BYU and Boise State players made a striking image Friday night as they held each others’ hands and knelt together on the blue turf of Boise’s Albertsons Stadium after a game between two nationally ranked football teams.
Pastor Mark Thornton stood in their midst and prayed over them as some players bowed heads and others lifted faces heavenward. Virtually every player from both teams participated. The massive huddle between what normally are on-field rivals covered the logo at midfield and sprawled for 15 yards.
A photo made the rounds on social media, but some context was missing. How did the unusual prayer happen? Why were players from a public university in Idaho praying with those from a private Utah school of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? And what did it mean to the players and coaches?
Prayer is a major part of both programs, according to interviews with BYU players Gunner Romney and Isaac Rex, and Boise State’s Avery Williams. BYU’s postgame prayer usually happens in the locker room and Boise State holds one at midfield each week.
“We’re kind of like this: We started with prayer, we’re going to end with prayer, and we’re going to give the glory to God,” said Thornton, who is the team’s chaplain.
He usually reaches out to the other school’s team chaplain before a game to invite the opponents to join the Broncos for prayer at midfield afterward, but he didn’t know BYU had a team chaplain. That’s why BYU’s players began filing off the blue turf on Friday night after the Cougars, then ranked ninth in the country, battered 21st-ranked Boise State, 51-17.
“Hey, we’re getting ready to pray,” he said.
“Can we join you guys?” Sitake asked. Then he called his players back to the 50-yard line.
“I am appreciative for BYU’s coaches,” Thornton said this week. “We play against some teams who don’t have a chaplain. We play against other teams who didn’t let their players stay and pray, even though the players from the other team wanted to join us in prayer.”
Boise State co-captain Avery Williams was stunned when virtually the entire BYU team joined the prayer circle.
“I don’t know if an entire whole team has joined us before in the years that I’ve been here. That means a lot,” he said.
Sitake said he wouldn’t have missed it.
“We’re not going to turn that down, when a team invites our team to kneel down and praise God for the opportunity we had to play,” he said. “What a great invite from them. I was really impressed with them the entire game, just a great program with wonderful sportsmanship and you know, hopefully we can be able to have that type of impact on other programs as well when we play them.”
Friday’s prayer had additional meaning because it happened in a budding regional rivalry. The schools have played each other for nine straight years and have games scheduled in 13 of the next 14 seasons.
A couple of players said praying with their opponents was grounding.
“Football’s a competitive game, so you’re competing, you’re talking trash, you’re fighting people on the field, but at the end of the day it’s, you know, it’s just a sport. There might be hard feelings on the field but once you get off the field, they’re your brothers. You gotta love them up a little bit,” said BYU’s Romney, a junior ranked 10th in the nation in receiving yards with 648.
“The fact that it’s such a big rivalry and we can be really physical with each other, compete really hard with each other and then drop our pride, drop our egos, drop what just happened for two to three hours and give thanks to God, that says something about both schools,” added Boise State’s Williams, a speed demon who is the reigning Mountain West Conference special teams player of the year with six career touchdowns on kick and punt returns. Read from source….