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Stanford’s David Shaw Understands Value Of Return Missionaries

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Typically when college athletes tell prospective coaches they are thinking of going on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints the response from a school outside the state of Utah is usually a “thanks, but no thanks.”

Coaches do not like that those athletes are spending two of their prime years away and are not excited to recruit a player who will either not join their program for two years or join the school and then leave after a short time. This is not the norm and college coaches are creatures of habits and want their players consecutively on campus.

However, there is one coach in the Pac-12 (other than Utah) that is bucking that trend and that is Stanford’s David Shaw who embraces return missionaries.

He told KSL’s Unrivaled that it was Lance Anderson who helped him learn more about these athletes. Anderson not only went on a two-year mission but he has coached alongside Shaw since 2006 when the two were at the University of San Diego.

“I have to thank Lance Anderson, our defensive coordinator. Lance is LDS and really understood how to navigate guys who go on Mormon missions and how that folds into college football,” Shaw said at Pac-12 media day. “A lot of us at Stanford have never really been part of that. I had a couple of friends when I played at Stanford that were from Utah and teach us how this thing goes.”

Return Missionaries Have Perspective

Stanford is a place that is more than just football and athletics overall, it has a different feel in being one of the most prestigious academic universities in the country. The latter goes along even within the sports department and to go to Stanford you have to be a unique individual, and stepping away from one’s peak athletic years to serve a mission for two years qualifies as unique.

Shaw and his coaching staff have a message and challenges for those players who go on a mission.

“I challenge every single one of them when they go on their mission,” said Shaw. “When they come back [I say], ‘OK, you went on that mission for a reason I want you to bring maturity back to our team and real-world perspective.”

Those words are very likely not spoken to return missionaries from any school outside of Utah. Having the Stanford football staff embrace going on a mission has to make families and prospective student-athletes feel more comfortable.


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Shaw has zero concerns about players coming back and not being able to perform better but also be a guide to the rest of the football team to put things in perspective. He gives an example in one of his former players in Sean Barton.

“I think they have been better football players but I love the fact that they come back with real world perspective,” Shaw said. “Sean 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.”

“Young guys just out of high school are chit-chatting about stuff and Sean is able to come back and say ‘this means absolutely nothing like this is what is really important.’ That perspective coming from the locker room and not the old coaches, but coming from the guys who are just a couple years older with some out of college experience can only help,” Shaw added.

There Is Also Good Football In Utah

Stanford’s football success is more recent when it started with Jim Harbaugh coming up from the University of San Diego in which he brought Shaw and Anderson along with him. Shaw kept the success going and has been named as the Coach of the Year nationally, a four-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year, and has led the Cardinal to four major bowl games.

With better football means that the Cardinal can go out and get better players, and the coaching staff knows that getting an education from Stanford holds a lot of value. If one of their targets happens to be a Latter-day Saint and wants to go on a mission, so be it.

“A lot of Stanford sells itself,” Anderson told the San Francisco Chronicle back in 2016. “Especially in recent years with what we’ve been able to accomplish, that sells itself, too… We’re looking for the best players nationwide wherever we can find them. It kind of just worked out.”

It helps that the football talent in the state of Utah has drastically increased over the past decade. There are schools from all over the country figuring out that there is high-level talent in the state as LSU, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, and Alabama to name a few are going after talent in the Beehive State.

“Utah is a hot-bed, there is really good football and for us, they are really good schools that do a good job in getting them prepared for a place like Stanford,” said Shaw. “Our guys that have come from Utah have been outstanding students and have been really good players.”

Shaw gets it when he goes after the recruits he wants as he says there is more to being just a great football player, but he wants good people who can be leaders on the team.

Knowing the advantages of what a return missionary can bring to his program on and off the field is a small start in changing the perception of what these Latter-Day Saint athletes can do after returning from their two-year mission.

Tune into KSL’s Unrivaled every Monday through Friday, 7-9 p.m., or download the KSL NewsRadio app to subscribe to the podcast.

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