PROVO — Who’d have predicted the night BYU scatterbug Nate Meikle went off on the Cal Bears in the 2005 Las Vegas Bowl, catching 12 passes — more than Jonny Harline and Todd Watkins — that someday he’d be an egghead professor?
That’s exactly where Meikle’s pathway is taking him. He’s got a law degree from Stanford, a Ph.D. from the University of Utah, and he’s headed to Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business to be a postdoctoral teaching and research fellow.
I always thought he was just a great guy who was a pleasure to travel with as a KSL radio sideline reporter during all of this.
Now, he’s even an author.
When did you turn so smartly academic, Nate?
Academic life kind of sunk in after Meikle graduated from BYU and decided to go to Stanford Law School. About that time, while visiting his hometown in Idaho, he ran into his basketball coach and told him he was headed to Stanford. His old coach reacted by saying, “I didn’t know you were so smart.”
Thing is, up until college football was over, school was always on the back burner for Meikle. It was just something he did to remain eligible to play football. He always loved to read, but, once sports ended, he discovered a deep love of studying. Learning became an obsession, and he wanted to make it his life.
His dissertation at Utah is about biases in artificial intelligence. I’d never had thought there were any. He must have watched HBO’s "Westworld."
An experiment in teaching his daughter Kyla to read when she was just two years old is the foundation of Meikle’s first book titled “Little Miss: a Father, His Daughter and Rocket Science.” It is available as an E-book and hardcover on Amazon.
He was a first-time dad, and one day it hit him.
“Should I be teaching her to read? Heck, I don’t know when you are supposed to try.” He felt guilty and through research found that kids usually start reading at 4, but could start at 2.
He found that, in Canada, hockey players who were born the first three months of the year entered school bigger, stronger and faster and had an advantage over those born three months later. And those born in the second quarter had a big advantage as to skill development over those born later in the year — when they all began playing sports the same school year. An early start is an advantage, and most of the time it ends up an advantage over the course of a life.
Nathan Meikle reads a book with his daughter Kyla when she was a young child. | Courtesy Meikle family
He then began reading to her every day. He knew the value but didn’t know why. Research inspired him to find the best children’s books — thousands in the next year— and read to Kyla daily. The first year, they went from reading 300 books to 3,000. They went from a book a day to 10 books a day.
During her second year of life, Kyla was reading at a kindergarten level. By kindergarten, she read like a third-grader. She has read a thousand novels including the Harry Potter series at least four times. In all, she has read 10,000 books in her eight years.
Today, Kyla is working on her own novels. She has typed over 100 pages in the books she is writing.
What they noticed is Kyla fell in love with reading. She was exposed to thousands of characters, plots, decision-making themes, resolutions, settings, relationships, backgrounds, and dialogue.
“She learned how characters, faced with a problem, solved them. We’ve had 10,000 vicarious journeys together where we’ve conquered something together,” said Meikle.
“By no means do we think this guarantees she will have a happy life, or that she will be successful. Parenting is kind of a crapshoot, you do the best you can, but we are happy she loves to read.
“We'll never know if what we did was just to facilitate the interest she already had, like putting fuel on the fire,” he said.
Meikle’s book includes a list of books Kyla has read, and it explains the techniques used and the research Meikle read that caused him to make this journey with his daughter.
“Reading to children is the number one most important thing parents can do to help their children become readers. And children who read the most, read the best, and stay in school the longest,” said Meikle.
“One of the great gifts a parent can give a child is a love of learning. In the words of Louisa Moats,” said Meikle, “‘Teaching reading is rocket science.”’
Meikle, who speaks fluent Spanish, said he can’t find anything else in life, not even money, that can be a greater predictor of success in life than education.
“The lift, the adrenaline you get in sports, can’t be duplicated in education,” said Meikle. “I remember when I was 20 thinking that if I could just play Division I football, my life would be a success. But you realize how much more life is left when you get into your 30s, 40s, and 50s. In our 20s it’s hard to pay our future selves, we really like our present selves. Our present selves want to stay up late, eat all the food an get fat. We don’t care much about our future self, but our future self has a lot to give and live for.”
BYU Quarterback John Beck (right) and #31 Nathan Meikle walk off the field at the Las Vegas Bowl after losing to the Cal Bears 35-28 Thursday December 22, 2005.. | Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Meikle said the 2005 Las Vegas Bowl is his greatest football memory. As a walkon and although he started his junior year, he still wasn’t on scholarship and felt somehow he did not belong. He felt a little odd alongside John Beck, Curtis Brown, Todd Watkins and Fahu Tahi.
So, that night against Cal and Marshawn Lynch, when he and Beck started connecting, he became the recipient of a lot of audibles. The Cougars raced back and had a chance to tie the game on the final drive. It was then that Beck got hit throwing what could have been a crucial pass at the end, and the ball was intercepted.
“But to me, it was a night against a good team on a big stage. A few weeks later, Bronco Mendenhall called me in and offered me a scholarship. That was the moment I did belong.”
Other highlights as a radio analyst, a job he says he will always cherish, include the game with Max Hall and the upset of No. 2 Oklahoma in Dallas.
Football has been good to Meikle, who came to BYU from Snow College.
But now, though he lives in Salt Lake City, his future self will be at Notre Dame.
Not a bad road less traveled.