HONOLULU — Dylan Collie's decision to transfer from Brigham Young University to the University of Hawaii to play football was a matter of following his heart.
Collie, a 5-foot-10 receiver with quick feet and sure hands, followed his father and two brothers to BYU in 2012, where he redshirted for a season before serving a two-year LDS mission in Richmond, Virginia.
As he finished his mission, then-Hawaii head coach Norm Chow offered Collie the opportunity to play for the Rainbow Warriors. Collie prayed for guidance and felt drawn to the islands.
"I had wanted to be around Norm Chow since I was a kid," Collie said. "I had enjoyed BYU and our family tradition. I love the people and fans. Without BYU, I wouldn't be where I am today. But I felt a change of heart in terms of where I belonged and where I needed to be to step up my future."
Collie is one of six returned missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Hawaii's football roster this fall. The list includes quarterbacks Beau Reilly (served in Sao Paulo) and Aaron Zwahlen (Baltimore), receiver John Ursua (Paris), tight end Sione Kauhi (Phoenix) and linebacker/long snapper Noah Borden (Las Vegas).
Collie, Zwahlen and Reilly have each followed interesting paths to Hawaii, and discussed their experiences with the Deseret News in April. All three talked about their missions. Collie, one of the team's top receivers, was recently married. Zwahlen hasn't played in a game in almost four years and is competing with Reilly and others for the starting quarterback job. Reilly is also learning to balance being a student-athlete with fatherhood.
Collie was one of the bright spots for the Rainbow Warriors in 2015, despite a 3-10 record. Coming off his mission, the freshman, who is as old as some of the seniors, started nine games and hauled in 29 catches for 342 yards and a touchdown. The well-spoken and polite Collie also became a go-to player for reporters seeking a good quote, according to Michael Stambaugh, the team's assistant media relations director.
But Collie's dream of playing for Chow was short-lived. Chow was fired near the end of the 2015 season after going 10-36 overall in three seasons. Collie was disappointed to see his mentor go, but quickly embraced the vision of new head coach Nick Rolovich.
"Coach Chow is a legend, and there is not another person I would rather go to for a football question," Collie said. "But we are going to see a different kind of success this year than this program has seen in decades. Coach Rolovich and this staff understand how to win, not only for themselves but for this culture."
Playing for Hawaii means playing for your family and the Polynesian culture, Collie said.
"At BYU, it wasn't a matter of playing for a team, it was a matter of playing for a culture. You don't get that many places," said Collie, who said one of the first things he learned in Hawaii was the Haka, a traditional New Zealand war dance. "Family is the most important thing to the Polynesian people. You live and die for your family. ... That hits home for me. I enjoy it, and it gives me something more to play for."
Collie married the former Savannah Ellison on New Year's Eve 2015 in the Sacramento California Temple. The couple has been serving in their LDS ward as the young single adult representatives. During spring football, a local reporter interviewing Collie asked what marriage advice the new husband would offer to a friend who had just been married.
"Two things that I have learned so far — wherever she wants the dishes to go, that's where the dishes are going to go," the sophomore receiver said in the interview. "Secondly, you obviously married the girl of your dreams, so let her know that every single day."
Collie credits his wife, his father and older brothers Zac and Austin, his mission president E. Bradley Wilson, Chow and others for preparing him to seize his opportunity in Hawaii.
Collie also maintains several friendships at BYU. Receivers coach Ben Cahoon recruited Collie to BYU. Another is former roommate Jamaal Williams. Collie claims credit for convincing the running back to come to Provo.
Of all his "brothers" in Provo, his friendship with Morgan Unga, a BYU linebacker, goes a little deeper. Collie and Unga were on the Cougars' roster in 2012 and took a mission preparation class together before both received calls to the same mission. They were companions in the Missionary Training Center and later served their final six months together on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, Unga said.
"Dylan was a phenomenal missionary because he wasn't afraid to talk to anybody and he worked hard," said Unga, who admitted he was disappointed when his buddy transferred. "That's why he's having success out in Hawaii."
As the schedule now stands, Hawaii will play BYU in 2017 and 2018, and both players look forward to a possible matchup.
"Morgan is a huge reason why I made it through the MTC and why I was so successful on my mission. When you have someone like that with you at all times, you are capable of doing things you didn't think you were capable of doing," Collie said. "I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to playing BYU."
Lynn Zwahlen, Aaron Zwahlen's father, played football at BYU when Chow was an assistant coach. When Aaron Zwahlen showed promise as a high school quarterback, Chow offered him a scholarship, which he accepted in the summer of 2012, he said.
Plans changed slightly that October when LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced the mission age change. He opted to serve at age 18 and play football when he returned.
Zwahlen was sent to Baltimore. He enjoyed his mission experience, although it had some "crazy" moments, including the riots following the arrest and death of Freddie Gray in April 2015. One sobering moment came when the missionaries were driving down a street and saw emergency responders placing a white sheet over a dead body, he said.
"It was a crazy time in a great place. We were safe, never felt in harm's way," said Zwahlen, who now serves as a counselor in the Sunday School presidency of his student branch. "It gave us something to talk about with people, a conversation starter. This world is changing a lot, crazy stuff is going on, we bring a message of peace. Tragic times call for open hearts. It was an interesting time."
Now in Hawaii on a new mission, the Modesto, California, native with a strong right arm is in a battle for the starting quarterback job with several others, including Reilly. It's been four years since Zwahlen has played in a game, but he feels ready for the challenge, he said.
Rolovich sees Zwahlen's maturity as a strength, he said an Kaleo.org article.
"You see the maturity from the mission," Rolovich said in the article. "He doesn't have the same mindset as most freshmen. He spent a lot of time in the offseason before spring ball to spend extra time in the film room with the coaches. I think it's important to him."
Off the field, the beauty and culture of the islands has grown on Zwahlen, who said his favorite meal is pancakes with coconut sauce and Macadamia nuts.
"I'm surprised I haven't been more homesick," Zwahlen said. "I love it here, the people, the food."
Before serving a mission in Sao Paulo (2011-13), the 6-6 Reilly committed to play quarterback at Colorado State. While he was gone, the coaching staff that recruited him was replaced. Upon his return, a series of unusual events resulted in Reilly meeting his wife and becoming a Rainbow Warrior.
"The story is insane," Reilly said.
It started when he asked a friend, A.J. Bruell, to get him the phone number for a football coach at San Diego Mesa College. Reilly knew the offensive coordinator and hoped for a chance to play. But when he dialed the number, he was surprised to find he had contacted Mesa Community College in Arizona. His friend had given him the wrong number, he said.
As it turned out, the coach at Mesa CC was looking for a quarterback and was interested in Reilly. The coach lured the tall quarterback to Arizona. Within a short time of his arrival, Reilly was introduced to a young woman named Alexis Pomeroy, and he was immediately smitten.
Then came another plot twist. Coach Chow called and offered Reilly a scholarship to play at Hawaii, he said.
A complication with the NCAA delayed Reilly from transferring from Colorado State to Hawaii. It stemmed from him taking classes at CSU before his mission, and was eventually resolved. Reilly used the monthlong obstacle to drive back and forth from San Diego to Arizona to date Alexis. Within about three weeks, he asked her to marry him. They were eventually sealed in the San Diego California Temple, he said.
"Whenever I call my friend (Bruell), we always talk about how crazy it is that he gave me the wrong phone number," Reilly said. "That's the reason we are married."
The Reillys welcomed their first child, a son named Jax, more than six months ago. While adjusting to the fatherhood, Reilly has been grateful for lessons of planning and prioritizing gained as a missionary to help him balance school, church service and football.
"Every day you wake up and put your priorities in check," said Reilly, a business management major who also teaches lessons in elders quorum. "The biggest person helping me right now is my wife. She is my rock. Knowing my family loves me and that I provide for them, pushes me to be the best I can be in whatever I'm doing."
Reilly didn't take a snap in 2015 but feels confident going into this fall's quarterback competition. He is grateful for the examples and lessons gained from his brothers, Trevor and Drew (Trevor played at Utah and is now with the New York Jets; Drew played at Colorado State and BYU).
"I don't know how things will pan out, but I will make sure I do what's in my control and show the coaches I'm ready to go no matter what happens," he said.
Reilly's competitive side and desire to help the team win was also clear in a comment he made last spring to a reporter from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
"If you ask people who really know me, I don't care if I'm playing my grandma in checkers," he said. "Losing is not my cup of tea."
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