The holiday season is something of a blur for 19-year-old David Carroll.
He's a college student cramming for finals. Plus, he's just weeks away from full-time missionary work and scrambling to get ready for service in the Philippines.
Thousands of recently called elders and sister missionaries throughout the Church can likely relate.
The rest of David's December is a bit unique. When not studying or buying that final white dress shirt, David boots football after football through goalposts at the University of Utah. The starting kicker on the school's top-10 team, David will spend New Year's Day in front of tens of thousands of fans and millions of viewers at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.
About a third of the Utah Utes who have enjoyed a historic, undefeated season are reportedly Church members. They will represent the largest contingent of LDS athletes ever to compete in a game affiliated with the Bowl Championship Series, college football's marquee event.
"I really could not imagine this; it's a dream come true," said David.
His marveling moves beyond the school's unprecedented invitation to the Fiesta Bowl. A walk-on freshman, David started the season as his team's third-string kicker. He planned to sit out the season. He had no plans to serve a mission.
By October, almost everything had changed. When the Utes' starting kicker was injured Oct. 16 during a nationally televised game against North Carolina, David's number #59 (an odd but perhaps expected digit for a back-up kicker) was called.
"I was definitely nervous," he said. "It was an ESPN game, millions were watching. But I went out and did it."
David kicked two extra points against the Tar Heels and became the Utes' starting kicker for the remainder of his team's remarkable season. His attitude about serving a mission also took a curve.
"I had a change of heart; I can't explain what happened. I wasn't as happy as I thought I should have been," said David.
After much scripture study and prayer, he decided to follow the example of his four brothers and a sister and submit his mission papers. He will report to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, four days after the Fiesta Bowl and begin learning Cebuano, an indigenous Filipino tongue.
David credits many of his teammates for helping him decide to serve. A large chunk of the team's members are returned missionaries who encouraged him to set aside his helmet for a couple of years.
Several returned missionaries play prominent roles for the Utes. Safety Morgan Scalley and defensive lineman Sione Pouha both returned missionaries are Utah team captains and all-conference players. Other returned missionary starters include offensive linemen Makai Aalona and Tavo Tupola, along with linebacker Spencer Toone.
Eric Weddle, a starting safety, was baptized last year after befriending several LDS teammates and listening to the missionary discussions, Scalley said. Meanwhile, Church member and long-time Utah defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham was hired as the Utes' head coach Dec. 8, replacing Florida-bound Urban Meyer.
Scalley, the Mountain West Conference's co-defensive player of the year, said Utah's ability to unite despite his team's varied background helped ensure success. "Part of the reason why this team is so special is the diversity," he said.
A priests quorum adviser, Scalley has been asked to speak to a number of youth groups.
"The most important thing in my life is my faith," he said.
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