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ChurchBeat: How prayer is like a football coach

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Both the BYU and Boise State football teams gather at midfield for a prayer following the game at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. BYU won 51-17.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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No. 8 BYU’s head coach and three of his best players slid so easily between talking about football and prayer during a recent Zoom meeting with reporters that I had a lot left in my notebook after writing about their remarkable postgame prayer with Boise State after a recent game.

  • Coach Kalani Sitake:

“We can pray, so we do. We pray as a team and we pray as a program. That’s a big part of what we do. We’re allowed to do that, so we’re gonna take advantage of it. … It doesn’t say that there’s a limit to it so, yeah, we’re gonna pray often and make sure we do it as much as possible, and coaches probably stretch the limits to that a little bit more.”

  • Freshman tight end Isaac Rex, who has more touchdown catches (six) than all but 15 players in the nation and served a Latter-day Saint mission in Samoa:

“Well, honestly, prayer is like a very important aspect of my life, and I love being able to talk to my Heavenly Father and receive his guidance. When you pray, it’s kind of like receiving coaching from coaches. When you receive that revelation from God, it’s kind of like getting feedback from your coaches on what you can do better and how you’re improving and also how much he loves you.

“Every time a coach gives you feedback, it’s kind of like he’s showing his love for you because he wants you to be better and to grow as a person. I feel like that’s the same with prayer. When you receive revelation from our Heavenly Father, from the Lord, you know that he wants you to be better and he loves you and he cares for you. I love being able to talk to my Heavenly Father and to receive guidance from Him and also the revelation that I can receive. Being able to pray is a lot like football in some ways and it’s also a really cool experience for all of us to grow closer to our Heavenly Father.”

  • Junior wide receiver Gunner Romney, who ranks 12th in the country in receiving yards with 648:

“One thing that intrigued me to come in here is the religion aspect. We pray before meetings every single day, and in practice all throughout the week, we open up with a prayer, and before games we all get together and say a prayer, and then after games, we give our gratitude to God. So that’s one thing that’s really cool, and I think it’s brought us together pretty close as a team.”

On joining other teams in postgame prayers on the field: 

“I love them, getting together and just showing gratitude to be able to play the game that we love, just showing gratitude for all the blessings that we’ve been given just to be in the positions that we’re in to have the opportunities that we have to play football.”

  • Junior offensive lineman Brady Christensen, who served a mission in New Zealand and is ranked by Pro Football Focus among the best 100 prospects in the upcoming NFL draft:

“Prayer is a huge aspect of my life. I always tend to set three or four goals a year that I’m trying to accomplish. One of my goals always involves football. I’m always praying to ask God to help me with that goal, to continue to strive to reach it and always to keep it in my mind. It’s huge, just to keep a close relationship with our Heavenly Father. It’s big for me, and I just try to keep a good perspective on everything, because sometimes you get so caught up with, ‘Oh, I didn’t play good’ or ‘I played really good,’ but sometimes in life — football’s important, but there’s also bigger things in life than just football.”

  • Boise State cornerback Avery Williams, who was the 2019 Mountain West special teams player of the year:

On personal prayer:

“Prayer daily is a big part of my life, and I’d encourage others to do that as they’re going through anything. Or even if they’re not, if things are good, because something Pastor Mark (Thornton) always talks to us about is, ‘Adversity will hit in your life at some point, and like anything you need to prepare, and you can prepare with prayer and Bible study so that you know you’re not alone when that time comes.’”

On attending chapel and Bible study as a team:

“We’re all taking notes. Here in football you know you got to get better, you got to take notes on how to get better. That goes for our faith. There’s always room to grow. There’s always a relationship to build with God. Football’s very stressful at times. You can get off track, so chapel is a great time to get back and get aligned with God. You look around the room, players are taking notes, coaches are taking notes and we’re all progressing, you know, becoming better men of God.”

  • Boise State team Pastor Mark Thornton:

“I’m just always appreciative of any team or any coach who will allow his players to come out and pray with the other team afterward and make sure we’re keeping the main thing the main thing, because I’m like, ‘Hey, we play for an audience of one, for the glory of God.’ So you play for your team, but there’s a higher purpose here.”

My Recent Stories

‘Extraordinary man and exceptional leader’: Latter-day Saint legal giant Oscar McConkie eulogized following death (Nov. 18, 2020) 

How the ‘Black 14’ and Latter-day Saints became partners moving mountains of food to those in need (Nov. 17, 2020)

President Nelson to share a message to the world on Nov. 20. Here’s a preview (Nov. 13, 2020) 

Utah Area Presidency issues new, temporary restrictions on church meetings (Nov. 12, 2020)

The story behind BYU and Boise State players joining hands to pray after a game (Nov. 12, 2020)

What I’m Reading ...

I’ve traveled with my buddy Jeff Allred, Deseret News photographer, to cover the travels of President Russell M. Nelson and other church-related stories in Europe, Asia, South America and Mexico. He’s talked about covering President Nelson in a podcast with our friend and travel partner Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News.

My six sisters and I grew up on the stop-motion animation of 1964’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and 1970’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Maybe I have some name-fellow affinity for cinematographer, Tadahito “Tad” Mochinaga. Even now, one fun part of each Christmas season for me is rewatching those old TV specials and singing along to “Silver and Gold” and “Put One Foot in Front of the Other.” Last week, the Rudolph and Santa Claus figures made for “Rudolph” sold for $368,000! The story notes that Santa’s beard was made of yak hair. The figure I want most is the Abominable Snow Monster.

Church leaders broke ground Saturday for the Cobán Guatemala Temple and the Davao Philippines Temple, the 28th and 29th temples now under construction at the same time.

A returned missionary formed a mentorship program for fellow first-generation students at the University of Southern California, which quoted him in a news release about how his mission helped him.

Another returned missionary is gaining some notice as a NASCAR jackman.

The Yale student paper featured Latter-day Saint students talking about longing to return to church meetings during the pandemic.

The first keynote speakers for RootsTech 2021 have been announced.

Will there be Christmas lights on Temple Square this year?

A former member of the Relief Society general presidency, Sister Joanne B. Doxey, died Nov. 7 at age 88.

Behind the Scenes


Elder Gifford Nielsen, a former BYU and NFL quarterback, talks with me about the pallets of food the church is delivering around the country in its new joint partnership with the Black 14 on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, at the Bishops’ Central Storehouse in Salt Lake City.

Tad Walch


The last time I was at the Bishops’ Central Storehouse was in January, when workers loaded trucks with face masks bound for China to help health care workers deal with the coronavirus outbreak. I was struck when I returned Friday to see the shelves full to the ceiling again despite half a year of massive shipments around the country. It appears donations continue to be strong during the pandemic.

Tad Walch