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Opinion: BYU is at peak fandemonium — let’s make sure it doesn’t become a trap

A BYU fan celebrates as BYU and Utah play an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.
A BYU fan celebrates as BYU and Utah play an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

I’m a pastor. This means that on Saturday nights, I need to be in bed early. I need to be well rested for Sunday. But last weekend, I did not go to bed until 1:30 a.m. I stayed up way too late watching my BYU Cougars beat Utah.

It was the first time in a long time — nine games to be exact — that BYU has beaten its rival to the north. As I watched Jaren Hall, Tyler Allgeier and the offensive line march down the field to secure the victory in the fourth quarter, I thought to myself, “What a great time to be a BYU Cougar.”

BYU was already riding high from its recent invite into the Big 12 Conference and Kalani Sitake’s contract extension. LaVell Edwards Stadium was electric and the sold-out crowd was going ballistic. After the win came a national ranking, No. 23 in the Associated Press Top 25. It’s a great time to be a BYU Cougar. Maybe the best time. Even on the academic side of the ledger, BYU was ranked this week as the 6th overall best value college in the U.S. News 2022 Best Colleges rankings, joining the likes of Yale, Harvard and Stanford in the top 10. Things are good in happy valley.

But I want to share a cautionary tale.

In 1990, Edwards, a skinny quarterback from San Antonio, Texas, and an overmatched BYU defense accomplished the miraculous: BYU defeated the defending national champions, the mighty Miami Hurricanes. Just like this past Saturday in Provo, the BYU faithful stormed the field. It was euphoric.

But after we won that game, the 1990 team lost something that I do not want the 2021 BYU Cougars to lose: emotional resiliency.

I define emotional resiliency as the capacity to focus on long-term goals through discipline and unrelenting work ethic. After a big, historic win — and the Big 12 news — teams are susceptible to emotional letdowns. I know this personally: After we beat Miami, we traveled to Eugene, Oregon, and lost to an Oregon team that finished the season 8-4. We lost because we lost our emotional resiliency.

Here are three ways for BYU not to have an emotional letdown against Arizona State this Saturday.

First, team leaders must remind every player that beating the University of Utah was not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is for the team to get better every meeting, every practice and every game. When you have a commitment to love the things that make you better, becoming better will be the result. Beating Utah was not BYU’s bowl game. Besides, come this Saturday, Arizona State will not care about a rivalry matchup in Utah.

Second, leaders must raise the level of intensity at practice. The behaviors the leaders allow in practice are the behaviors that will surface in the game. The leaders of the team must lead the way with film study and practice intensity. In football, like life, the rent is due every day.

Third, the team must refuse to eat the “rat poison.” Several years ago, Alabama head coach Nick Saban used that phrase to describe what happens to a team when they begin to believe what’s being written about them or said about them. They begin to believe that winning is an entitlement rather than a victory that goes to the team that desires it the most, is prepared the best and who refuses to give up when it hurts.

This BYU team has the potential to be exceptional. But it will require emotional resiliency of every single player and coach. What a great time to be a BYU Cougar. What a time to stay laser focused on what will continue to make BYU great.

Dr. Derwin Gray is co-founder and lead pastor of Transformation Church, a multiethnic, multigenerational, mission-shaped church near Charlotte, NC. He played football at Brigham Young University and in the NFL. Website: DerwinLGray.com