PROVO — On Thursdays, BYU spends part of its practice time on matters that go beyond football.

"We have families come in who are BYU fans who use BYU football as a vehicle to get through hard times," said senior linebacker Kelly Poppinga.

That description fits the family that visited the Cougars' practice Thursday — Jake and Erin Herrin of North Salt Lake, and their twin daughters, Kendra and Maliyah.

The Herrin twins, who are now 5, were born conjoined and were separated in a marathon, complex surgery in August 2006 that attracted national attention.

Prior to the surgery, the twins shared a single kidney, which was Kendra's. Maliyah received a kidney from her mother last April.

Jake Herrin, who wore a BYU baseball cap during some news conferences when talking about his daughters at the time his girls were separated, told the players and coaches Thursday that seeing the Cougars play well last season helped take his mind off the trials his family has endured.

The team presented the family with "Y" flags signed by the players, a helmet and other gifts.

Recognizing Cougar fans like the Herrins is part of a tradition the team started this year called "Thursday's Heroes." It's in harmony with the mission of the BYU football program, Poppinga said.

"It's everything coach Mendenhall preaches every single day to us. It's a lot more than football," Poppinga explained. "We can help other people's lives through the way that we play and how we carry ourselves on and off the field. It's amazing to see how big of an effect we can have on somebody. I look at myself and the guys on this team and think, 'We're really not that cool.' We're really just average Joes. It's fun to see how people look up to you. We look up to these people as much as they look up to us with everything they've gone through and the trials they have had. It's amazing. It puts things in perspective. There's a lot more important things than football in this world."

STAFFIERI UPDATE: In what the family of linebacker Markell Staffieri considers a miracle, its home in the San Diego area suffered only minor exterior damage amid the wildfires raging in Southern California. According to Markell's father, Mike, "there is a lot of soot and ashes to clean up, but other than that, the house was not harmed."

He added that there were homes within 100 yards that had been burned to the ground. The Staffieris have been allowed to return to their home and begin cleaning up. Mike Staffieri expressed his gratitude for the prayers on behalf of his family.

ALL-AMERICA SELECTIONS: A pair of Bingham High players who have verbally committed to BYU — tight end Austin Holt and placekicker Justin Sorensen — were selected to the U.S. Army All-America team. Holt and Sorensen will play in the Jan. 5 bowl game in San Antonio. The game will be televised by NBC.P>

UNGA UNVEILED: Things about running back Harvey Unga few know, according to his father, Jackson, are his son used to dress up for Halloween and didn't care what he looked like as long as he had on his new fast shoes; that he once dressed up as a cat on Halloween; and that when 2 and 3 years old, the father used to come home and find that his wife had dressed Harvey up as a girl, complete with lipstick.

"She wanted more girls in the family but I think she just did it to tick me off," said Jackson.

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Contributing: Dick Harmon