With today's linked Deseret News article discussing the TDS's latest happenings, I started realizing with our PAC-12 move, I don't really know what's going on with them anymore.
I became intrigued, and like many of you, have quite the web of extended family and friends tied to that university, some who are very well connected. Today I decided I'd use that network of contacts to do a little undercover reporting.
My first interview was with a family friend who is currently part of the Y's football staff (who wished to remain anonymous and will be identified as 'Y'). He was gracious enough to invite me into his office.
Me: "Congratulations on your spring scrimmage victory, I heard it was quite the battle."
Y: "It was a close one, but at least for once the better team prevailed." (He smiles confidently)
Me: "What do you make of the rash of injuries plaguing the O-line before the spring game? Is that possibly an omen of things to come?"
Y: "Absolutely not! It really was a fluke of unique circumstances (nervous laughter). We had a bit of an incident during our pre-haka workout..."
Me: "A pre-haka workout? What is that, exactly?"
Y: "I'm glad you asked as it's become a fundamental part of our program. It involves a rigorous mental preparation encapsulating what we strive to achieve, a "calm before the storm" so to speak. We find it has a great influence not only in our practices, but in the games as well.
Me: "Using sports psychology."
Y: "Exactly. For example, we use this clip regularly to show the team what we hope to achieve-to remove the raw emotion from the game."
(Y then motions for me to come closer and I watch as he plays a video clip on his computer, it focuses in on a BYU quarterback dropped back in a shotgun formation)
Me: "Isn't that Jake Heaps?"
Y: "Yes (flushing with embarrassment), even though he's no longer with the program, his mastery of these principles was incredible."
(The clip plays, zooming in and panning around the player's face, which reminds me of the flat expression employed by Hayden Christensen of the new Star Wars films. A smudge of red briefly flashes into the left side of the monitor and recognition flashes in my mind)
Me: "Wait, isn't this the clip from last year's Utah game where the snap went high and back into the end zone?"
Y: "Good eye! Here you can see that despite being dangerously close to the end zone, with the snap sailing high and defenders in pursuit, clearly the player hasn't let panic set in. It's almost as if the criticality of the situation doesn't even register."
(I watch in stunned silence which Y mistakes for awe, grinning ear-to-ear he plays the clip again)
Y: (his breath catching) "Simply. Remarkable."
Me: (after clearing my throat to break this moment of reverence) "And what does this pre-haka ritual consist of, exactly?"
Y: "It's about visualization, players mentally prepare to achieve a high level of execution. It requires no distractions, an inward focus. The program was almost scrapped early on, as we faced some initial challenges."
Me: "What kinds of challenges?"
Y: "Our players had difficulty concentrating, especially after completing a rigorous weekend of late-night firesides."
Me: "What did you do to help them?"
Y: "Our nutrition and sports science department came up with this really ingenious idea to keep our players engaged in the routine. As you know with any mental exertion, the brain requires fuel, particularly simple sugars. They approached us with the idea that our players should be infusing their minds with high levels of sugar to maximize pre-haka production."
Me: "What did you decide on? Did the department provide you with your own version of Gatorade?"
Y: "The team's overwhelming favorite became-" (he pauses, looking rather uncomfortable) "And I hate to even say it, but they decided on Ho Hos."
Me: "Ho Hos? So they stare off into space and eat junk food?"
Y: "That's a crude way of putting it, but essentially yes, and it worked remarkably well. Players had no troubles staying awake as long as there was plenty of glucose to consume. The program was steadily improving, at least until one player voiced his concern that he felt the name violated the spirit of the Honor Code. That's what led to the incident."
Me: "So there was a scuffle within the team over one of the members acting 'holier-than-thou'?"
Y: "No, not at all. In fact the team readily agreed with him and voiced their concern. The tipping point, at least in my mind was when one of the players said "How are we going to feel when we have to tell the Bishop we've been putting Hos in our mouths?"
Me: (struggling to maintain my composure, my voice comes out hoarse) "What then, did you do?"
Y: "We moved quickly to rectify the situation and began using the more wholesome bear claw. There was some debate amongst the team whether cupcakes would be more palatable, but the astute members of the team quickly recognized that talk of the team devouring cupcakes could easily be misinterpreted to be in reference to our football schedule."
Me: "Of course."
Y: "No one wanted any doubts cast over the strength of our opponents, which has exponentially increased since going independent, so the cupcake was dismissed."
Me: "Tell me of the incident, did the bear claws make the linemen sick?"
Y: "Not in the slightest, although in hindsight we may have rushed them into the transition too eagerly. You see, they were relatively inexperienced handling the larger bear claw, the shape is completely different. One of them-and the team won't admit who-fumbled his during the workout and let's say the high-charged, football instincts kicked in. Our trainers attended to the players affected once the pile was sorted out, but many had to be held out of the spring game to recover from their injuries. I assure you they're well acquainted now, and there is absolutely no probability of it happening again."
Me: "Thank you for your time."
Y: "My pleasure."
(He turns back to his computer and I see him briefly open up a web browser to begin reading "smart football" as I leave. I've learned there's an informal scrimmage going on over on the practice field and I head over. There are a handful of players assembled, running various catch-routes. I'm in luck, and their likeable quarterback Riley Nelson spots me immediately and wanders over.)
Nelson: "Hey! Are you a reporter? What are you doing here?"
Me: "Not exactly. I'm interviewing people connected with the program. What do you make of this off-season so far?"
Nelson: "It's been great. I think I can honestly say as a team we connect with each other on such a high level. I feel like I'm out here fighting with my brothers."
Me: "Care to make a prediction for this season? How will losing veteran offensive tackle Matt Reynolds and other heralded members of the program affect the team?"
Nelson: "I hate to make predictions as I feel like our losses last season could have really gone either way. Sometimes we beat ourselves, sometimes things just don't fall your way. Let's just say I'm excited."
Me: "Many of the fans are unsettled over the constant rumors of conference realignment and a potential BCS playoff. Are you or the team concerned you could potentially be left out of the BCS picture?"
Nelson: "We can only control how we produce on the field. Like coach tells us all the time, we don't need anyone to tell us whether we're champions of anything or not, that's something we have to decide within ourselves. I have confidence that BYU athletics will always be in the discussion."
Me: "How have you and the team reacted to the emphasis placed on the team by the coaches?"
Nelson: "Really it's about preparing the team for more than just football, it's about life. We're going to be fathers and leaders longer than we're going to be football players, so we emphasize accordingly."
Me: "Many have criticized that the physical condition of the players may not be appropriate. For example, earlier I spoke with a member of the staff who mentioned the pre-haka ritual as one of the crucial preparations the players go through. That poor nutrition seems to conflict with the goals at most division one programs. Your insight?"
Nelson: "Insight? Yeah, I'll show you my pre-game routine."
(Nelson then snatches a blue-highlighter I'd been carrying with me to mark various notes I'd taken).
Random player 1: "Hey Ri-Ri, we don't have all day!"
Nelson: "One second!"
(Nelson is busy scribbling an amateur drawing around his navel, using it as the anatomically correct center of what looks like a cartoon belly-dancer).
Nelson: "Hey guys! Check it! I'm making the lady dance!"
(The other players laugh as he begins rippling his bare abdomen while raising the roof. I struggle on what to say next. Fortunately this spectacle is interrupted as Nelson's cell phone rings in his pocket)
Nelson: (clearly surprised) "Hello? Coach?"
(A voice penetrates through the loud static coming from the phone and I am thrilled at the possibility of talking to their coach, remembering that the article I read earlier today mentioned he was vacationing in New Zealand. Nelson sees my obvious excitement as I'm motioning for the phone)
Nelson: "Hold on, I can't hear you! There's a reporter here that wants to talk to you."
(Nelson hands me the phone before sauntering back onto the field)
Me: "Hi Coach, pleasure to speak with you. Made any in-roads in recruiting while you're out there?" (I give a friendly chuckle to indicate I'm joking)
Coach: (blaring through the static) "Unfortunately not, I'm afraid I've had most of my time out here occupied by other things."
Me: "That's understandable, everyone needs a break from the day-to-day."
Coach: "Unfortunately in my position other matters have to come first, and I haven't been able to relax with my family as I've liked."
Me: "Right, did the school commit you to a number of firesides while you're out there?"
Coach: "Thankfully no, but out here in New Zealand there is quite a following with Rugby. Apparently there is a lot of interest in bringing the expertise and experience from an American football coach to add new flavors to the game. I've had to spend most of my time going around and withdrawing my name from consideration of some really major programs. I just hope I'm making the right choice."
Me: "I'm sure that must be difficult."
Coach: "It is Brother Harmon, it is. Hey can I speak to Riley again?"
(At this point I've had enough. I end the call and wait until Nelson's back is turned before I slip away. On my way out, I purposefully leave Nelson's phone at Starbucks, laughing maniacally all the way home as I imagine the impending Honor Code firestorm about to hit CB )
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