Andrew George has waited long enough to get on the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Although he is only two months removed from proselytizing the streets of London as an LDS missionary, George is determined to put an end to his three-year football drought.
“My goal is to play this year,” said the Colorado native. “Maybe not necessarily start, but my goal is just to get on the field. I want to play this year more than anything. I had the greyshirt year and two years off and I’m tired of it. I just want to get out and play; that’s my goal just to get on the field. I’m going to work and compete for some playing time, so hopefully that can happen.”
At 6’5” and 220 pounds with a 4.5 forty, George had the physical abilities to see the field coming out of high school. He now weighs around 230 but feels he has not lost any of his speed.
George describes himself as more of a finesse receiver. “I just try to use the athleticism I’ve been blessed with,” he said.
The landscape of BYU football has changed drastically since George left Provo in May 2003 for the London South Mission.
BYU has three consecutive losing seasons to its name. There is a new head coach and a new athletic director. Even the offense and defense have been totally overhauled. It was an understandably uncomfortable situation for George to come home to.
“Obviously I was recruited by Coach Crowton, he is a great guy and I loved the staff he had,” said the Cougar tight end. “It is part of the reason I went here. It was a bit disappointing when they were gone when I came home.”
George came to BYU from Denver’s Cherry Creek High School, which was recently named the fifth best high school athletic program in the country by Sports Illustrated. He was recruited by Oregon, Stanford, Colorado State, Air Force, and Wyoming out of high school and by Utah off his mission.
“I didn’t have great numbers,” said George of his high school career. “I had like 20 or 21 receptions for over 400 yards and six touchdowns. My senior year we had a great group of receivers. Our quarterback threw for like 2500 yards and 25 touchdowns or something like that so we had a lot of options there.”
Although he is very happy to be a Cougar now, George was not so sure about returning to play for the Cougars because of the upheaval in the program while he was away. Ultimately, it was the honesty and vision of the new coaching staff that led George to honor his commitment to BYU.
“What I really like about Coach [Anae] is he was honest when I--and this is part of the reason I decided to go back to BYU-- told him that I wanted to play this year,” said George. “I didn’t have any intention of redshirting or doing anything like that and he wasn’t saying anything like, ‘You’ll be able to,’ and just blowing smoke at me. He was very up front and he said ‘We want you to come in and compete for a spot on the team.’ Whereas, other schools would just say, ‘Oh you can come in and play right away.’ I think he will play the best player and I think he is very on top of what he is doing.
“When I came out a week after I’d been home, the main reason I came was to meet with the coaches and get to know them, and I was very impressed with Coach Mendenhall, with his philosophy, where he wants to take the program and his vision. I could see that it was just going to get better, everything was going to improve. That is the way I felt. I like the coaches a lot now.”
One of the reasons George is so pleased with the new coaches is the new offensive scheme Coach Anae brought with him from Texas Tech.
“When I met with Coach Anae for the first time we sat down and just watched some film of the offense and I was kind of I guess worried about it at first, I mean I wasn’t quite sure and wasn’t familiar with it, but he brought me up to speed. Now I’m very familiar with the offense, with what they do as far as throwing the ball and I like it. It is not too complicated. They are keeping it pretty simple--making good reads on what defenses are running.”
After watching the Blue-White Game, George was a little disappointed that the offense did not score any touchdowns. However, things seem to have improved for the offense since the beginning of April.
“Since I’ve been out here in Utah we go Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and we run position drills and seven on sevens and go through all the passing and everything,” said George. “I have seen great improvements from Spring Game until now just execution wise.”
In the new offense, the tight end spends the majority of his time running passing routes out of a two-point stance, rather than blocking out of a three-point stance with the offensive linemen. This style of play suits George very well.
“I was more of a receiving tight end so it fits me pretty well,” he said. “In high school they would flex me out to a receiver like a wide receiver position and try to draw mismatches on linebackers and things so it’s not a completely new thing for me to run a two-point stance. It’s fairly familiar to me.”
One of the biggest challenges faced by all returned missionary athletes is getting back into shape after two years of limited physical activity. George was no exception to that scenario. When asked if he was able to exercise much on his mission, he answered with a slightly uncomfortable, “Not really.” LDS missionaries work 12-hours everyday so they are exhausted during what little free time they have. A Church-wide change in the missionary program allowed for a little more time for exercise but nothing close to what a Division I football player puts in.
“It is difficult,” said George about staying in shape. “About half way through my mission they put in a new schedule with the new Preach My Gospel program, which allowed us an extra half an hour in the morning to work out or going running or do whatever you could in your apartment. So my last about five months or so I tried to do the best I could with push-ups and I had some dumbbells and things and doing stuff here there but there is not a whole lot of time to get a great workout in. The hardest thing I’ve seen coming back is cardio and coming back up to altitude, that was tough, so that was hard to get back to. Now getting strength back in my lower body is the most difficult thing, but each week it is coming back stronger and stronger.”
While most returned missionaries are thrilled with the new coaches they find on campus, there is one coach with whom they develop what can best be described as a love-hate relationship. That man would be strength and conditioning coach, Jay Omer. Players are limited by the NCAA in the number of hours they can spend training during the off-season. For that reason, Coach Omer does not waste any time when he has charge over his athletes.
“It is very, very intense,” said George of his training sessions with Coach Omer. “As far as just working out in the morning, we get everything done in about an hour and fifteen minutes. It is very high rep, very quick, very fast getting everything in at a very high pace.”
Coach Omer does allow the freshest returned missionaries ease into their new fitness regime, although it is not long before Coach Omer or the athletes themselves turn up the intensity level.
“At first [Coach Omer] lets us take it at our own pace, and kind of do what we could, but now it is kind of push myself trying to get stronger and keep up a little more,” said George. “I’m trying to not do too much just because I don’t want to hurt myself at all. I’m feeling in pretty good shape at the moment I’m just trying to do what I can, and push myself.”
George is not the lone returned missionary to suffer through the reconditioning process, Dallas Reynolds is also discovering how harsh the transition from early morning studying to early morning workouts can be.
Like all returned missionaries, George came home full of stories and new experiences. He spent part of his mission in central London, which is an area of great cultural diversity. One of the memorable aspects of that area was the wide variety of new food George was able to sample.
“Some of the African food is unreal,” George remembered. “They have this stuff called Fufu [yams or plantains mashed and rolled into ball]. They also make different kinds of soup and they just throw in all sorts of animal parts. I remember one time this young African girl who was a recent baptism was making us some food and she gave me a bowl of soup with the fufu and then in the soup was just a fish head and cow hoof and cow stomach lining and just all this tuff and I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh I can’t eat this.’ I experienced that sort of stuff on many occasions. The stomach lining is called shocky I think that is one of the most vile things I’ve ever had.
“One time my companion was from England and it was his first time having African food and this lady made us some kind of soup with meatballs and it was extremely hot, it burned out your mouth, and he couldn’t eat it at all and she went in the other room for a bit and he said, ‘I can’t eat this, I seriously can’t.’ So I took half off his plate and I downed mine and half of his to save him.”
When he did come across a meal was just too much to stomach, George reverted to a tactic learned by many young children.
“I just tried to pick off what I could of it and move it around as much as I could to look like I ate more,” he recalled with a laugh.
George will stay with family in the Provo area until he moves in with safety Corby Hodgkiss and walk-on quarterback Alex Bean in August. George will not go on scholarship until fall camp starts so his efforts this summer will be divided between strengthening himself physically and sustaining himself financially.
“I’m trying not to miss any days just because I’m trying to get in as good as shape as possible just put on some strength and keep running, keep getting better and I got to get a job here sometime and make some money,” he concluded.
- Linebacker Bryan Kehl chose to extend his mission to Toronto Canada and will return in early July.
- Safety Aaron Attig is also due home from his missionary service in July.