Jeff Bledsoe is an over-the-top bonkers BYU fan whose obsession with Cougar football is keeping him up nights and glued to a computer screen daily.
Thing is, Bledsoe is half a world away flying night missions over Iraq as a CH-47 pilot on a 15-month deployment. Growing up in Provo, he never missed a kickoff and he never left a game until the final tick of the clock. Now, these games keep him buoyed while hovering over death, guns and bombs.
Bledsoe tries to keep up with BYU games, when his flight schedule permits, by refreshing his computer screen over and over again. When his father sent him DVDs of games last year, he devoured them even though he knew the outcome.
U.S. Army Warrant Officer Bledsoe wrote to BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall just before the UCLA game with a unique offer.
"As you play UCLA, I will be flying a mission over Baghdad and central Iraq. In the cockpit next to my seat I'll be carrying an American flag. After the flight I'll package the flag and mail it to my dad (Mike Bledsoe) in Provo.
"As a way to say thanks, would you please award this flag to a member of the team who displayed valor in the face of adversity during the game? I will continue to do this each week for the duration of the football season. It's my way of saying thanks for making the longest 15 months of my life more tolerable."
Mendenhall is having BYU's compliance office look into Bledsoe's offer, to see if it flies with the NCAA.
If it's approved, it won't be the first time Mendenhall has used some aspect of military life to motivate his team.
Mendenhall told reporters this week that his use of dog tags, coins, the slogan "Band of Brothers," and other warrior culture icons is something that can be related to football although it in no way approaches the serious nature of the actual job attempted by fighting troops in the field.
The precision with which the Cougars dismantled UCLA last Saturday certainly looked a little like military motivation.
Mendenhall has not hidden his infatuation with certain aspects of the warrior culture that include the sumo, the samurai of Asia and the legendary battle of Thermopylae by the Spartan King Leonidas, whose mighty 300 held off the tens of thousands of Persian King Xerxes in an invasion of the Greek city states in 480 B.C.
"There's a camaraderie that comes as we are comparing ourselves, and it's not the same to those young men who go to serve and sacrifice," said Mendenhall.
"Football isn't like that. But there are some camaraderie issues and structure issues that are the same. We have a blend of kind of a military interest as well as a religious influence in terms of missionaries who go out in zones and districts or squads and platoons.
"There are a lot of parallels between the numbers that are in the mission field and how they are divided up and to how the military is divided up," Mendenhall said. "There's a lot of thought that has gone into those. We have simply taken a 'Band of Brothers' and how we care for each other. The military has similar themes about not leaving people behind. I really don't want to go more specific than that."
BYU football folks have offered to have players send messages to Bledsoe in Iraq while they sort out this battle flag issue.
Bledsoe served as student body president at Provo High and was a key force in renaming 1230 North as Bulldog Boulevard in Provo. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves as a senior in high school, which got him a slot in flight school.
Following basic training, he served an LDS mission to Italy, sacrificing his flight school slot. He served his remaining five years in the reserves and was activated at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, working as a light armor vehicle commander.
After his discharge from the Marine Corps, he completed a bachelor's degree in aviation, then accepted a position in the U.S. Army as a warrant officer and helicopter pilot.
"He is currently in his 13th month of a 15-month deployment," according to his father, Mike Bledsoe, who currently works as a BYU safety director on campus. "His brother Jared was a walk-on receiver for LaVell Edwards in 1998. Jeff is married with a little girl, and his little family lives in Scottsdale, Ariz."
The pilot sounds like someone Mendenhall would love to honor.
The battle flag idea is an interesting pitch by Bledsoe to Mendenhall.We don't know the outcome so far, thumbs up or down. But if the NCAA gives it a green light and somehow helps Mendenhall get his players focused like they were against the Bruins or become a badge of honor for a player for some kind of special performance in the name of Leonidas, bring it on.
REED OUT 2-4 WEEKS: BYU learned Wednesday night that senior receiver Michael Reed will be sidelined with a knee injury.
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