To serve or not to serve: BYU star athletes discuss the role of missionary service

By Sarah Ballard

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, April 21 2014 10:40 p.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (4) warms up prior to the start of the Idaho State game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, November 16, 2013.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

The decision to serve a mission is one faced by many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world. For athletes with opportunities of going professional, the decision has more consequences than the average teen, as they often worry about their prospects and abilities upon their return.

Former BYU player Jimmer Fredette, as well as current BYU stars Tyler Haws, Taysom Hill and Taylor Sander, weigh-in on their decisions to serve or not to serve LDS missions.

Star quarterback Taysom Hill served his mission in Sydney, Australia. After originally committing to Stanford, Hill found out that Stanford did not allow incoming freshmen to start school midyear, and Hill didn’t want to come home early. That, along with coach Jim Harbaugh leaving for the San Francisco 49ers, forced Hill to reconsider his options. Hill committed to BYU when he returned from his mission and began school in January 2012.

For Hill, the decision to serve was easy.

“When I was faced with that decision — do I go play college football right now or do I go serve a mission — it was easy for me because I made the decision to serve a long time before,” he said. “I also had realized that I had been extremely blessed in my life to have the opportunity to play at a university and I would have felt really ungrateful if I hadn’t served.”

But that isn’t to say there weren’t challenges in his departure.

“The hardest thing was just leaving everyday life as I knew it. For my entire life I was with my family, I was able to go play football, able to play basketball, do all those things and it was just such a drastic change in my life,” Hill said. “After awhile I would say that the hardest thing was not being able to compete, obviously I was going to go compete in football. So not being able to workout and do various things like that, it just starts to wear on you a little bit. Towards the end of the mission that was the hardest thing. That being said, it wasn’t that difficult. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and saw my life change as well as others. My life has been extremely blessed since.”

Hill left the football field for the mission field four years ago and believes it has made him a better player.

“My advice would be to serve a mission. If you’re worried about not being able to be as good as you were when you left, I don’t agree with that. I would say again that I am a better football player because of my experience there,” Hill said.

Point guard Tyler Haws also explained that serving a mission was a choice that he made in his youth.

“I made that decision a long time ago, when I was a little kid in Primary. I always saw myself serving a mission and so when that time came, when we needed to start doing my papers, it was an easy decision to drop basketball and be like, ‘I’m going on a mission.’ As it got closer, I felt the importance of serving the Lord and felt like it was something I needed to do. I felt like there were people out there who needed my service and needed my help. It was an easy decision to drop everything and leave.”

Haws served his mission in the Philippines. Since his return, he has led the BYU basketball team with career highs in points and free throws. This season, Haws scored 20-plus points 21 times, 30-plus points seven times and a career-best 48 points at Portland.

In addition to sharing the title “All-American,” fellow BYU athletes Haws and Sander also received Male Athlete of the Year for their work in the 2013-2014 season.

Sander plans on playing professional volleyball in Europe later this year and will be with the U.S. men’s national team this summer. After helping the U.S. men’s volleyball team win gold at the 2012 Pan American Cup, Sander hopes to compete for the United States at the upcoming Olympics.

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