BYU Athletics and Missions

Missionary service has been a staple within BYU Athletics since its inception. More than half of all BYU students serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While those within the Church understand the details of what a mission entails, they can be foreign to those not of the faith.

Missionaries on a TrainMissionaries on a Train

Missionary service has been a staple within BYU Athletics since its inception. More than half of all BYU students serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While those within the Church understand the details of what a mission entails, they can be foreign to those not of the faith.

In an effort to help our new friends in the Big 12 Conference, media members and others understand a bit more about missions, we hope the following is helpful.

What is a mission?

The Church’s missionary program is one of its most recognized characteristics. Latter-day Saint missionaries can be seen on the streets of hundreds of major cities in the world as well as in thousands of smaller communities. Missions last 18 months to two years. They are voluntary and self-funded. BYU student-athletes who chose to serve missions do so out of a love for Jesus Christ and a desire to serve others. Some BYU student-athletes elect to fulfill their missionary service after they graduate high school and defer their enrollment to BYU. Others take a break from studying and competing at BYU and perform their missionary service partway through their time as a student-athlete. Missionaries receive their assignment from Church headquarters and are sent to countries all throughout the world where governments allow the Church to operate. Missionaries do not request their area of assignment and do not know beforehand whether they will be required to learn a language. Due in part to the many international missionary service experiences among BYU students, more than 60 percent of the student body speaks a second language.

Why serve a mission?

Ultimately, missionary work is about serving God and serving His children, dedicating one's life to that service for two years. Missionaries often talk about serving a mission as a small way to show appreciation to God for all that He has given them in their lives. As missionaries learn and work and serve, they also gain essential life skills in areas of study, planning, logistics, interpersonal communication, relationship building, cross-cultural competence, patience, resilience and time management. A mission can serve as an important foundation for the rest of one's life, ultimately benifitting those who serve in their future education, family life, work life and Church service.

Dos and don’ts in how to talk about missions

  • We request that those referring to missions use terms such as as “serving a mission,” “full-time mission,” “two-year mission,” “missionary service,” "Latter-day Saint mission," and “a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”
  • We request that those referring to missions do not refer to missions as “mission trips,” “Mormon missions” or “LDS missions”
  • See more information about using the full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Church’s style guide

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen."

Matthew 28:19-20
Connor Pay Washington DC South

A Look at Missionary Service from the Wall Street Journal

When Conner Mantz and Clayton Young were starting out as elite distance runners, they did something strange. They stopped competing for two years. They halted all serious training. And they each gained about 30 pounds.

Now, years after their running-career detours, they’re the two fastest men’s qualifiers for Saturday’s U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Orlando. The qualifying rules are a bit inscrutable, but as of now the top two male and top three female finishers in the race are set to compete for Team USA in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

Mantz, who is 27 years old, and Young, who is 30, took their hiatuses from serious running between high school and college to go on missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Pausing training to focus on something entirely different can carry a physical downside for high-level athletes. But for many people it can bring a surprising mental advantage by widening one’s world beyond competition and relieving some of its stresses.

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What does a mission look like day-to-day?

The overarching purpose of missionary service is to invite individuals to learn about and follow Jesus Christ. Missionaries wake up at 6:30 every day and spend some time each morning exercising and doing religious study. After that, they spend the entire day talking to people on the street, knocking on doors and visiting in homes, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Missionaries look for ways to serve and help others in a variety of ways. Missionaries hold the title of "Elder" or "Sister" and are referred to as such, with their last names (Elder Gunther, Elder Kaufusi, Elder Rex, Sister Wade, Sister Hernaez, etc.). Each missionary is put into a companionship with one or two other missionaries. They are assigned to specific geographic areas of their mission and assigned companions. Those assignments change at different times throughout the two years. Missionaries have one day off per week, but outside of the occasional game of catch with a football or non-competive game soccer or basketball, missionaries have little to no specific sport training for two years.

How do missionaries learn their language?

Before traveling to their assigned area of service, missionaries first report to a Missionary Training Center. The largest MTC is located directly north of the BYU campus, just a few blocks east of LaVell Edwards Stadium. During this time of training, missionaries are instructed in how to be effective teachers and companions. They also learn about the culture of where they are serving. Those who are serving missions where they don’t need to learn a language spend just three weeks in an MTC. Those learning languages spend up to nine weeks. Languages aren’t entirely mastered in those three to nine weeks. Missionaries continue their language study throughout their two years and have many opportunities to practice the language as they are out on the streets and in homes where they get immersed in the language.

BYU Football missionary service by the numbers

  • 65 players on the 2023 roster served missions
  • They served in 29 different countries
  • They speak 15 different languages

Players on the football 2023 team who have served missions

Chaz Ah You - Rancho Cucamonga, California
Talan Alfrey - Uruguay - Spanish
Tyler Batty - Madrid, Spain - Spanish
Jacob Boren - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Ty Burke - Neuquen, Argentina - Spanish
Ben Bywater - Guatamala City - Spanish
John Henry Daley - Brasilia, Brazil - Portuguese
Michael Daley - Montevideo, Uruguay - Spanish
Raider Damuni - Oakland, California - Tongan
Sam Dawe - Singapore and Malaysia - Malay and Chinese
Wyatt Dawe - Birmingham, Alabama
Devin Downing - Eugene, Oregon
Matthias Dunn - Cordoba, Argentina - Spanish
Koa Eldridge - Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Hmong
Ethan Erickson - Tokyo, Japan - Japanese
Mason Fakahua - Auckland New Zealand - Tongan
Cade Fennegan - Rosario, Argentina - Spanish
Will Ferrin - Vancouver, Canada
Lucky Finau - Birmingham, Alabama
Isaiah Glasker - Montevideo, Uruguay - Spanish
Talmage Gunther - Harare, Zimbabwe - Shona and Ndebele
Jake Griffin - Durban, South Africa
Cole Hagen - Washington, DC - Spanish
Ammon Hannemann - Roseville, California
Caden Haws - St. George, Utah
Nukuluve Helu - Fresno, California - Tongan
Weston Jones - San Diego, California - Spanish
Ace Kaufusi - San Jose, California
Brayden Keim - Scotland and Ireland
Kasen Krebs - Boston, Massachusetts - Portuguese
David Latu - San Jose, California
Tyler Little - Conception, Chile - Spanish
Logan Lutui - Auckland, New Zealand - Tongan
Atunaisa Mahe - Nuku'alofa, Tonga - Tongan
Sonny Makasini - Nuku'alofa, Tonga - Tongan
Marcus McKenzie - Little Rock, Arkansas
Bruce Mitchell - Seattle, Washington
Sione Moa - Kingston, Jamaica - Patwa
Simi Moala - Nuku'alofa, Tonga - Tongan
Kade Moore - Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Cambodian
Enoch Nawahine - Lusaka, Zambia - Chichewa
Connor Pay - Washington, DC
Ray Paulo - Atlanta, Georgia
Morgan Pyper - Milan, Italy - Italian
Bentley Redden - Tokyo, Japan - Japanese
Landon Rehkow - Las Vegas, Nevada
Ryan Rehkow - London, England
Isaac Rex - Samoa - Samoan
Preston Rex - Osorno, Chile - Spanish
Austin Riggs - Zimbabwe - Ndeble, Xhosa and Shona
Dalton Riggs - Nuku'alofa, Tonga - Tongan
Chase Roberts - Calgary, Canada - Tagalog
Hinckley Ropati - Quezon City, Phillippines - Tagalog
Bodie Schoonover - Cape Town, South Africa
Nuuletau Sellesin - Houston, Texas - Spanish
Ethan Slade - Santiago, Chile - Spanish
Justen Smith - Buenos Aires, Argentina - Spanish
Mata'ava Ta'ase - Tokyo, Japan - Japanese
Malae Tanuvasa - Reno, Nevada
Max Tooley - London, England - Cantonese
Petey Tuipulotu - San José, Costa Rica - Spanish
Tanner Wall - Maceio, Brazil - Portuguese
Crew Wakely - Dallas, Texas
Ben Ward - Cordoba, Argentina - Spanish

Head coach and assistant football coaches who have served missions

Kalani Sitake - Oakland, California
Jay Hill - Puerto Rico - Spanish
Aaron Roderick - Bogata, Colombia - Spanish
Fesi Sitake - Riverside, California
Kelly Popinga - Ecuador - Spanish
Sione Po'uha - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Total languages spoken on the 2023 football team (from missions and otherwise)

Spanish - 24
Tongan - 11
Samoan - 6
Portuguese - 3
Japanese - 3
Tagalog - 3
Ndeble, Xhosa and Shona - 2
Cantonese - 1
Chichewa - 1
Hmong - 1
Italian - 1
Laotion - 1
Malay - 1
Patwa - 1

*16 different languages
*54 players speak a language other than English

Former Cougars who played in the NFL and served missions (not a complete list)

Brady Christensen - Hamilton, New Zealand
Austin Collie - Buenos Aires, Argentina
John Denney - Morristown, New Jersey
Jaren Hall - Roseville, California
Taysom Hill - Sydney, Australia
Chris Hoke - Brussels, Belgium
Bronson Kaufusi - Auckland, New Zealand
Harvey Langi - Tampa, Florida
Chad Lewis - Taichung, Taiwan
Trevor Matich - Torreón, Mexico
Dennis Pitta - Dominican Republic
Vai Sikahema - South Dakota
Daniel Sorensen - San Jose, Costa Rica
Khyris Tonga - Wichita, Kansas

Those who have signed with BYU football and are currently serving missions

There are also 21 who have signed or committed to BYU who are currently serving missions in 10 different countries, speaking four different languages.

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