There are three certainties in life. Death, taxes and opposing college football coaches citing BYU's age difference as an advantage.
Like clockwork, during a press conference leading up to a game with BYU, the coach of the opposition will spout off the following or something very similar.
"WELL SHOOT HALF OF THEIR PLAYERS HAVE WIVES AND KIDS. THEY'RE GROWN MEN OVER THERE. I GOT A BUNCH OF TOM HAVERFORDS AND THEY HAVE A TEAM OF RON SWANSONS."
(As a side note, I've never understood how having kids makes you a better football player. If that was the case then Travis Henry and Antonio Cromartie would be in the Hall of Fame.)
Almost equally predictable is the strong response from BYU fans insisting that the sending players off on missions doesn't help but that it actually is a disadvantage. Cougar fans will cite the lack of physical training and the complete absence of time that is dedicated to anything that relates to football.
The day-to-day lives that missionaries lead might not seem like they have anything to do with football -- but in fact, everything that missionaries do helps them be the best football players on the planet.
Those of us who served Mormon missions (myself included) know this to be true. We don't like to admit it but the basic missionary activities not only help prepare football players for future battle, but it might be the very best college football training program in the history of the game.
Let me give you a sneak peak behind the secret training techniques employed by the Mormon church.
When a pair of Mormon missionaries come knocking on your door, you think that they are there to talk about the Mormon religion. While this is true, what you don't know is that they are also there to strengthen their hands and knuckles. Studies show that repeated door knocking for two hours a day over the course of two years will increase finger strength by 137%. You wouldn't think that this is a big deal until you realize defensive and offensive lineman use their FINGERS to balance when they're in a 3-point-stance. Fingers are also used for other things in football like catching and holding the ball on extra points.
Not all missionaries receive the benefits of door knocking as some will go the lazy route and use the doorbell, a method that actually decreases hand eye coordination. I'm sure when Bronco Mendenhall and his staff evaluate freshly returned missionaries, they can easily spot the door knockers from the bell ringers.
A large majority of Mormon missionaries use bicycles as their main mode of transportation. Aside from the inherent health benefits from biking, these young men have the fortune of experiencing the occasional bike accident. You see the average bike accident exerts 27 times the force of the standard tackle in football. After a few times flipping over their handle bars or getting run off the road by an angry man in a station wagon, these missionaries will think that getting sacked by an opposing defensive lineman will feel like nothing.
Yes, there is a good chance that someone will break a bone or three when they get into a bike accident but we all know that bones, just like muscles, have to be broken down before they can be built back up. Trust me on this, I minored in Theater Art Studies.
RUNNING FROM DOGS
Along with the door-to-door proselytizing that results in superior knuckle strength, Mormon missionaries often find themselves in precarious situations involving angry dogs that don't want strangers on their property. At least once a month a missionary is chased by a dog, which is equal parts terrifying and fortifying. Being chased by a dog brings out the very best in a missionaries athletic ability, making them quicker and more agile than anyone could have thought possible. Getting chased by a linebacker is scary but most of them don't carry rabies and cut into your flesh with the sharp teeth.
Just ask Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez. He knows as well as anyone that all of the fancy equipment and complex leg workouts will never compare to the ultimate speed and agility enhancement that comes from being chased by a dog. If Benny had never been chased by The Beast there is no way he goes on the play in the majors and steal home.
Most football programs have their players run wind sprints on the field and BYU's players are all over the world being chased by rabid dogs. You tell me which group of players will run faster.
One of the major difficulties that college football coaches encounter is teaching their freshman the language and nomenclature of the offense. It's hard for these poor kids to go to class but they also have to memorize passing trees and know what "shift to halfback twin right open, swap 72 all-go special halfback shallow cross wide open" means.
Tanner Mangum has only been home from his Mormon mission for three months but somehow he has been able to master the BYU playbook in record time. How did he do it? Well he, and many other missionaries, are sent to foreign countries when they are asked to learn the native tongue in a very short amount of time. In fact most missionaries only receive eight weeks of language training before embarking on their journey. At any rate, learning the basics of an offense is a cakewalk after learning a second language. If you can learn how to tell an angry Moscow native to "put down the gun," then you can learn the spread option.
SDSU football coach Rocky Long made an attempt to try and mimic this strategic advantage by requesting that his recruits enroll in language training classes before arriving on campus but the plan failed miserably. Apparently Rocky didn't take into account that before learning a second language you need to be able to speak one language in the first place. Now Rocky is sending out copies or Dr Seuss' "Hop on Pop" to help stimulate their intellectual growth.
FULL NIGHTS OF SLEEP
How many 18-20-year-olds actually get the proper amount of sleep? None of them. Not one single college freshman is getting more that 3.7 hours of sleep per night unless they go to the University of Wyoming where taking a nap is the most exciting thing someone can do on a Friday night in Laramie. While most college football players are basically destroying their bodies by not sleeping, Mormon missionaries are getting a full eight hours of sleep every night essentially making their bodies impervious to ailment or disease.
Mormon missionaries are sent out to work in pairs, which are called companionships. With these pairings in place, a Mormon missionary will never go a day without another missionary standing right next to them. Sometimes these companionships can result in lifelong friendships, but even the best of friends can drive each other crazy when they are together 24/7.
I should also mention that it is not permitted for missionaries to punch each other the face. This situation of spending every waking moment with someone without being able to knock their teeth out gives someone the patience of a kindergarten teacher or social workers. And how exactly does this patience transfer over to the football field? Running backs must exercise patience when wait for the offensive line to open up the running lane. Quarterbacks have the be patient for wide receivers to get open. Offensive line patiently wait for the snap count. I think you get the picture.
OTHER MASSIVE ADVANTAGES
- Missionaries wear a suit and tie every day they serve. Most football teams spend a good eight hours getting players to suit up for team photos. BYU can knock their picture day out in two hours flat.
- Mormon missionaries are asked to avoid swimming pools. Just ask former USC defensive back Josh Shaw how dangerous those can be.
- A lot of missionaries that serve in the United States experience massive weight gain while serving. Since fat is easily converted to muscle this advantage is so obvious that it should be considered cheating.
- I mentioned how fast a missionary runs when being chased by a dog, but did I mention how fast they run when someone pulls a gun on them?
- Missionaries are expected to study gospel related topics for an hour every day, which is three hours more than what Utah State football players dedicate to their studies on a weekly basis. (Am I suggesting that the Aggies study negative two hours a week? You tell me.)
- A good number of missionaries will serve in leadership positions over the course of two years. While this might not make itself manifest right away, these leadership skills will come in handy when that player returns to the sidelines to coach.