PROVO While showing family members around the Student Athlete Academic Center at Brigham Young University, Cindy Wakefield stopped to introduce her brother to one of the Cougars' star players, who was seated in the lobby.
Wakefield noticed the sophomore defensive lineman laboring to stand, his body battered from the team's previous game.
"You're hurting, aren't you?" said Wakefield's brother, a former football player himself.
But Jan Jorgensen had other concerns. He wanted to know if there was an upcoming service project he could be a part of.
"Instead of maybe soaking in a tub or licking his wounds, he wanted to serve," Wakefield said.
When BYU athletes ask Bob and Cindy Wakefield if there are service opportunities available, the answer is usually "yes." The couple, serving as full-time volunteer service representatives for the school's athletic department, maintain a yearlong list of requests from the community that takes up 17 pages. It starts with a fireside in Lindon and ends with a community picnic in American Fork. In the middle, there are visits to elementary schools to promote the "Buff Don't Puff" program, trips to the Missionary Training Center to fill roles as investigators and a Valentine's Day dance at the Trinity Mission Health and Rehab Center.
Whether it's well-known standouts like Jorgensen or less-recognizable names from other sports, athletes throughout the BYU athletic department are contributing to a culture of service. Community outreach has always been a part of Cougar athletics, but in the past five years, the program has broadened its efforts. From a women's soccer team fireside in Tucson, Ariz., to a sportsmanship assembly at a Provo elementary school, the BYU athletic department's service initiative is an attempt to give back to the community and align itself with the ideals of the institution.
BRYAN KEHL IS one of those athletes who always answered the call.
"Bryan was the kind of guy who would pick up on the first ring and never, ever said no," said Cindy Wakefield of the all-conference linebacker who completed his eligibility last season.
While Cougar fans are certainly aware of Kehl's on-field accomplishments, they may not know he was one of the most active participants in the athletic department's service initiative and a popular fireside speaker who drew "rave reviews," according to Bob Wakefield.
"I think it's kind of a duty and an obligation. That's the way I looked at it," Kehl said. "It was an important thing to me, being an individual who has been given so much. I just felt like I had a duty to give back."
Current starting linebacker David Nixon is also a sought-after speaker on the fireside circuit, as is Jorgensen. Backup running back Wayne Latu, a concert pianist, is one of several football players who share their musical talents.
The most high-profile member of the football team, quarterback Max Hall, also does his part, participating in firesides on almost a weekly basis, according to his position coach.
"It's not an obligation, but it's something that he's embraced as part of his duty as the quarterback at BYU," said BYU quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman, a former BYU quarterback himself. "Max is learning right now that that is much more valuable to him than throwing a touchdown. Because he plays great on the field, he can then translate that into serving others around him."
The BYU football program has been integral to the success of the service initiative. The Wakefields estimate that 80 percent of the requests they field are for football players, and without them, they "couldn't come close" to meeting the community's demand. That's attributed to not just the number of athletes on the team but also the direction of head coach Bronco Mendenhall, who encourages players to contribute 10 hours of community service per semester.
But the enthusiasm is not limited to football. Women's volleyball team members Chelsea Goodman, who has been nominated for the NCAA's woman athlete of the year award, and Amy Schlauder are active in the program, according to the Wakefields. This year, the school's Floyd Johnson Service Award, named after the late BYU equipment manager, went to Jessica Bingham, a member of the cheer squad, for her efforts in organizing a blood drive.
The Wakefields, who attend the NCAA convention each year, say contemporaries are always surprised at the expanse of BYU's effort.
"They just can't fathom that there could be that much service," Cindy Wakefield said.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT isn't exactly a new concept around the athletic department.
"I think it's part of what we've been about for a very long time," said associate athletic director Duff Tittle.
Johnson, who spent more than 40 years as equipment manager and died in 2002 at the age of 83, helped promote service at the school throughout his career, according to Tittle. Johnson started the speaker's bureau, which sent athletic department representatives to firesides, sacrament meetings and youth activities. Although it wasn't part of the job description, Tittle said it was important to "Brother J," as he was known around campus.
"He was really big on developing that part of their lives," Tittle said.
But even Tittle was taken aback when he saw the list of service activities scheduled for the current school year. It averaged out to roughly one per day.
"I was surprised when I saw that number," he said.
BYU is able to fill so many service assignments because it has a full-time volunteer couple leading the effort. The Wakefields, who are in their fifth year at the school, spend up to 70 unpaid hours per week fielding requests from the community and finding athletes to provide the requisite service.
Six years ago, when E.J. Caffaro became director of the Student Athlete Academic Center, he felt the need to expand the athletic department's presence in the community. Caffaro and then-athletic director Val Hale came up with the idea of calling service representatives. Initially, there were five couples, but now all the responsibility is shouldered by the Wakefields.
"They were so willing to take this program and bring it to the community," Caffaro said.
The service initiative has progressed to the point that the Wakefields spend almost all their time fielding requests. The only outreach is made in the fall, when the couple sends letters to Utah County schools, stakes and service clubs informing them that athletes are available.
The schedule is usually booked two months in advance. Because of the number of requests that come into their office, the Wakefields operate under certain parameters. Generally, out of respect for the athletes' time, they stay within the area between Nephi and Point of the Mountain. They can only accommodate church activities at the stake level. And, no, they don't do birthday parties.
While the agenda is packed, the service representatives are diligent in making sure the athletes meet their obligations. Bob Wakefield said he's not aware of any commitments that haven't been kept, and the couple believes the program has the confidence of the community.
"We feel very responsible to make sure that BYU has the best foot forward," Cindy Wakefield said.
IN SPEAKING ABOUT the service initiative, Caffaro referenced the motto inscribed at the main entrance of campus: "Enter to learn, go forth to serve."
According to the numbers, that's exactly what these Cougars are doing. The Wakefields estimate that BYU athletes have put in almost 1,400 hours of volunteer work and addressed 66,000 people over the past year.
Enthusiasm for service isn't universal among student-athletes, but Caffaro thinks the number who embrace the initiative is about 90 percent.
Bob Wakefield said there are enough willing participants that they "don't have to go out and pound them on the head." It also helps that certain classes on campus require community service, and some coaches like Mendenhall have made volunteer work a priority.
But in a field as competitive as intercollegiate athletics, where coaches are evaluated primarily by their win-loss record and athletes must balance their time between class, practice and conditioning, there has to be additional motivation for a service program like BYU's to succeed.
For Kehl, who is hoping to be selected in this weekend's NFL draft, it's something athletes "owe to society" because of the platform they are provided and the fact that so many look up to them.
"I think it's kind of a duty and an obligation," he said. "That's the way I looked at it.
"It was an important thing to me, being an individual who has been given so much. I just felt like I had a duty to give back."
Kehl's former coach addresses the issue in the recently released DVD "Tradition, Spirit, Honor." Mendenhall says the "service mind-set" exists "because it's what our young men know they're supposed to do."
One of the featured activities within the service initiative is the football team fireside. Beginning in 2005 with a road game at New Mexico, the team began holding firesides the night before road contests. The following year, Mendenhall expanded the directive to include home games. While attendance was minimal at first, the firesides now take place in front of "standing room only" crowds, according to Doman, an assistant coach and former quarterback who is in charge of organizing the events.
"The mission of the program is to be the flag-bearer of Brigham Young University through football excellence, and to embrace truth, tradition, virtue and honor as a beacon to the world," Doman said. "To be a beacon to people, it has to be done through service. There's no other way to do it."
From an administrative perspective, the service initiative is a way of thanking the community for its support of BYU athletics. Caffaro said it's not about recruiting fans, but rather using the influence of high-profile athletes to encourage kids to make sound decisions and be good citizens. A significant portion of volunteer hours is spent speaking at schools against tobacco, alcohol and drug use and promoting fitness.
"It's just giving back to the community that comes out and supports us," Caffaro said. "They're great fans, and they want to see us succeed. We want to go into the community and see our kids succeed."
According to Tittle, it's also helping the volunteers succeed. One of the athletic department's goals is to develop "an all-around student athlete," Tittle said.
"Hopefully when they leave, they're a better person in all aspects of their life athletically, academically, spiritually," he said. "(Service) plays an important role in that."
BYU SERVICE INITIATIVE
Where you'll find them ...
Public schools, stake firesides, church youth activities, Eagle courts of honor, Little League banquets, Utah Foster Child Care Summit graduation, retirement and rehab centers, Missionary Training Center.
What they do ...
Speak at church and community functions, conduct fitness days and walk-a-thons at elementary schools, promote Buff Don't Puff anti-smoking campaign, participate in Red Ribbon week (anti-drugs, alcohol and tobacco), teach social skills to underprivileged children, give tours of athletic facilities on campus, conduct sports clinics, play roles of investigators at MTC.
Whom they work with ...
Youth Detention Center, American Red Cross, Food Bank, Kiwanis Club, Special Olympics, Pop Warner football leagues, Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Club of Utah County, Rotary Club, Chambers of Commerce.
Source: Cindy Wakefield