Latter-day Saint Life

Why Stanford’s head football coach appreciates having returned missionaries on his team

USC v Stanford
Head coach David Shaw of the Stanford Cardinals recently spoke about the players on his team who are returned missionaries and the positive influence they have on other players.
Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images

It’s a common tale at BYU and the University of Utah: High school graduates who serve for two years as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints return to join an athletic program. For other universities, players who have had two years off from their sport might be seen as a detriment—but that’s not the case for the Stanford Cardinal football team.

David Shaw, head coach of the Cardinals, recognizes the positive impact returned missionaries bring to the table. He recently spoke with the Associated Press about how players who have served missions add perspective to his team, and he encourages them to share that perspective when the timing is right.

“I’ve had this conversation with all the guys that come back off these missions. I say, ‘You went out in the world, you experienced things, you grew, different than these young people that just came out of high school and came here,’” Shaw told the Associated Press. “‘Don’t keep that a secret. Whatever you gleaned, whatever you learned, however you’ve grown, express that, so those guys can benefit from your experience.’”

This isn’t the first time Shaw has spoken about the impact Latter-day Saint players make on his team. In 2019, he also told KSL Sports how perspective from more mature players like returned missionary Sean Barton helps his teammates.

“Barton was just phenomenal for us and came back with such maturity and toughness. He ended up being a great football player but also a great leader because he was a little bit older and wise to the world,” he said.

Lance Anderson, defensive coordinator for the Cardinals, is a Latter-day Saint and leads the team’s recruiting efforts in Utah. The Latter-day Saint players on the Stanford football team have served missions around the world from New Zealand to Thailand to Taiwan. Returned missionary and Stanford’s sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee shared with the Associated Press some lessons he learned from serving his mission in Brazil.

“Obviously, we’ve seen a lot of different problems in the world, and coming back I feel like it can help the team deal with adversity,” he said. “There are a lot of people on the football team that come from different cultures or different backgrounds, and living in Brazil I had to learn a completely new culture and people with completely different backgrounds. So I feel that maturity level has helped me a lot being a better leader, being a better quarterback, being a better person for this team.”

Of course, BYU tops the charts in returned missionaries on its football team. Earlier this year, head football coach Kilani Sitake said that there are 86 returned missionaries speaking 12 different languages on their roster and 25 full-time missionaries currently serving around the world. He also recognized the growing and learning opportunities mission service gives his players.

“It’s really important to maximize opportunities to love and learn, and that’s to serve a mission, serving other people, learning how to love one another, be great disciples of Christ, and learn as much as you can, the experiences that you get there,” Sitake said in the video. “Keep growing and learning. Love you guys, and go Cougs.”

Read more about Stanford’s Latter-day Saint football players at The Seattle Times.

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