They throw the ball, and free outdoors, so I’m in. My parents and I never discussed the religious side of things. —Ty Detmer on why he committed to BYU as a player
SANDY — Ty Detmer doesn’t remember ever having prayed alone before his mother signed him up for a three-day Bible school with their Methodist church when he was 10-years-old.
Early one morning on that trip, though, the counselors told attendees to go to a place where they could be alone. Detmer found a small stream and sat on some nearby rocks. The sun was just coming up, and the humidity was that of a typical Texas day.
Detmer began to pray, and, as he relayed to those gathered at a weekly forum held Wednesday night at the Sandy Institute of Religion, “it was probably the first time I’d ever really realized that Heavenly Father was there and that the Spirit was right there with me.”
The heavy impact of the experience waned over time, but as he prepares for his first season as offensive coordinator at BYU, the place where he won the Heisman Trophy as a quarterback 25 years ago before a 14-year career in the NFL, Detmer told how that moment was the first on a road that eventually led him to becoming a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1991.
“At 10 years old, it kind of was like, ‘Wow.’ It was kind of a neat experience,” he said. “Looking back, that was something that always stuck with me.”
Speaking to the full crowd Wednesday, the affable Detmer told of his involvement during high school in a chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes at his school and of how he and his girlfriend independently began attending church services, something he hadn’t done too regularly growing up.
Soon, BYU started recruiting him for his prowess on the football field in his father’s pass-happy offense at Southwest High School. Since not too many college teams were throwing the ball around the field at the time, Detmer thought his skills would fit the Cougars well.
He took a visit to Provo the summer after his junior year and committed to join LaVell Edwards’ program there.
“They throw the ball, and free outdoors, so I’m in,” the avid hunter recalled thinking. “My parents and I never discussed the religious side of things.”
Reflecting on his decision to go to BYU, Detmer said, “Starting to put Heavenly Father in the forefront (during high school) was a big step for me, and I really feel like I was guided to BYU. ... I really feel like there was a path for me, and making good decisions opened that door for me.”
Upon enrolling at BYU, Detmer became roommates with teammate Eric Mortensen. The pair, along with two other non-LDS roommates on the team, would regularly have discussions about their religious beliefs.
Mortensen was usually outnumbered 3-1 in the talks, but Detmer credits him for always being ready to bear his testimony.
A second person Detmer said had a profound influence on him joining the LDS Church was Kim Herbert. The two were good friends for a few years but didn’t start dating until Detmer’s junior Heisman campaign.
Eventually, Herbert asked Detmer if he’d be willing to take the missionary discussions, to which he said he would if she’d be willing to take the Methodist discussions.
“I didn’t know if there were Methodist discussions,” he quipped Wednesday.
The two alternated going to one another’s churches each Sunday, and soon Detmer started meeting with the missionaries at the home of Cougars team trainer George Curtis. He committed to be baptized the first time the missionaries asked.
“It was really a pretty easy conversion because it was all the things that I wanted,” Detmer said. “I wanted the opportunity to administer to my family, to have eternal marriage, to be able to be sealed in the temple. Those are all things that I thought, ‘That’s the way it should be.’ That’s what I grew up believing.”
Detmer was baptized Feb. 2, 1991, two months after winning the Heisman.
“I was taking the discussions in January right after I’d won the Heisman and all these big things were happening, but the most important thing to me was joining the church,” he said. “All the other stuff was great and it was things I had worked toward and hoped for, but when you’re going to school and doing all those things, it was the other part of it that were the important things, joining the church and proposing to my wife.”
Detmer and Herbert were married in the summer of 1991 after he had proposed as they passed the state prison on the way back to Provo from a Utah Jazz game in Salt Lake City.
They were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple a few months later by Thomas S. Monson.
In 1992, Detmer was selected in the ninth round of the NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, who had just acquired another quarterback by the name of Brett Favre.
That was the beginning of an up-and-down career for Detmer that saw him essentially be a career backup in Green Bay, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Cleveland, Detroit and Atlanta.
“To me, football is a metaphor for life,” he said. “You’re going to have times where you’re knocked down or throw seven picks in one game. You’re going to have times where you get knocked down, and all you can do is get up and play the next play.”
It was during the rough patches of his career that Detmer said he was particularly thankful to be a member of the church.
“To have that backbone so that as we go through life, we can turn to our Heavenly Father and know that it’s not always going to be perfect, but I know that Jesus Christ is our Savior and through repentance, it doesn’t matter where I start. It’s where I end up and how I do things going forward and how I react to things,” he said.
Detmer closed by discussing how that lesson may be seen in his new role on the Cougars’ coaching staff.
“Not everything’s going to be perfect this next season, I know that,” he said. “But I know that if we just keep working and if we keep doing it the right way, good things will happen. It’s been really exciting to come back to BYU, a place that really means a lot to me.
“I have a strong testimony of the gospel and know that Heavenly Father guides us in directions that, if we’ll just listen to that Spirit and really stop and think and ponder and pray like when I was 10 years old, we’ll feel that Spirit and we’ll know that the Holy Ghost is there with us. Our Heavenly Father, he knows us, he understands our wants and our desires and what we need, and he’ll guide us in those directions, as I’ve been guided.”
Ryan McDonald is a sports reporter at DeseretNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanwmcdonald.