Utah football squad brings mature, 'grown men'
At Monday’s press conference, Arizona football head coach Rich Rodriguez referred to some of Utah’s players as “grown men.”
Not just from a strength standpoint, but from a maturity standpoint.
And age, too.
Most collegiate football players’ age range is from 18 to 22 years old. Some might be 23, if they redshirted. Few are 24.
But the Utah Utes have players who are 25 years old. They have guys on their squad who are sophomores, but are almost 22 years old.
They serve missions for their church.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is encouraged, but not mandatory, for young men to go on two-year missions. They usually leave at the ages of 18 or 19. Young women are also allowed to serve.
Missionaries live a disciplined lifestyle. They wake up at 6 a.m. and are home at 9 or 10 p.m. They don’t watch TV; they don’t play video games. They don’t go to parties. They contact their families and friends back home once a week via email.
And they certainly don’t have football practice.
Despite what seems like a strict lifestyle, missionaries can grow and mature a lot in the two years they spend in the field. Oftentimes, missionaries are sent to other countries, where they immerse themselves in a new culture, learning a new language and learning to love a new group of people. They perform countless hours of service and learn life lessons that are rarely taught elsewhere.
So when these young men come back to play football, they’re grown up. They’re mature. They’re focused. They’re ready to play.
Utah senior wide receiver Sean Fitzgerald was born in 1988. He’s one of the 25-year-olds who signed to the team in 2006 before he left on a mission, according to Utah’s official website. But just because he’s old doesn’t mean he can’t play — he has the second-most receiving yards on the team this season.
Being gone for two years means players miss out on two years of training, and although missionaries can continue to eat healthy, drink protein shakes and do daily Insanity workouts, it doesn’t compare to hours in the weight room or going out on the field with pads on.
But these older players are built like men rather than boys. They don’t have trouble focusing because they’re over the young, reckless stage of their lives.
In fact, romance isn’t even on the radar for some players. A handful of guys, including Fitzgerald, are already married.
Like Rodriguez said, they’re grown men.
And being grown men isn’t something you can coach.
—Follow Scarlett McCourt @scarlettnoelani