Stories of Faith

How LaVell Edwards’ support for players serving missions changed the game for BYU football

LaVell Edwards addresses the team prior to his first game as the head coach versus Kansas State on September 16, 1972.

When LaVell Edwards took over the BYU football program in 1972, the idea of players taking two years off to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was somewhat of a debated concept that wasn’t always well received.

“When I spoke with LaVell about the idea of serving a mission after my sophomore year he told me, ‘My opinion is if a kid can play football before he goes into the mission field, he can play when he comes back,’” said Mel Olson, who along with Kent Oborn and several others were some of the early BYU players in the late 1960s to set aside football for two years to serve a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Lance Reynolds, who played for Edwards in the 1972–73 and 1976–77 seasons and later served as an assistant coach at BYU for thirty-one seasons, was one of several players who chose to serve a mission in the early years of the Edwards era.

“There’s no question the whole thought process of serving a mission changed right there,” said Reynolds. “The ironic thing is after my group of guys left to serve in the spring of 1974, BYU won the conference championship that fall. The guys who left and served before us came back and proved they could play. I think it helped solidify in a lot of the player’s minds that you could serve and come back and be successful because nobody really thought you could in those days.”

According to Olson, Edwards approached the idea of mission service from a different perspective.

“LaVell had been a bishop on campus, so he’s always been who he is, and very supportive of missions. He made the decision early to embrace the kids who wanted to go serve a mission. He wasn’t going to fight that issue. The missionary program ended up being one of his strengths. I think nearly two-thirds of the players on the 1984 national championship team were returned missionaries.”

This story, and so many more, are included in 100 Years of BYU Football. Read all about the historic moments, memorable victories, and legendary players in the new book by Duff Tittle and Brett Pyne, with an afterword by Kalani Sitake!

100 Years of BYU Football

Explore the story of BYU football through more than 400 photographs, historical documents, and detailed letters, including many never-before-published images. Told from the perspective and personal accounts of more than a hundred former coaches, players, and administrators who influenced the program, this is the most comprehensive history of BYU football ever published—a must-have for every Cougar fan!

Stay in the loop!
Enter your email to receive updates on our LDS Living content