BYU football behind bars: Offering words of inspiration to inmates

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UTAH STATE PRISON — Ahead of Saturday’s home game against Virginia, more than half of BYU’s football team found itself behind bars Friday night as players offered words of inspiration and hope to inmates at the Utah State Prison.

“This is just one blip on a graph or a radar — one snapshot in time — it doesn’t mean it has to last,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall told the group of roughly 125 inmates in the Con-Quest program at the prison’s Promontory facility.

A number of inmates asked for advice and help for painkiller and drug addictions, and brought up the case of former BYU quarterback Max Hall, who was arrested in August in Arizona on suspicion of drug possession and shoplifting.

I don't see us as any different.

–Bronco Mendenhall

Mendenhall acknowledged challenges with addiction in his own family and said “nobody’s perfect.”

“I don’t see us as any different,” Mendenhall said of his team.

Student assistant Tim Duran, formerly an offensive lineman, acknowledged an addiction to prescription pain pills and said he had “dabbled in cocaine” before coming to Provo.

The three designated speakers for the Friday fireside all spoke about pain and struggles from their own lives, and overcoming those challenges.

Sophomore defensive back Kai Nacua grew teary-eyed talking about his father’s passing.

“He was good one day and the next day he just got sick,” Nacua said. “He was gone before our eyes.”

Sophomore wide receiver Jake Ziolkowski spoke about the death of his grandfather and what he learned through the ordeal.

“Hardships strengthen your relationships with God,” he said.

This was the fifth year BYU has put on a fireside at the prison.

Mendenhall said he liked taking his team there because of what he gets out of it.

“Anything that I could possibly do in the role of BYU’s football coach to possibly make one day here a little bit better — it’s worth it,” Mendenhall said.

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