I woke up today to a text from my mother saying that legendary BYU football coach LaVell Edwards had passed away. Unlike the other celebrity passings of this year, I actually had met Coach Edwards three different times, and all three times he made a huge impact on my life. He was a great man who took time out of his busy schedule to speak to a random young man who only really wanted a handshake.
The first was in the summer of 1996. I was nine years old and despite the best efforts of my dad and my uncle, both die-hard BYU fans, I had not taken much interest in BYU sports and football in particular. I grew up loving baseball. I was a big boy and both of them desperately wanted me to participate in football, but I wasn’t biting.
They took me down to campus one day and as we were walking past the Smith Fieldhouse, LaVell walked out of the football offices and right into our little group. He shook our hands and pulled me aside and asked me how old I was. I told him I was nine. Coach then said he looked forward to me playing linebacker for him in nine years, then gave me a pat on the back, and went back to his duties. I had no idea what a linebacker was, but he created a life-long BYU fan in that moment. We went to the bookstore and bought my first T-shirt which started the majority of my clothing habitually being blue.
I’m going to skip to the last time I saw him as it had much more impact on my life than most small encounters we have with people everyday. I was seventeen, a mouthy, angry teenager who was hurting very much due to the fact my beloved grandfather had just passed away a couple weeks before. I was on campus for a ballroom dance lesson, ballroom dance had become my second favorite activity outside of basketball. It was after my lesson and I was sitting in the Wilkinson Center waiting for my ride when he was walking past. Due to my fanhood I had to say hi to him again. He shook my hand and made some small talk. As he was walking away he turned and asked me if I was ok. I broke down and told him I was not and why I was not. He then gave me the most beautiful explanation of the Plan of Salvation, the LDS doctrine concerning life and death, that I had ever received. Despite growing up LDS and going to church, that doctrine had not given me much comfort during this time. Coach also gave me a couple challenges that he asked me to complete. I did those and roughly a year and a half later I was a missionary for the LDS church, a path I had not previously been on before that short talk.
I didn’t play for LaVell, he doesn’t even know my name, but he had an everlasting impact on my life. Not just frivolous things like me being a BYU fan but also important things like helping a struggling young man find faith and hope when he couldn’t find any. For this reason, I love LaVell Edwards. Rest well Coach, you deserve it.