No official records have been kept, but experts who follow Mormons in the National Football League believe that there were more returned LDS missionaries on NFL rosters when the 2017 season kicked off earlier this month than at any time in league history.
Through opening weekend, Sept. 7 to 11, no fewer than 10 professional football players who also served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dotted the rosters of the NFL’s 32 teams.
The list includes five players who starred at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, three who played at the University of Utah, one who suited up for Southern Utah University and one who went to UCLA.
Here’s a closer look at the NFL’s 10 returned Mormon missionaries, in order of tenure in the league:
John Denney, BYU, Miami Dolphins, long snapper
New Jersey Morristown Mission
A 13-year NFL veteran, Denney has carved out a steady role as a deep snapper. He entered the season with a streak of 176 consecutive starts, second among active players.
Denney was an accomplished violinist and an Eagle Scout growing up in Denver and started his college football career as a defensive end at then-Ricks College before transferring to BYU.
Tony Bergstrom, Utah, Baltimore Ravens, offensive tackle
California Sacramento Mission
It appeared the former product of Salt Lake City’s Skyline High School would start the season in Arizona, but the Cardinals traded him to the Baltimore Ravens. Originally drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2012, he also has played for the Houston Texans (2016).
A three-year letterman in basketball at Skyline, the 6-foot-5 Bergstrom signed with Utah in 2005 but departed on his mission to California’s capital city before playing for the Utes.
Daniel Sorensen, BYU, Kansas City Chiefs, safety
Costa Rica San Jose West Mission
Signed by the Chiefs as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2014, Sorensen has not only earned a roster spot on the team coached by former BYU player Andy Reid, but also recently signed a four-year, $16 million contract extension. He has become a valuable member of one of the league’s best defenses.
Sorensen grew up in Colton, Calif., and was an Eagle Scout before signing with BYU in 2008. After returning from a mission to Costa Rica, he set the Cougar record for most pass breakups.
Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA, Houston Texans, offensive guard
Florida Tallahassee Mission
A product of Provo’s Timpview High, Su’a-Filo chose to go on a mission despite starting 13 games as a freshman at UCLA. A special bike capable of holding a 300-pound man was ordered for the massive offensive lineman.
Drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft by the Texans, Su’a-Filo has been with that organization his entire pro career.
James Cowser, Southern Utah, Oakland Raiders, defensive end
Hong Kong Mission
Despite earning 2015 Football Championship Subdivision Defensive Player of the Year honors, the Davis High product went undrafted upon graduating from SUU. He signed as a free agent with the Raiders in 2016 and is in his second season with the club.
Cowser returned from his mission weighing just 200 pounds, but gradually regained the weight and became the FCS career record-holder for sacks (43.5) and tackles for loss (80).
Bronson Kaufusi, BYU, Baltimore Ravens, defensive end
New Zealand Auckland Mission
Picked by the Ravens in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft, Kaufusi fractured his ankle in training camp and had to sit out his rookie season. He started the 2017 season billed as a key cog in the Ravens’ pass-rushing rotation.
Kaufusi served his mission to New Zealand upon graduating from Provo’s Timpview High, then played four straight years for the Cougars under the tutelage of his father, Steve, another returned missionary who played in the NFL. Bronson Kaufusi also played on BYU’s basketball team in 2012, paving the way for his younger brother, Corbin, to also become a two-sport star at BYU.
Garett Bolles, Utah, Denver Broncos, offensive tackle
Colorado Springs Mission
Photographed wearing an LDS temple pin on his lapel when he was taken in the first round of last April’s draft by the Broncos, Bolles had a productive training camp and earned a starting spot at left tackle.
Bolles was not a star at Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs, but after a mission to Colorado Springs, Colo., he shined at Snow College and became one of the most highly recruited athletes that junior college in Ephraim ever produced.
Isaac Asiata, Utah, Miami Dolphins, offensive guard
Oklahoma Tulsa Mission
Selected in the fifth round of last April’s draft, the Spanish Fork native is contending for a starting spot on the Dolphins’ offensive line.
Asiata, whose cousin Matt Asiata is an NFL running back, redshirted at Utah in 2011 before his Mormon mission to Oklahoma and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology while starting in 43 games for the Utes.
Harvey Langi, BYU, New England Patriots, linebacker
Florida Tampa Mission
The former Bingham High star went undrafted last April, but the Patriots made him a priority in the undrafted free agent market, and he made the 53-man roster for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Langi started his college career as a running back at Utah, but, while serving his LDS mission in Florida, he decided to transfer to rival BYU and was turned into a linebacker and defensive end.
Taysom Hill, BYU, New Orleans Saints, quarterback
Australia Sydney Mission
Like Langi, Hill also was bypassed in the draft, but signed a free-agent contract with the Green Bay Packers. Scooped up by the Saints after the Packers waived him, Hill went from the tutelage of one Hall of Fame-bound quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, to another, Drew Brees.
From Pocatello, Idaho, Hill signed with Stanford out of high school, but transferred to BYU and spent five seasons in Provo. Having suffered four season-ending injuries at BYU, Hill has often said that his Mormon mission to Australia taught him how to persevere against adversity.