Dallas Lloyd had a big decision to make.
Four years ago, the Pleasant Grove High School senior had several scholarship offers to play college football. It would have been easy to stay close to home, but he was curious about the opportunities that might come outside of Utah.
After visiting the schools and considering all the factors, counseling with his parents, creating a list of priorities and saying a lot of prayers, Lloyd felt strongly that Stanford University was where he needed to be.
“I tried to picture my future and the future of the family I don’t have yet. If I had to go back, it would still be a hard decision today, one of the hardest I’ve had to make in my life,” Lloyd said in a recent interview with the Deseret News. “But I feel great about it. I know I’m in the right place. I’ve learned so much. I’ve had a great time on the field. It’s been everything that I dreamed it would be.”
The majority of returned LDS missionaries playing Division I college football are on rosters at BYU, Utah or Utah State. Lloyd is part of the smaller percentage of young men who have chosen to play at institutions outside of Utah. In many cases, they are the only Mormons on the team. Amid football and academic pursuits, they appreciate the opportunity to be an example and a member missionary.
‘A 40-year decision’
After serving for two years in the Chile Viña Del Mar Mission, Lloyd returned to Palo Alto, California, with his long-term future in mind.
“Something the coaches tell us a lot here is ‘Stanford is not a four-year decision, it’s a 40-year decision,’” Lloyd said. “Attending Stanford is one of the biggest blessings I’ve received. I thank my Heavenly Father every day for the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the most influential people in the world.”
One of those influential people is Condoleezza Rice. Last summer, Lloyd was an intern/student assistant to the former U.S. Secretary of State in Stanford’s political science department. One of his duties was to provide Rice with the most up-to-date information and news on several topics around the world. He liked her warm demeanor and relished the experience.
“When I was being recruited, she spoke to the recruits for an hour, and when it was time to wrap up, we were crushed. I could listen to her speak for hours,” Lloyd said. “Dr. Rice is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met and working with her has been a pleasure.”
Lloyd has been able to interact with and seek advice from Cardinal alumni like former NFL All-Pro John Lynch, Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck and Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman.
Lynch recently returned to Stanford to finish his degree following a successful 14-year NFL career. He ended up in the same management science class with Lloyd, and the two worked on several group projects and presentations together. Lloyd said he learned a great deal from the NFL veteran, who, like Lloyd, made the switch from playing quarterback to playing safety at Stanford.
Lloyd has seen limited action in each game this season. When Stanford played at the University of Washington earlier this season, Sherman was in attendance. Lloyd approached the high-profile defensive back to introduce himself and was surprised when Sherman recognized him. The Seahawks star also knew of his position change. Among many words of wisdom, Sherman said mastering the little things would make the biggest overall difference, Lloyd said.
“Sometimes he gets a bad rap for talking trash, but (Sherman) is one of the most down-to-earth, hardest-working people I have ever met,” Lloyd said. “He's a good person, so kind and willing to give advice.”
When he isn’t doing homework or playing football, Lloyd relaxes by playing the piano and serving as a ward missionary. He’s developed a friendship with former BYU and NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young, and the two have attended teaching appointments with the full-time missionaries on occasion. They have helped teach the missionary lessons to one Cardinal teammate who has decided to get baptized.
Lloyd is continually reminded of how grateful he is to be at Stanford where so many have influenced his life in a positive way.
"I would argue that many of my classmates will go on to be celebrities and Nobel Peace Prize winners," Lloyd said. "I’ve had a lot of eyes on me, and I’ve been able to live the gospel, love it and stand up for truth. It’s one of the reasons I feel like I was supposed to come here."
Lloyd is dating Libby Fowler, a member of the Cougarettes precision dance team at BYU and the daughter of former BYU quarterback Blaine Fowler.
The two were set up and "hit it off" on their first date, Lloyd said. At the time, Libby had a Book of Mormon class at BYU. Lloyd told her to give him a call if she ever needed someone to read with. To his surprise, she called a few weeks later, and they began reading long distance.
"It was cool," Lloyd said. "From then on, we read over the phone, Alma 30 all the way to the end of the Book of Mormon."
How does Blaine Fowler feel about his daughter dating a Stanford man? At first he wondered why Lloyd wasn't at BYU, but once he realized how serious Lloyd was about his academic endeavors, he understood and approved.
"He’s a good kid. We think the world of him. Libby really thinks the world of him," said Fowler, who also said the relationship is getting serious. "I wish he was at BYU. We would love to have him there right now. ... His family is awesome too. They are all Cougars, so it's all good."
Honoring his father
Cedric Lousi couldn’t be happier with his current situation.
Recently home from a mission to San Antonio, Texas, the 6-foot-5, 252-pound defensive end is playing football for San Jose State and he’s earning a college degree. And his family is nearby in Fremont, California.
"I love it," Lousi said. "I love playing with my brothers here."
It's a long way from where he was seven years ago, the day his father died.
One afternoon in 2007, Lousi's father, also named Cedric, had been playing tennis when he suffered a heart attack and died. The news found Lousi in the middle of football practice at the high school. The teenager had been close to his father, and it was difficult for him to accept what had happened.
Lousi wasn’t sure how he would take care of his mother and four younger siblings. The family immigrated to the United States from New Zealand in 1999, and the elder Cedric had been the sole provider for the family. He had been in the process of gaining U.S. citizenship. For a time, it looked like the family might have to return to New Zealand. Lousi said local members of the church rescued the family temporally, and eventually the Lousis were able to gain citizenship.
His father’s death tested Lousi to the core, but ultimately he found inner strength in the gospel by attending early morning seminary. With time came healing and greater perspective, Lousi said.
“It was hard. As the oldest, I felt a lot of weight and pressure with what had been thrown onto my shoulders right then,” Lousi said. “It pushed me; it woke me up. I knew I needed to step up and make the right choices and set a good example for my brothers and sisters. It was a major turning point in my life.”
Following his mission, Lousi had an offer to play at Tennessee, but he declined because he felt good about returning to San Jose State. There was a new coaching staff, but the change felt like getting a new mission president, Lousi said. It didn't take him long to earn playing time on the defensive line.
Off the field, Lousi continues to be a missionary. He recently introduced one of his curious teammates to the missionaries, and there have been several discussions.
Lousi still misses his father, but he strives to honor him by living a respectable life.
“I believe he would be proud,” Lousi said, his voice slightly choked with emotion. “He wanted all of us to make something out of life, to live and lead a better one than we were growing up.”
The brothers Pritchard
Iona Pritchard was close to graduating and getting married following his junior season at BYU in 2013. He was a veteran running back who had seen significant playing time since his freshman year. He expected to have a memorable senior season with the Cougars.
Then his little brother, Baker Pritchard, who played for BYU prior to an LDS mission to Hawaii, decided to transfer to Oregon State. Iona didn’t hesitate to join him, even though it meant giving up his scholarship.
“It was a no-brainer that I wanted to stick with my brother. We’ve always been close. When he decided he was going to leave, I got my things in order,” Iona Pritchard said. “I’m here playing with my brother, so I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Growing up, Baker Pritchard always wanted to be like his older brother. He even wore similar clothes and mimicked his words and actions.
“It’s funny. People have told me, ‘You are just like your brother.’ They can’t distinguish us; we are basically the same,” Baker Pritchard said. “I have looked up to him my whole life because he has set such a good example for me and my younger siblings.”
Baker Pritchard wore the same jersey number as Iona during a successful four years at Bingham High, then turned down several scholarship offers to follow him to BYU.
Coming home from his mission, Baker Pritchard didn’t feel his style of play would fit in well with BYU’s defensive scheme and decided to transfer. When Oregon State offered, he accepted.
He began working out with the team last spring while his older brother scrambled to complete 20 hours in order to graduate and be eligible to play upon transferring to Oregon State. Iona Pritchard and his fiancee, Su’e, a returned missionary and BYU law school graduate, were married in May.
“It really made me happy when they decided to come,” Baker Pritchard said. “We have dreams of playing together and talk about how fun that would be.”
“It’s a really good deal because we are all close,” Iona Pritchard said. “It’s nice to have one another there to lean on.”
With Baker Pritchard on the defensive line and his older brother playing fullback, they have competed against each other in practice on many occasions.
What matters most to the brothers Pritchard right now is supporting each other. They look forward to family home evening together and recounting their missionary experiences.
"The whole experience has been meaningful," Baker Pritchard said. "Living with family, being able to focus on the gospel it has helped me to stay in close touch with Heavenly Father and be a good person."
The LDS wingman
When Tucker Hancock was being recruited to the U.S. Air Force Academy, he was grateful there was at least one Latter-day Saint on the football roster who could answer his questions and help him get a feel for the program. The same player was there to offer support and advice when Hancock returned from his mission to Mexico in 2012.
Now the Falcons’ senior wide receiver is that guy for Mormon recruits. It's a duty Hancock is happy to fulfill.
"It’s interesting to see that there has always been at least one member on the team," the Texas native said.
Hancock has seen limited action on the field but is grateful for his overall experience at the Air Force Academy. In addition to appearing in a few games as a junior and senior, one highlight came recently when Air Force defeated Navy, 30-21, and moved one step closer to bringing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy back to Colorado Springs, Colorado — not to mention a visit to the White House.
One way Hancock is able to contribute is through being a leader and example. As one of the older players on the team, he looks for opportunities to help the younger players learn the offense.
Hancock currently serves as his ward's Sunday School president, and teammates come to him with questions about the church. When they go out to eat, his teammates are also mindful that he doesn’t drink alcohol and voluntarily refrain as well.
"When I’m around they say, 'We won’t do this because Tucker is with us. We won’t drink today,' although I wouldn’t mind if they did. They are good people, and we respect each other’s beliefs," said Hancock, a foreign area studies major. "It’s a great missionary opportunity and cool to see that people recognize I’m a member of the church."
One myth about the Air Force Academy is that you can't date, Hancock said.
"That's not true because I'm engaged, and obviously I was able to date," Hancock said. "You can't get married, but you can date."
Hancock and his fiancee, Lauren Case, grew up in the same stake in Texas. After she returned from her mission, Hancock sent her a Facebook message, and they began dating last December. Case will graduate from BYU in December and move to Colorado Springs while Hancock finishes his last semester in the spring. The plan is to get married June 6 in the San Antonio Texas Temple, Hancock said.
Hard work pays off
There was a time when Utah kicker Andy Phillips despised football players.
Phillips had been on his Mormon mission in Norway for over a year when his girlfriend, Megan, a member of the Cougarettes, wrote to inform him of her serious relationship with a BYU football player. It was time to move on — or so she thought.
Then Elder Phillips learned he would be training a new missionary from Arizona. His name was Brandon Mathews, and he was a football player.
"At that point in my life, I hated football players," said Phillips, who had been a member of the U.S. Ski Team. "I thought this guy would be a meathead."
But as the duo began working together in the city of Stavanger, Phillips was impressed with Mathews’ work ethic and determination to learn the language. Despite only four hours of daylight in that season of the year, the two missionaries got up early to exercise, preached the gospel and became good friends in the process.
"It was a grind, but we had an awesome time together," Phillips said. "He was one of my favorite companions."
Mathews’ father, Blaine, played football at BYU in the early 1980s with Utes coach Kyle Whittingham, and Utah had reserved a spot for him. But at the last minute, Mathews felt an impression to walk on at Arizona State.
Drawing upon lessons of hard work and persistence from the mission field, Mathews pushed himself hard in the weight room and on the playing field. One day last August, Mathews attended a team meeting and was surprised to learn he was one of five players who had been awarded a scholarship.
“It was quite amazing to me. I was completely shocked. I didn’t think it would happen this fast,” Mathews said. “It shows me the hard work is paying off and that I made the right choice in coming to ASU.”
Mathews texted the news to his old trainer. Phillips was thrilled for his friend.
“It speaks highly of his work ethic and what kind of a guy he is. He’s a stalwart guy. It’s awesome to see hard work pay off like that. I couldn’t be happier for him,” Phillips said. “What are the chances of us both ending up in the Pac-12, and I’m actually playing football instead of skiing.”
Incidentally, Megan's relationship with the BYU football player didn't work out, and she is now married to Phillips.
Both Phillips and Mathews have Saturday, Nov. 1, marked on their calendars. That’s when the Utes travel to Arizona State to play the Sun Devils.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him again,” Mathews said. “It will be a good matchup, but I hope we win.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: tbtoone