lori that he would continue investigating the church.

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