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Matt York, Associated Press
Baylor running back Terence Williams is tackled by Boise State safety Kekoa Nawahine (10) and linebacker Blake Whitlock, left, during the first half of the Cactus Bowl NCAA college football game, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, in Phoenix.

SALT LAKE CITY — After months of indecision and feeling like his prayers were going unanswered, Kekoa Nawahine had decided not to serve a Mormon mission.

The athlete from Meridian, Idaho, was going to stay and play football at Boise State, fulfilling the dreams of his youth.

Even so, he uttered one last petition to the Lord, and what happened next led him to a different destination — Calgary, Alberta, Canada — for the next two years.

Looking back, Nawahine has no regrets about serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"It all worked out," Nawahine said. "To be able to play the game I love and still be able to have the experience of going on a mission and building a relationship (with the Lord) that I never would have been able to build otherwise, it affects every aspect of my life, the way I do things and the decisions I make."

Nawahine grew up wanting to serve a mission, especially when his older brother served in the Marshall Islands.

But when the multi-sport star at Rocky Mountain High School was offered a scholarship to play football at Boise State, Nawahine faced the realities associated with a decision to serve. His parents supported him either way but weren't exactly promoting a mission, Nawahine said.

"Close influences were influencing me to stay and play out my career at football," Nawahine said. "Influences like that were hard for me as an 18-year-old kid. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do."

The turning point finally came after months of wavering back and forth. At last Nawahine decided to stay, then prayed one more time.

"Is it right for me to leave on a mission? Is everything going to be all right if I go?" Nawahine said. "An overwhelming feeling of peace and comfort came that if I did what I needed to do (serve a mission), things would work themselves out when I got back. I had no doubts that I needed to go. I'm definitely glad I did."

Nawahine never looked back. He loved his mission in Canada and, among many meaningful experiences and blessings, is most grateful for the relationship he developed with God and Jesus Christ.

"That's something I want to keep no matter what happens in my life," he said. "It's something I always want others around me to be able to see. I don't want to reach a point where that isn't a priority."

During his two years in Canada, Nawahine tried to take advantage of every chance to stay in shape. For the last seven months of his mission he received permission from his mission president to work out in a local high school weight room each day starting at 5:30 a.m.

The early morning sacrifice must have paid off because by the end of the Bronco safety's freshman year in 2016, he had appeared in 12 of Boise State's 13 games, recorded 21 tackles and started in the Cactus Bowl against Baylor, according to the Idaho Statesman.

"He was just building confidence throughout the year last season," the Broncos' safeties coach Gabe Franklin told Idahopress.com. "For him, it was kind of getting the game to slow down for him as the season went on, and he got more and more confident and started making plays for us in practice, and that’s why he started in the Baylor game."

In three games this season, Nawahine has 20 tackles, including a career-high of 12 against Washington State, and an interception in Boise State's win over Troy.

Once again, Nawahine says he's grateful to be where he is now, and grateful for having served a mission.

"There's never been a moment when I questioned my decision to go, even in hard times," he said. "When the Lord answers a prayer like that, there is no questioning anything about it. … It's a blessing to be where I'm at. I hope to make the most of it."

The list

Nawahine is one of nearly 150 returned Mormon missionaries on Football Bowl Subdivision rosters for the 2017 season. For now, the number sits at 149.

This list is not all-inclusive. If you know of a returned missionary we have missed, please send an email to ttoone@deseretnews.com with the name of the player, his team and where he served his mission.

Brigham Young University's football team has the highest number of returned missionaries at 73, nearly 65 percent of its roster. Utah State University comes in second with 28 and the University of Utah is third with 19. Boise State has five; Stanford and Hawaii each have four. Oregon State has three and Wyoming has two. Air Force, Arizona State, Colorado, Michigan State, Navy, Texas Christian University and San Jose State each have one.

Football Bowl Subdivision

Air Force (1)

Christian Frost: Rancho Santa Margarita, California (Santa Margarita Catholic HS), Jr., OL. Served in Nagoya, Japan.

Arizona State (1)

Jacom Brimhall: Mesa, Arizona (Mountain View HS), Sr., RB. Served in Mexico City.

Boise State (5)

Clay Bowler: Holtville, California (Holtville HS), Fr., LB. Served in Boise, Idaho.

Sonatane Lui: Sandy (Alta HS), So., NT. Served in Los Angeles.

Durrant Miles: South Jordan (Bingham HS), Jr., DE. Served in Bolivia.

Kekoa Nawahine: Meridian, Idaho (Rocky Mountain HS), So., S. Served in Calgary, Canada.

Riley Whimpey: San Clemente, California (San Clemente HS), Fr., LB. Served in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

BYU (73)

Rhett Almond: Valencia, California (Hart HS), Jr., K. Served in Salta, Argentina.

Phillip Amone: Orlando, Florida (Dr. Phillips HS), Jr., LB. Served in Orsono, Chile.

Tanner Balderree: Sherwood, Oregon (Sherwood HS), Sr., TE. Served in Leeds, England.

Francis Bernard: Herriman (Herriman HS), Jr., LB. Served in Atlanta.

Matt Bushman: Tucson, Arizona (Sabino High School), Fr., TE. Served in Santiago, Chile.

Austin Chambers: Shawnee Mission, Kansas (Shawnee Mission West HS), Fr., OL. Served in Las Vegas.

Brady Christensen: Bountiful, Utah (Bountiful HS), Fr., OL. Served in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Joe Critchlow: Franklin, Tennessee (Franklin HS), Fr., QB. Served in Montreal, Canada.

Corey Edwards: Hurricane (Hurricane HS), Sr., K. Served in Taichung, Taiwan.

Brayden El-Bakri: Salt Lake City (Brighton HS), Jr., RB. Served in Montevideo, Uruguay.

James Empey: American Fork, Utah (American Fork HS), Fr., OL. Served in Lisbon, Portugal.

Garrett England: Salt Lake City (Skyline HS), Fr., LB. Served in Milan, Italy.

Christian Folau: Salt Lake City (East HS), Fr., LB. Served in San Jose, California.

Kavika Fonua: Syracuse (Syracuse HS), Jr., RB. Served in Vancouver, Canada.

Gavin Fowler: Kaysville (Davis HS), Sr., DB. Served in Long Beach, California.

Rylee Gautavai: Bountiful (Bountiful HS), So., LB. Served in Montreal, Canada.

Kyle Griffitts: Windermere, Florida (West Orange HS), So., RB. Served in Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina.

Matt Hadley: Connell, Washington (Connell HS), Sr., DB. Served in Salvador, Brazil.

KJ Hall: Spanish Fork (Maple Mountain HS), So. RB. Served in Mexico City.

Micah Hannemann: Alpine (Lone Peak HS), Sr., DB. Served in Carlsbad, California.

Mitch Harris: Gilbert, Arizona (Perry HS), Jr., Deep snapper. Served in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Nate Heaps: American Fork, Utah (American Fork HS), Fr., TE. Served in Santiago, Chile.

Chandon Herring: Gilbert, Arizona (Perry HS), Fr., OL. Served in Washington, D.C.

Austin Hoyt: Ione, California (Argonaut HS), Jr., OL. Served in Denver.

Tanner Jacobson: Southlake, Texas (Texas Tech), Jr., DB. Served in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Grant Jones: Concord, California (Ygnacio Valley HS), Sr., LB. Served in Las Vegas.

Tuni Kanuch: South Jordan (Bingham HS), Sr., OL. Served in San Diego.

Corbin Kaufusi: Provo (Timpview HS), Jr., DL. Served in South Korea.

Isaiah Kaufusi: Cottonwood Heights (Brighton HS), Fr., LB. Served in Nuku'alofa, Tonga.

Taggart Krueger: Sammamish, Washington (Skyline HS), Jr., Wr. Served in Quezon City, Philippines.

Mo Langi: Matangiake, Tonga (Tonga HS), Fr., DL. Served in Phoenix.

Moroni Laulu-Pututau: Hyrum (Mountain Crest HS), Jr., TE. Served in Antofagasta, Chile.

Austin Lee: Draper, Utah (SLCC), So., DB. Served in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Hiva Lee: Ellensburg, Washington (Ellensburg HS), Sr., DB. Served in Salt Lake City.

Uriah Leiataua: Compton, California (Dominguez HS), Fr., DL. Served in Apia, Samoa.

Jonny Linehan: Auckland, New Zealand (Takapuna Grammar), Sr., P. Served in Adelaide, Australia.

AJ Lolohea: Glendale, Utah (West HS), Fr., DL. Served in Tonga.

Kieffer Longson: San Ramon, California (Dougherty Valley HS), Fr., OL. Served in Toronto, Canada.

Inoke Lotulelei: Midvale (Cottonwood HS), So., WR. Served in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Tanner Mangum: Eagle, Idaho (Eagle HS), Jr., QB. Served in Antofagasta, Chile.

Hunter Marshall: Acworth, Georgia (Snow College), Jr., TE. Served in Everett, Washington.

Austin McChesney: Highland (Lone Peak HS), So., DB. Served in San Diego, California.

Andrew Mikkelsen: Canby, Oregon (Oregon State), Jr., K. Served in Apia, Samoa.

Va'a Niumatalolo: Annapolis, Maryland (Broadneck HS), Sr., LB. Served in St. George, Utah.

Keyan Norman: Alpine (Southern Utah), Sr., OL. Served in Orlando, Florida.

Butch Pau’u: Anaheim, California (Servite HS), Jr., LB. Served in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Neil Pau’u: Santa Ana, California (Servite HS), Fr., WR. Served in Salt Lake City.

Trajan Pili: Las Vegas (Centennial HS), So. DL. Served in Jacksonville, Florida.

Sawyer Powell: West Richland, Washington (Richland HS), Sr., DB. Served in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Adam Pulsipher: Temecula, California (Temecula Valley HS), Jr., LB. Served in Rancagua, Chile.

Addison Pulsipher: Temecula, California (Temecula Valley HS), So., OL. Served in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Creed Richardson: Provo (Timpview HS), Jr., RB. Served in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Rhett Sandlin: Draper (Alta HS), Jr., DL. Served in Nashville, Tennessee.

Cody Savage: Lovell, Wyoming (Lovell HS), Jr., DL. Served in Atlanta.

Will Sedgwick: Laguna Hills, California (Laguna Hills HS), Fr., LB. Served in Barcelona, Spain.

Thomas Shoaf: Columbus, Indiana (Columbus North HS), So., OL. Served in Honolulu.

Rickey Shumway: Provo (Timpview HS), So., WR. Served in Concepcion, Chile.

Talon Shumway: South Jordan (Lone Peak HS), So., WR. Served in McAllen, Texas.

Leroy Sitake-Tanoai: Sherman Oaks, California (Notre Dame HS), So., OL. Served in Suva, Fiji.

Cody Stewart: Mesa, Arizona (Mountain View HS), Sr., DB. Served in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Merrill Taliauli: Salt Lake City (East HS), Jr., DL. Served in Federal Way, Washington.

Handsome Tanielu: Waianae, Hawaii (Snow College), Sr., DL. Served in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Beau Tanner: Gilbert, Arizona (Scottsdale CC), Jr., WR. Served in Santa Ana, El Salvador.

Johnny Tapusoa: Laie, Hawaii (Kahuku HS), So., LB. Served in Apia, Samoa.

Kesni Tausinga: South Jordan (Bingham HS), Sr., DL. Served in Suva, Fiji.

Ula Tolutau: Glendale, Utah (East HS), Fr., RB. Served in Bakersfield, California.

Khyiris Tonga: West Valley City, Utah (Granger HS), Fr., DL. Served in Wichita, Kansas.

Earl Tuioti-Mariner: Topeka, Kansas (Washburn Rural HS), Fr., DL. Served in Capetown, South Africa.

Joe Tukuafu: Glendale, Utah (East HS), Fr., TE. Served in Cordoba, Argentina.

Morgan Unga: Ogden (Bonneville HS), Jr., LB. Served in Richmond, Virginia.

Taipe Vaka: Oakland, California (Diablo Valley College), Jr., OL. Served in St. Louis, Missouri.

Kody Wilstead: St. George, Utah (Pine View HS), Fr., QB. Served in Neuquen, Argentina.

Solomone Wolfgramm: Menlo Park, California (BYU-Hawaii), Jr., DL. Served in Phoenix.

Colorado (1)

Sam Bennion: Logan (Logan HS), Fr., DL. Served in Concepcion, Chile.

Hawaii (4)

Noah Borden: Pearl City, Hawaii (Kamehameha Schools Kapalama), Jr., LB/LS. Served in Las Vegas.

Dylan Collie: El Dorado Hills, California (BYU), Jr., WR. Served in Richmond, Virginia.

Hekili Keliiliki: Bentonville, Arkansas (Bentonville HS), Fr., RB. Served in Brisbane, Australia.

John Ursua: Laie, Hawaii (Cedar City HS), So., WR. Served in Paris.

Michigan State (1)

Mufi Hill-Hunt: Sandy (Taylorsville HS), Fr., DE. Served in Virginia.

Navy (1)

Pepe Tanuvasa: Tigard, Oregon (Tigard HS), Fr., LB. Served in Tampa, Florida.

Oregon State (3)

Gus Lavaka: Kearns (Kearns HS), So., OL. Served in Tonga.

Baker Pritchard: South Jordan (Bingham HS/BYU), Sr., DE. Served in Honolulu.

Paisa Savea: Fagaima, American Samoa (Northridge HS/Snow College), Sr., DL. Served in central and southern California.

San Jose State (1)

Deano Motes: Chandler, Arizona (Perry HS), So., OL. Served in Nashville, Tennessee.

Stanford (4)

Sean Barton: North Salt Lake (Woods Cross HS), Jr., LB. Served in Benin, West Africa.

Brandon Fanaika: Pleasant Grove (Pleasant Grove HS), Sr., OL. Served in Florida.

Houston Heimuli: Woods Cross, Utah (Bountiful HS), Fr., FB. Served in Indianapolis.

Gabe Reid: American Fork, Utah (Timpview HS), Fr., LB. Served in American Samoa.

TCU (1)

Ezra Tu’ua: Anchorage, Alaska (Diamond HS/LA Harbor College), Jr., DT. Served in Lansing, Michigan.

Utah (19)

Dakota Baker: Idaho Falls (Idaho Falls HS), Fr., WR. Served in Atlanta.

Tyler Bell: Fountain Valley, California (Fountain Valley HS), Sr., TE. Served in Lansing, Michigan.

Matt Gay: Orem, Utah (Orem HS), Sr., K. Served in Houston.

Connor Haller: Salt Lake City (Olympus HS), Fr., DB. Served in Scotland and Ireland.

Chase Hansen: Highland (Lone Peak HS), Jr., DB. Served in Brisbane, Australia.

Shawn Hansen: Buena Park, California (Cypress College), Jr., DB. Served in London.

Nick Heninger: South Jordan (Bingham HS), Fr., DE. Served in Baguio, Philippines.

Hayes Hicken: Salt Lake City (Highland HS), So., K. Served in Tampico, Mexico.

Trevor Horlacher: Ivins (Snow College), Fr., LB. Served in Ciudad, Obregon, Mexico.

Jake Jackson: Encinitas, California (La Costa Canyon HS), So., TE. Served in San Antonio.

Chayden Johnston: South Jordan, Utah (Bingham HS), Fr., K. Served in Minneapolis.

Mark Kruger: Orem (Pleasant Grove HS), Fr., DT. Served in Adelaide, Australia.

Hauati Pututau: Salt Lake City (Cottonwood HS), Fr., DT. Served in Orlando, Florida.

Sunia Tauteoli: Salt Lake City (East HS/Snow College), Sr., LB. Served in Houston.

Paul Toala: Burien, Washington (Dixie State College), So., OL. Served in Mexico.

Pita Tonga: Taylorsville (Highland HS), Fr., DT. Served in Lima, Peru.

Adam Webber: Salt Lake City (Highland HS), Fr., DB. Served in Frankfurt, Germany.

Alex Whittingham: Salt Lake City (Brighton HS), Sr., LB. Served in New Zealand.

Mason Woodward: West Point (Syracuse HS), So., RB. Served in Buenos Aires.

Utah State (28)

Caden Anderson: Logan (Logan HS), Fr., DE. Served in Detroit.

Roman Andrus: El Dorado Hills, California (Snow), Jr., OL. Served in Monterrey, Mexico.

Preston Brooksby: Peoria, Arizona (Sunrise Mountain HS/Glendale CC), Sr., OL. Served in McAllen, Texas.

Taylor Compton: Logan (Logan HS), Fr., WR. Served in Buenos Aires.

Preston Curtis: Salt Lake City (East HS), Fr., WR. Served in Rancagua, Chile.

Ritisoni Fata: Redlands, California (East Valley HS), Fr., NG. Served in Texas.

Quin Ficklin: Mesa, Arizona (BYU), Jr., OL. Served in New York City.

Baron Gajkowski: Alpine (Lone Peak HS), Fr., S. Served in South Carolina.

Mason Gajkowski: Sandy (Jordan HS), So., LB. Served in Guatemala.

Braden Harris: Gunnison (Gunnison Valley HS), So., LB. Served in Tonga.

Moroni Iniguez: Kaysville, Utah (Davis HS/Snow), So., OL. Served in Madrid.

Jarom Ioane: Bountiful (Bountiful HS), Sr., OL. Served in Veracruz, Mexico.

Derek Larsen: Logan (Logan HS), Jr., LB. Served in Orsorno, Chile.

Ofa Latu: Provo (Timpview HS/Snow), Jr., LB. Served in Indianapolis.

Logan Lee: Rexburg, Idaho (Madison HS), Fr., DE. Served in McAllen, Texas.

Connor Meyers: McLean Virginia (McLean HS/SUU), Fr., OL. Served in Anaheim, California.

Sialao Mobley: Herriman, Utah (Herriman HS/BYU), So., LB. Served in Jackson, Mississippi.

Chase Nelson: Logan (Logan HS), Fr., S. Served in Manchester, England.

DJ Nelson: Logan (Logan HS), Jr., QB. Served in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Chance Parker: Kaysville (Davis HS), So., S. Served in Philadelphia.

Dax Raymond: Provo (Timpview HS), So., TE. Served in Russia.

Michael Smith: Highland, Utah (Lone Peak HS), So., K. Served in Peru.

Zach Swenson: Salt Lake City (East HS), Fr., S. Served in San Diego.

Keith Tambe: Cedar Park, Texas (Cedar Park HS), Fr., DL. Served in Jackson, Mississippi.

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Tyler Thornock: Missoula, Montana (Big Sky HS), So., TE. Served in Fresno, California.

Mohelika Uasike: Euless, Texas (LD Bell HS), So., DL. Served in Riverside, California.

KJ Uluave: Laie, Hawaii (Kahuku HS), Jr., OL. Served in Salt Lake City.

Zach Van Leeuwen: Provo (Timpview HS), Jr., WR. Served in Paraguay.

Jacoby Wildman: Logan (Logan HS), So., DE. Served in Houston.

Wyoming (2)

Kolton Donavan: Washington, Utah (SUU), Sr., LS. Served in San Antonio.

Pahl Schwab: Afton, Wyoming (Star Valley HS), So., OT. Served in Tempe and Gilbert, Arizona.