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Pre-game fireside fits Y. team to a T

PROVO — On the night before the big rivalry game, most football players pore over last-minute notes, watch game film or go to a movie — anything to deal with the pressure.

BYU quarterback John Beck was passing out hymnbooks.

As part of a tradition that has gone on for the better part of this season, the BYU football team held a fireside the night before a game, this one in the Provo Tabernacle on Friday night.

In his remarks, head coach Bronco Mendenhall said he spent a lot of time after he was hired, searching for a good routine for the team to follow on the night before game day.

"For the first three weeks this year, we went to movies," Mendenhall said. " A lot of teams go to movies. The result, as you know, is we started 1-3. But as I've read and looked for the correct alignment for this program and what we are doing ... this is it, this is it."

The theme for the firesides this year has been "Being a Disciple of Christ, Being a Follower of Christ, Being a Representative of Christ."

Senior Sosiua Sekona spoke first and reminded the audience they are blessed to live in this time but that much is expected of them.

He quoted a talk by LDS speaker and author Sheri Dew, who said God could have sent anyone for this time period but chose those who are here now because he trusts them to do what needs to be done.

"If you are a disciple of Christ, what is it you have done lately to get better, to be better?" Sekona asked. "We are asked, as we say in football, to hold the line. Have you held it lately?"

Freshman Manase Tonga was the second speaker and talked about the lessons he's learned in his short time as a BYU player and how they relate to life in general.

"There's a lot of things coach Mendenhall makes us do," Tonga said. "In the summer, when I was new, I'd ask 'Why are we doing this? What does this do?' But now, I can see the benefits. ... As long as we listen to our leaders, everything will work out for the best."

Working with returned missionaries like Tonga was a big part in his decision to take the program in this direction, Mendenhall said.

"What kind of coach would I be if I wasn't aligning our program to allow them to maintain that light, to maintain that spirit and maintain that look in their countenance?" he said.

In his closing remarks, Mendenhall related the story of the Eco-Challenge, a grueling, voluntary test players take part in over the summer. It consists of a one-mile swim, followed by a 38-mile bike ride, most of which is uphill.

The day of the challenge, there were two players who finished hours behind all the others. Mendenhall had sent the rest of the team on, but waited until those two players crossed the finish line so he could be there to congratulate them.

The lesson, he said, far transcended football.

"As you step outside of football and look at life, when you cross that finish line, I don't think our Father will care what position we finished or whether we were the fastest or slowest," he said.