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BYU football players awaiting missions

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LAS VEGAS — Before lifting his arm and grazing a potential game-winning kick with his fingertips to save last year's Las Vegas Bowl, Eathyn Manumaleuna had a mission call in hand.This year, Brigham Young University freshman Michael Alisa finds himself in a similar situation. He knows where and when he will begin serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that the Las Vegas Bowl will be his final football game for at least two years.Alisa is also cognizant of the decisive play Manumaleuna made last year, when he sent UCLA kicker Kai Forbath's short attempt ricocheting to the left and short of the goal post as the clock ran out on a 17-16 Cougar victory. Alisa, a freshman linebacker who has been called to serve in the Puerto Rico San Juan West Mission, was recently joking about that scenario with teammate Daniel Sorensen, who has also received a mission call."Maybe it might be a little tradition for one of the freshmen that are leaving to make a play to help the team," said Alisa, who played with Manumaleuna on a state championship squad at Timpview High (Provo, Utah) in 2006. "I'd love to be able to do anything to help the team."Several freshmen who have contributed on the field this season for the Cougars will soon interrupt their college careers to serve Mormon missions. That fact adds a layer of significance to this Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl, but no matter the outcome, the future elders appear eager to begin the next phase of their lives."I'm so excited for my mission," Alisa said. "I've played in championship games. I've been in a lot of big games, but I'm more excited for my mission than I've been for any football game."Manumaleuna, who is now serving in Oklahoma, was an important component for the Cougar defense as the starting nose tackle in 2007. After this year's bowl game, BYU will lose three backup linebackers (Alisa, Sorensen and Iona Pritchard), a kickoff specialist (Justin Sorensen) and a 6-foot-5 receiver (Kaneakua Friel) to missionary service, among others.It's a situation that head coach Bronco Mendenhall embraces."It's very gratifying," Mendenhall said. "It's what I think my main job is at BYU, and that is to help young men develop their faith and help others, and a mission is the very best way for that to happen."Justin Sorensen, a high-profile recruit from Bingham High School (South Jordan, Utah) who had 32 touchbacks during the regular season, recently received a call to Macon, Ga. He knows that this Saturday's bowl will be what he remembers for the next 2 1/2 years until he's able to compete in a game again. Still, he's eager to alter his focus."I'm really excited to go," Sorensen said. "I can't wait to go out there, kind of forget about myself for two years, not worry about football, not worry about much of anything except doing what I'm supposed to and spreading the gospel."Friel, a tight end out of Honolulu who enters the game as a starter at the 'H' receiver position, said he's trying to prepare for the Arizona contest the same way he has any other game. But the fact that he will soon be leaving for Durban, South Africa, will provide him with additional incentive."Knowing that it's my last game for two years, I think it will give me a little extra edge, wanting to perform my best and play to the best of my abilities," he said. "But whatever happens, the mission's still going to be there."I'm excited, looking forward to it, looking forward to serving, just getting out there and doing the work."His initial reaction to his call was, "That's so far away." Since then, his enthusiasm for his "chance to serve" has been building."It doesn't matter who it is or where it is, it's the same opportunity everywhere, and I'm thankful for the opportunity I've been given and the blessings in my life," Friel said.Alisa is trying to focus not only on his own situation, but the Cougar players who are about to complete their college careers."All the seniors, this is their last game," said Alisa, who has nine tackles, a forced fumble and a blocked kick this year as a backup linebacker. "Before I think about being gone for two years, I'm thinking about my team, my seniors, just doing everything that I can to help out the team (and) make it a good send-off for the seniors."The coach doesn't have any special advice for the soon-to-be missionaries, a group that also includes Spencer Hadley, Brock Stringham and Justin Blackmore. But Mendenhall knows they're focused and prepared."They're anxious to play as hard as they can play one last time, build as many memories as they can," he said.Whether or not they will impact the game like Manumaleuna did remains to be seen."It was a great experience for Eathyn," Friel said. "He's doing well in Oklahoma. I'm just excited to get out there."

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