BYU game plan emphasizes character, winning with integrity

As he reached the conclusion of his address at the Lincoln Center in Spokane on Thursday, BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe did not draw upon the words of a coaching icon like Vince Lombardi or Casey Stengel. Instead, the administrator who oversees 21 intercollegiate sports quoted a different kind of leader – President Spencer W. Kimball, 12th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Pres. Kimball told us, ‘We have the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of peace, the gospel of joy. We have truths that can make any person better…'”

At BYU, a campus of over 35,000 students, the standards of the restored gospel apply to all facets of life, including sports. For over 600 student-athletes, that means no games or practices on Sunday, adherence to the school’s honor code and an approach to winning that puts integrity first.

“When they’re here, there’s something different,” said Holmoe, who took over as athletic director in 2005. “We give them the clearest path to success. We provide great academics, great athletics and an incredible spiritual experience.”

Holmoe, who played football at BYU from 1978 to 1982 and had a seven-year career in the National Football League, spoke before a gathering of the BYU Management Society on Feb. 23. He was joined on the agenda by Senior Associate Athletic Director Brian Santiago and former BYU football player and NFL star Chad Lewis, currently serving as an associate athletic director in charge of development.

Representatives from the BYU Athletic Department spoke at a meeting of the local BYU Management Society in Spokane on Thursday. From left to right: Associate Athletic Director Brian Santiago, Associate Athletic Director over Development Chad Lewis and Athletic Director Tom Holmoe.
Photo by Craig Howard.

The triumvirate was in town for a pair of critical matchups in the West Coast Conference, featuring BYU against Gonzaga University in men’s and women’s basketball. The Cougars transitioned from the Mountain West Conference to the West Coast Conference last year, a move that also included the football team going independent.

Santiago, who graduated from Provo High School and played basketball at Fresno State, said BYU fans have turned out in droves at each WCC site this season, from Malibu to Portland.

“We have a lot of people in these cities,” Santiago said.

As far as the burgeoning rivalry with the Zags, Santiago emphasized “the great respect between these two schools.”

“Gonzaga is a class organization,” he said. “They have a great basketball program with unbelievable respect around the country.”

After defeating Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament last year as well as in the first WCC regular season contest in Provo on Jan. 23, BYU fell to the reigning conference champs on Thursday, 74-63. The BYU women’s team faced Gonzaga in the McCarthey Athletic Center on Saturday.

Lewis, a football walk-on who started 22 games and was named an Academic All American his senior year, said those who attend BYU “are surrounded by greatness every day.”

“It’s an incredible place,” Lewis said.

In the 2010-11 academic year, BYU athletes contributed 1,500 hours of community service, appearing at anti-smoking assemblies, visiting assisted living and rehabilitation centers and speaking at youth firesides and other events.

“They have a great opportunity to serve,” Holmoe said.

Holmoe told the story of Travis Uale, another football walk-on who eventually became a starter on defense and was named team captain for the 2010-11 season. Yet it wasn’t Uale’s status as a football player that won him accolades as much as a decision to help a teammate who was having struggles both on and off the field. Uale, who served an LDS mission to Mexico, became a mentor, advocate and best friend to the player, making an impact that changed a life.

“The most important thing is that someone believed in him when others didn’t,” Holmoe said. “It just took one person.”

Not to mention an athletic program that consistently puts service and standards ahead of wins and losses.

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