Lane Veach had always been surrounded by Mormons.
Growing up in Chandler, Arizona, many of his friends, including his girlfriend, were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sometimes he found himself at Eagle Scout service projects, family home evenings or LDS youth activities.
Yet loving parents had raised Veach in a devout Christian home, and that was enough for him.
Then last November, Veach’s religious outlook changed. The 6-foot-6, 233-pound freshman outside linebacker at Stanford University decided to join the LDS Church.
In a recent interview with the Deseret News, Veach related his conversion story. His spiritual journey was influenced by a special gift from his girlfriend, the friendship of two returned missionary teammates, a memorable visit with a prominent Mormon and a prayer answered in the scriptures. And while his decision to join the LDS Church has been somewhat difficult for his family to understand, Veach feels strongly he is on the right path.
“Looking back, there aren’t any coincidences,” Veach said. “Heavenly Father definitely played a part in this.”
Veach is the oldest of five sons in the family of Scott and Shannon Veach. His father was a tight end for Arizona State (1987-1990) while his mother played for the ASU women’s basketball team (1988-1992). As a result, it’s easy to understand why Veach developed a passion for sports early in life.
His athletic activities led him to interact with and befriend a lot of Mormons. He respected their beliefs because as a non-denominational Christian, he shared many of their beliefs.
“I was always around the church whether I knew it or not and gravitated toward members in picking my friends,” Veach said. “People always asked me if I was Mormon. I’d say no and they would be super surprised.”
One of his best friends, Mitchell Harris, is currently serving a mission in Guatemala.
Another is Taylor Williams, his longtime girlfriend. The couple began dating a few years ago even though she was a year ahead of him in school and he wasn’t a member of the church.
“He was a good, kind person, and has never spoken ill of anybody. I’ve never heard him swear,” said Williams, who often invited Veach to church meetings and activities. “His moral standards were higher than even some of the LDS kids.”
Veach said he genuinely enjoyed being around Williams and his other Mormon friends. He was never pressured to do anything, he said.
Following graduation, as Williams prepared to attend Brigham Young University, she felt strongly that she should write her testimony in a Book of Mormon and give it to Veach. The idea scared her because she valued their relationship and didn’t want to risk offending him. But she also wanted him to understand why the church was so important to her.
“Regardless of whether we end up together someday, I knew I needed to play a part in his life and share my testimony with him,” Williams said. “This is something that means a lot to me, brings me peace and comfort. I want to share it with you because you are a great and wonderful person.”
Veach accepted the Book of Mormon but didn’t crack the book open until he got to Stanford.
Veach was not heavily recruited as a college football player. Due to injuries, he only played in a dozen varsity games as a tight end/defensive end during his junior and senior years at Perry High School.
Despite the injuries, Veach was blessed with size and athleticism. He was grateful to draw interest from the University of Arizona, the Air Force Academy and a few smaller schools. He had grown up as an Arizona State fan, but his parents’ alma mater didn’t recruit him until the last minute, which was too late.
One university skyrocketed to the top of his list in one visit. Veach was more than a little shocked when coaches from Stanford appeared unannounced one day at his volleyball practice. The Cardinal had just played in the Rose Bowl. Two coaches invited him to camp that summer. Veach attended the camp and was offered a scholarship on the spot. It was almost too good to be true, Veach said.
“Stanford was a no-brainer for me. It was like out of a dream,” Veach said. “Sometimes I wonder how I got here. I’m very confident it was Heavenly Father’s doing and timing that I ended up here.”
Two key events
Upon his arrival for freshman summer workouts, two noteworthy things happened for Veach.
The first was a subtle experience that came as he was adjusting to the more rigorous workouts of college football while being away from home for the first time. One day, Veach was sitting in his dorm room, feeling anxious about an upcoming workout and missing home. That’s when he noticed the Book of Mormon on his shelf, the copy his girlfriend gave him almost a year earlier. He had never intended to actually read it, but he felt compelled to bring it along to college anyway. He took the book from the shelf and started turning pages.
“I don’t remember the chapter or what I read,” Veach said. “But I remember feeling a peaceful feeling. I learned later it was the Holy Ghost and I was being comforted.”
The second key event was meeting Brandon Fanaika, a teammate from Pleasant Grove, Utah, who was fresh off his LDS mission in South Florida. Both players were slotted to use their redshirt season in the fall.
As Fanaika recalls, the two players met in the dorm hallway. Fanaika noticed a BYU logo attached to Veach’s key chain. He asked if Veach was a member of the LDS Church. Veach told him the small trinket had been a gift from his girlfriend, a student at BYU, which sparked a conversation about the church. Fanaika was impressed with what his new friend already knew about the LDS faith. He invited him to church on Sunday and to meet the missionaries. Veach seemed fairly interested.
A short time later, Fanaika bumped into full-time missionaries Elders Casey Lundgreen from Utah and John Reid of Maryland. They asked Fanaika if he knew of anybody they could teach.
“His response was, ‘You can teach my friend Lane,’ ” said Lundgreen, who is now home in Kamas. “That night at the church, we sat down with both of them. There was something about Lane. You could tell his heart was soft and receptive to the Spirit. I could tell he was already living many of the standards we teach. It was a matter of building upon what he already knew to be true.”
Veach was hesitant at first to take the missionary lessons because he felt he already knew enough about the church. He agreed he would if they would proceed at his pace, Veach said.
Over the next few months, the missionaries taught the freshman the gospel. At one point, Lundgreen was transferred and Elder Ben Maxwell of Utah stepped in. Fanaika and Dallas Lloyd, another returned missionary teammate, also from Pleasant Grove, sat in on the discussions as well. Veach began attending a young single adult LDS ward on campus with his teammates. He also communicated with Williams in Utah, who offered support but said she wanted Veach to make his own decision.
“I asked a lot of hard questions, things I had heard about Mormons from other people who weren’t members,” Veach said. “A lot of the answers were contrary to what they had said. They made sense to me. I was grateful for that process.”
One highlight in the process involved former BYU and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young. One of the missionaries had a connection to Young through his father, and the ESPN analyst was eager to participate. Young shared personal experiences, spoke of trials and challenges, and bore a powerful testimony, Fanaika said.
“I think it was a blessing for a prominent member like Steve to relate to Lane,” Fanaika said. “(Lane) was able to see how this successful man had applied the gospel in his life.”
The more Veach learned, the more he progressed toward baptism. Aside from giving up tea, which was not a problem, he was already living an LDS lifestyle. What held him back was knowing his family would disapprove. He loved his family dearly and didn’t want to disappoint them, but he also felt strongly about joining the church.
One day, Veach said, he prayed to the Lord for guidance, then opened the Book of Mormon on his iPhone. He found Alma 5 and his eyes stopped on verse 62, which spoke like a taser to his soul: “Unto those who do not belong to the church I speak by way of invitation, saying: Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life.”
“For me, it doesn’t get any more direct than that. It kind of freaked me out,” Veach said. “But looking back, it was a direct answer. It took me a little bit to take it to heart, but I eventually listened.”
Baptism and lessons learned
Veach was baptized on Nov. 1, 2014.
The room was overflowing with members from the YSA ward. Williams and her family flew to California for the event, along with Harris' father. Veach's own family was unable to attend, but he would see them the following week and he knew they still loved and supported him. It was a special day, Fanaika said.
"Lane had the biggest smile on his face and couldn't stop talking about how happy he was," the offensive lineman said. "Luckily, we found some baptismal clothes big enough to fit him."
Lundgreen and Williams echoed similar memories about Veach's radiating smile. Although he had been transferred, Lundgreen received permission to attend Veach's baptism. He was surprised when Veach sought him out for a big hug and thanked him for teaching him the gospel. (Later, before Lundgreen returned home due to a medical condition, Veach again sought him out to express love and support and bore a sincere testimony that everything would work out, which meant a lot to the missionary.)
Sherri Anderson, who along with her husband, Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson, is a Mormon, also attended the baptism. When she greeted Veach, she said she was sorry Lance couldn't be at the baptism. Veach asked who Lance was, then realized who she was talking about.
"Oh, Coach Anderson!" Veach said with a laugh.
Coach Anderson did attend sacrament meeting the following Sunday to see Veach confirmed a member of the church. During the testimony portion of the meeting, Williams recalled, several people spoke of how the baptismal service had touched their hearts and prompted them to improve their own lives.
"The biggest thing I learned is that Heavenly Father really is in the details of our lives. He has a plan," Williams said. "What we are really learning is patience and having faith in his time."
Fanaika was grateful he asked Veach about his interest in the church.
"Have faith in your ability to share the gospel," Fanaika said. "You never know who might be prepared or how prepared they might be. And they may end up being your best friend."
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