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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 4, 2002

BYU QB on mission to quiet doubters

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Columnist

At 6 feet 4, 230 pounds and gifted with a rocket launcher for an arm, Bret Engemann was a can't-miss college prospect coming out of high school, they said.

Or, at least they said so right up until the time he declared he would go on a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ and play quarterback for Brigham Young University.

Then, it was like why would such an otherwise bright, talented young man want to commit career suicide?

Recruiters — and as the fifth-leading high school passer in the nation as a senior, Engemann had a Who's Who of schools to choose from — were quick to point out that no BYU quarterback who had gone on a mission had ever made any kind of a splash nationally.

"Even people around the (Provo, Utah) area would say, 'You'll never be the same if you go on a mission,' " Engemann said.

Indeed, history was not encouraging for those imbued of both faith and a propensity for throwing the football. BYU has seen linemen go on missions and resume highly successful careers, but the quarterbacks at what has been known as Q-BYU have been a breed apart. The school has had a quarterback win the Heisman Trophy. It has had five quarterbacks lead the nation in passing and seven earn All-America honors.

But none had been returning missionaries at a school where 80 percent of the male student body elects to take a mission. In fact, when Engemann came out of high school, no quarterback who had gone on a mission had even finished in the Top 20 for BYU.

The 24-year-old Engemann, who will start Friday's game against the University of Hawai'i, is determined to put points on the scoreboard even as he strives to make a bigger one. He is dedicated to helping prove that quarterbacks can have it both ways — fulfilling church service and achieving a bright football career.

"I love football, but, to me, serving a mission was more important than anything," said Engemann. "It was something I wanted to do."

So, too, was playing for the Cougars, whose stadium he grew up in the shadows of while delighting in the exploits of their quarterbacks.

That he returned from a mission to Boston to see his immediate predecessor at the position — another returned missionary, Brandon Doman — have so much success served as confirmation the goal could be reached. Doman finished seventh in passing nationally last season while leading BYU to a 12-2 record and made the San Francisco 49ers roster. But even before then Engemann was driven to get back into football shape.

"I tried to focus on getting my legs back underneath me and to get strong enough to where I could take the punishment again," he said. "It took me about eight months. Throwing was like riding a bike — you never forget. But I had to concentrate on running and lifting; on getting quicker and faster."

It paid off a year later, in 2000, when he won the quarterback job, playing against Florida State, Virginia and Syracuse until a shoulder injury ended the season.

Coming back from the injury to start against — and beat — Syracuse last week would be testament to the maturity his mission experiences helped develop. "(The mission) gives you a little bit of an advantage because you've been through more in life and are able to face adversity better," Engemann said.

"Now, I think it is an advantage."