By Derik Stevenson, BYU Alumnus 1992, 1995-1998
“You get one phone call!” the guard yelled as he rapped on the steel bars and woke me up from the worst night’s sleep of my life. I sat up quickly, trying to make sense of my surroundings. My head throbbed. It was cold and dark in the Sanpete County Jail. I tossed and turned all night on a mattress with no sheet and a small blanket. My orange jumpsuit was stained with dried blood. My nose, lips and the cuts on my head and arms had been bleeding off and on throughout the night. Much of the night I spent looking out the small cell window at the Mormon temple that sat perched high on a hill, looking down on me. I told myself over and over that night that my life was over. I told God how sorry I was, but kept getting the impression that it was too late for that. All the things that I had worked so hard for — my BYU football career, my admission to the BYU Marriott Business School, the experiences I created on my church mission, my future marriage antd family…were going to be gone.
The previous night, the guards at the jail had initially looked my injuries over and refused to accept me. They told the police officers that brought me in that they needed to take me to the hospital first and get a doctor to guarantee them that I wasn’t going to die in my cell that night. I must’ve looked pretty rough. The doctor on call, upon hearing I was a punk and a criminal thug from the arresting officers, looked me over half-heartedly for five seconds, then signed the paperwork. “Good riddance if he dies”, one of the cops said as we walked back to the patrol car. I sat on my handcuffed hands in the backseat as we drove past Snow College on the way back to jail. I looked out the window at the parking lot where it all happened. It all happened so fast. It was a blur. I thought we were going to be killed. I was so scared and made such a stupid mistake. But it was entirely in self-defense. I would never take another man’s life. I just didn’t know what else to do.
The next morning I was terrified to call him. I sat on the edge of the bed and put my head in my shaking hands. I knew how disappointed he would be in me. But I knew he was the only man that I could turn to for help in my situation. I knew that my head coach, LaVell Edwards, loved me enough to hear me out, get me out, and hopefully help me out of the situation I had put myself in. He was just like my father. He was loving, but firm and steadfast. He was my second Father, whom my parents trusted enough to turn me over to at the age of 18. I paced in my cell and lifted weights in the yard for a couple hours, trying to get up the courage to call LaVell at home. Part of me just wanted to stay in jail instead of calling him. Finally, I asked the guards for my one call.
When he answered the phone I told him how sorry I was, and I immediately started to get choked up. He told me to calm down and tell him exactly what I’d done. I imagined the look on his face on the other end of the phone — probably expressionless. Calculating. Steady. Firm. Angry. Furious. He took a few deep breaths and said, “Derik…It’s going to be okay.” He told me to sit tight and that I’d be out soon and that I was going to “make this right”. LaVell called the District Attorney and put his name on the line. He asked the DA to release me on my own recognizance, with no money put down as bail, because LaVell was gong to ensure that everything was done properly. I was released from the Sanpete County Jail and made the long, painful drive back to Provo, where the Honor Code Office had been put on notice that they would soon have two visitors.
The BYU Honor Code Office was very accommodating, initially. LaVell told them the things he was planning to do with me in order to make things right. They agreed that we could all work together internally, without any public explanation, in order to resolve the situation. But as a lot of misinformation got out into the public and the media, BYU came back and had changed their minds, telling me that I was either going to withdraw from school, or they would be forced to kick me out. I was devastated that my dreams of playing football at BYU and getting my degree were finished. LaVell saw things very differently. He said that this was an opportunity for me to improve myself and improve my life. He sat down with me and helped me put together a six-month plan. He said I could show BYU the type of person I was. He told me that, if I wanted it bad enough, I could earn my way back into school and be back on the team. The easy thing for him to do would’ve been to say good-bye to his “problem child”. I wanted to give up. The road back was going to be too hard. But he wasn’t going to allow me to give up. He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.
For the next few months, I was no longer a BYU student and no longer a member of the BYU Football team. I was on my own. Except LaVell; he was there with me. He checked in with me, and I checked in with him. My readmission to BYU was conditional on me performing 240 hours of community service, working a full-time job and clearing up all legal charges. Many times throughout these six months, I wondered why LaVell even cared. He had 99 other guys to worry about. Why did he make me feel like I was the only guy on the team? Many times during this process I wanted to give up, but LaVell believe in me carried me. I wouldn’t give up if he didn’t continue to push me.
Readmission to BYU after correcting my legal problems was the best accomplishment I had in my years at Brigham Young University. Acceptance to the Marriott Business School was a close second. The successes I had on the football team were third. Just as LaVell would’ve wanted it. He never coached me on the football field regarding technique or strategy. He coached me on life. He wanted me to be a successful man, and a successful father with a successful career. When I found myself in jail and in trouble with the law, I wasn’t a good player on LaVell’s team. I was a young Sophomore and had a minor role on Special Teams. BYU Football would’ve been just fine without me. But Coach Edwards embraced me as if I was the star player that he couldn’t be without. He changed my life like he did for hundreds, maybe thousands of other young men.
That is LaVell’s legacy for me. When I was at my lowest point in life and I had only one call to make, I knew I could call him. I knew that he would love me unconditionally as good fathers do. I knew he would do anything to help me. He would treat me as if I was the the only player on his team. My arrest was 20 years ago this month. LaVell and I have laughed about it a few times over the last couple years. He sees me with my four daughters and laughs about the “payback” I’m getting now for the stress I put him through. Today, I look at my kids, my career and my life and thank God for a coach that cared more about me than he did about football. A successful football program was simply a byproduct of the way LaVell Edwards treated his players, his staff, the media and Cougar fans.
Rest in peace, coach. Thank you for everything you’ve done. Thank you for taking my phone call. We love you. I love you.