Dick Harmon: Mission age, NCAA rule changes close BYU's wiggle room

Published: Monday, Feb. 4 2013 6:35 p.m. MST

Reno Mahe, who played for Brighton, BYU and the Philadelphia Eagles, has his number retired as Pleasant Grove High School plays football at Brighton High School Friday, Oct. 9, 2009,in Salt Lake City,  Utah.  Tom Smart, Deseret News
 (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Reno Mahe, who played for Brighton, BYU and the Philadelphia Eagles, has his number retired as Pleasant Grove High School plays football at Brighton High School Friday, Oct. 9, 2009,in Salt Lake City, Utah. Tom Smart, Deseret News (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

PROVO — Reno Mahe has been a football star most all of his life. He excelled at Brighton High, BYU and made the roster of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL.

Still, in a life of ups and downs, Mahe says emphatically one thing has become crystal clear to him as a father of seven children who has played at the highest level of the sport.

"The biggest regret of my life was that I didn't go on a two-year mission," said Mahe. “I envy it. And I envy what Bronco Mendenhall is doing at BYU with young men who are in his program, in particular, the ones who go on missions.

“I may not agree with everything he does, but when it comes to his firesides, and what he’s doing off the field in developing young men, I can tell you I will defend Bronco all day long. I really will. You criticize the firesides, and you’ll have to argue with me because I’ve got his back all day long.

“To be around young men, players who are great examples to me, people who lift me up, encourage me, make me a better person is something I wish I had been a part of as a player, and an athlete who had gone on a mission. I’d give anything to have this experience, to be in Mendenhall’s program as a player back from a mission,” he said.

Recruiting, signing and playing Mormon missionaries: BYU loves them and builds upon them, but now more than ever it’s tougher to manage.

It’s like trying to get a grip on a wet bar of soap.

That is what Mendenhall faces in coming months as BYU, a school that deals with football recruits coming and going on missions more than any other, shuffles recruit projection spreadsheets and scholarships. It just became more complicated since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changed its policy to allow male members to serve missions at age 18.

Since the October 2012 LDS Church declaration, the challenge for BYU became clearer in recent weeks after Mendenhall discovered which recruits planned on missions right out of high school in 2013 and 2014.

Early signs on how BYU deals with this will be revealed on Wednesday when the 2013 recruiting class sends in national letters of intent on the official signing day.

An early sign is a 2013 emphasis on signing junior college players who will take scholarships for two years, making more available in 2015.

“If it was a juggling act before, it’s become more of one now,” said one university staffer.

It is also made more complicated by the NCAA’s new rule restricting schools to just 25 signees per year. This rule came about because many SEC schools over-signed, then withdrew offers on signing day or used the 29 or 30 signees as a buffer when they had players flunk out or get kicked off the team for discipline issues.

An unintended side effect of this rule puts BYU in a bind because the school is used to over-signing to accommodate athlete choices of missionary service. It poses a big challenge for Mendenhall, especially for the 2015 recruiting class when a small army of missionary athletes will return to campus.

Generally, where BYU used to sign 23 to 27 recruits and have six to seven go immediately on missions, it is now expected BYU will sign 25 and have eight to 10 go immediately on missions and another one to three go after a year of school.

Short term, it appears BYU will possibly sign at least seven junior college recruits as part of the 2013 class. These players include a trio of offensive linemen, Quincy Awa–Dubose, De’Ondre Wesley and Josh Carter; defensive backs Trenton Trammell and Samuel Lee; defensive tackle Maataua Brown; and linebacker Kalolo Manumaleuna Utu.

These JC recruits will filter through BYU before 2013 signees that go on missions return for 2015.

In this regard, this rush for JC players is BYU’s short-term solution to plan for the future while addressing current needs and dealing with signing high school athletes mission-bound right after graduating.

What you will see, said a BYU athletic official, is the school release a list of 25 signees Wednesday, but there will be a few recruits left off that official list. One might label those committed but unsigned because while they are pledged to join BYU after missions, there is no NCAA status tag to give them in a recruit class.

Bottom line: From now on, Mendenhall’s recruiters will need to be far more diligent in understanding exactly when LDS players who plan on going on missions will do so.

Wiggle room has been blocked, if not almost totally taken away.

And Mahe? If he had to do it all over again, he would love to be part of the wiggle room dynamic.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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