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Last Saturday, as I was entering LaVell Edwards Stadium to watch the Cougars scrimmage, I ran into old friends Jim and Leslie Hermann. They were there to watch their oldest son, Cole, a walk-on freshman whom I had met earlier in the week, so we sat together.
The Hermanns came with the second of their three sons, Jason, who is 15 years old.
At 17, Jim and I were the youngest members of the 1980 recruiting class, in my humble opinion, the greatest class in BYU history. Jim's wife Leslie followed him to BYU two years later from their small town of Hartland, Wisconsin; neither of them Latter-day Saints.
We talked, but kept one eye on the field, Jim especially, following #32 in the white jerseys, Cole's number.
Late in the scrimmage as the backups were shuttling into the game, Cole dropped into coverage as the tight end ran a seam route. As the ball was thrown down the middle of the field, Cole, the tight end and safety Landon Fowler, whose father Blaine also played with us, all converged on the ball. The football arrived at the same time as the two defenders and what followed was a major collision. When the dust cleared, only Cole remained lying on the field, his right knee shattered.
Jim was in mid-sentence telling me a story when he just blurted out, "Oh no, please!" He darted down to the field and managed to get to Cole about the same time as the trainers and team doctor, Kurt Kimball. As Dr. Kimball was examining Cole, Jim positioned himself directly over his fallen boy, so that they were ear to ear. By now, Leslie had simply disappeared.
From my seat in the east stand bleachers, I could see Jim gently caressing his son's head while he whispered in his ear as Cole lay perfectly still. It was a poignant moment.
I don't remember what happened the rest of the day, but unable to stop thinking about what I'd seen, I texted Jim late Saturday night to wish him and Cole well. Jim called me and I asked how Cole was holding up.
"Cole will be ok. But I can't say the same for his dad," Jim said. "Vai, I'm not just saying this because he's my son, but he's the best kid in the world. He's never been hurt, never been in trouble, he's a 4.0 student and growing up around BYU football, all he's ever wanted to do is play in Provo. We have no dreams of grander, but hoped that he would someday experience the magic of BYU football."
I felt impressed to ask, "Jim, do you need a blessing?"
My old friend replied, "I'd love one. Would it inconvenience you?"
"Not at all; how 'bout I come over tomorrow after Church?"
"That would be super."
Sunday afternoon, I took my married son, LJ, whom we named after another former BYU teammate, Leland Johnson, who baptized Jim eight years ago.
When we arrived at the Hermann's beautiful Draper home, the entire family met us at the door as if we were their home teachers.
Cole was seated on a couch with his injured leg elevated by pillows.
LJ and Cole had never met, though their fathers have been friends since our late teens.
Over the course of the next hour, Jim and Leslie recounted for LJ their story and conversion to the Church.
They had been high school sweethearts at Arrowhead High School in tiny Hartland, Wisconsin. Jim accepted a scholarship to BYU as a 195 defensive end in 1980. His girlfriend, Leslie Hansing, followed him to Provo two years later. Neither was LDS, but came simply because they thought they should be here.
Neither of them knew of any Mormons in their area so when Leslie applied, she simply looked in the Yellow Pages for a Mormon Bishop for her Ecclesiastic interview, not knowing that her pastor could've done it for her.
Ironically, it wasn't until they became members of the Church that they learned Jim's grandfather, John Smith (a Mormon name if I ever heard one) was LDS, graduated first in his class at Wharton and was an All-American defensive end at Penn. Jim's grandmother was a pioneer who crossed the plains following Brigham Young.
Perhaps it was that connection that drew him to Steve Young, who confirmed Jim after Lee Johnson baptized him - his two best friends to this day. Not long after Jim's baptism and he received the priesthood, he baptized Leslie and his oldest son Cole, the only one of their children of age at the time.
Jim Hermann is a methodical guy. He was that way as a player. He worked his way from a weakling 195 lb freshman to a 265 lb senior starter and captain of the 1984 National Championship team. Following BYU and a few failed attempts at the NFL, he methodically worked his way through law school at BYU.
He was also methodical in his personal life - dating Leslie 12 years before marriage. It took him 25 years to join the Church. He told us he's still working on getting to the temple. It's just his nature to take things slowly. Methodically.
As we finished our conversation, I asked Cole if he would offer a prayer on my behalf before I gave his father a blessing.
Cole was sincere and his words heartfelt. Clearly, this boy was raised in a good home by descent people.
I asked Jim's permission for my son LJ to assist me, as he had returned exactly a year ago from serving in the Hong Kong Mission and married his cute girlfriend who waited for him, three months later.
LJ and I assumed that Cole had already received a priesthood blessing before our arrival, but Jim told us he hadn't.
We asked Jim if we might assist him in blessing Cole. Jim said he can bless Cole at any time and even after we left, but suggested that LJ blessing Cole would secure their friendship as the second generation of BYU parents.
Jim and I stood and placed our hands over my son's hands, as LJ performed a priesthood blessing on a young man he had just met.
When LJ concluded, Cole smiled and thanked us, but especially LJ.
That's when I remembered Jim's comment about the BYU "Magic." I looked at both kids and said, "Boys, this is a part of the BYU Magic. Its old war horses like us who came to Provo as 17 year olds with little direction, but somehow found our way. 30 years later, we're here as families exercising our priesthood and magnifying our callings."
The scriptures say that those who do may be "sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies." (D&C 84:33)
Cole, we pray that you'll claim those blessings through your faith. Good luck this semester and enjoy the BYU Magic.
Vai & LJ Sikahema