For BYU athletes like football player Chandon Herring, the pandemic has focused his faith on ‘what matters most’

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) BYU defensive lineman Merrill Taliauli, left, works out against offensive lineman Chandon Herring.

Back in March, Chandon Herring was going at 100 mph, juggling classes, spring football, religious obligations and fitting in a personal life. Then everything came to a halt.

The coronavirus pandemic put an end to in-person classes, canceled football practices, and shut down businesses and church buildings.

With the drastic change in life, Herring thought back to a 2015 talk apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave at the women’s session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' General Conference. In it, he spoke of simplicity.

“If you ever think that the gospel isn’t working so well for you,” Uchtdorf said, “I invite you to step back, look at your life from a higher plane, and simplify your approach to discipleship.”

Herring also recalled a quote from the late apostle Robert D. Hales: “When you cannot do what you have always done, then you only do what matters most.”

With church meetinghouses and temples closed, members had no choice but to worship at home. The Brigham Young University offensive lineman took those sermons to heart and started a journey of self-reflection.

“Doing it on your own or with your family really made you focus on the simplicity of the gospel and the things that were essential and mattered and helped you,” Herring said. “And I know from some people that I’m good friends with and then hearing from other people that I’ve worked with, a lot of people had to really find themselves during it because a lot of it was just going through their normal routine. Having to do it on their own, having that personal responsibility, a lot of people had a nice little look into the mirror with their life.”

As with many children, Herring went to church services and the temple because his parents took him. He went on a mission to Washington, D.C., because he felt it was the right thing to do. But it wasn’t until Herring arrived at BYU two years later that he started to truly connect with his faith.

Away from family and companions, Herring’s testimony grew, resulting in a deeper conversion and greater devotion to living religious principles.

‘Trying to do good things’

BYU students are required to take religious courses each semester, which Herring has enjoyed. But the main reason the Arizona native chose to come to Provo was to be surrounded by teammates and fellow students who lived the lifestyle Herring wanted.

Of BYU football’s 2020 roster, 86% of players are Latter-day Saints. Seven of the Cougars' 11 coaches are also members.

“I knew that here there were a lot of good guys that were trying to do good things,” Herring said. “And I knew there were lots of guys who were married and had kids. I knew there were a lot of guys that served missions. There were guys that I knew worked in the temple. I just knew that I would be around or had the opportunity to be with people that lived in a way that I wanted to live.”

When the pandemic slowed everything down, Herring found himself having a similar experience to that when he first got to BYU.

After classes shifted to remote coursework and students were encouraged to leave campus, Herring returned to Gilbert, Ariz., and spent eight weeks with his family. It was the longest stretch Herring had spent back home since graduating from high school in 2014.

At first, Herring didn’t miss the regular church meetings and activities because the offensive lineman prefers to keep to himself and do things on his own. But the inability to go to those church events, like firesides, made him appreciate them more.

“Going forward and not having it made me realize how much I appreciate it and how valuable it is to just be with people that have the commonality of the gospel perspective and sharing their discussions,” Herring said. “Seeing someone that is going through a rough spot get through it, and hopefully being a part of that, or you yourself were in a rough spot and need something. Just having that community base is a great blessing. So not having it was interesting.”

Over the summer, area wards started opening back up to their congregations with precautions. Some meetings and firesides, however, still take place through Zoom rather than in person.

Practicing football and faith

(Photo courtesy of Jaren Wilkey) Head coach Kalani Sitake during BYU football practice in Provo, Aug. 7, 2020.

BYU football coach Kalani Sitake is serving as a counselor in a bishopric and said church meetings differ from pre-pandemic days. Sacrament meetings are quicker. There’s social distancing. And more cleaning.

Even though the football team has been trying to keep a bubble of sorts to prevent the spread of the virus, Sitake understands that his players may have responsibilities to fulfill for the church and may need to visit their respective wards or attend a temple.

“I want them to keep practicing their religion," Sitake said, “and be comfortable with it here.”

While the Cougars have managed to practice and salvage a fall season, unlike other teams throughout the nation and particularly in the West, Herring has enjoyed what the pandemic has, surprisingly, offered.

“I hate to sound redundant, but the biggest takeaway and biggest positive for me in the pandemic is really just kind of simplifying my priorities in my life because in regular life, it’s very loud, it’s very busy,” Herring said. “There’s always something trying to get your attention and take your time. And during the pandemic, a lot of those got stalled or eliminated. So finding worthwhile things to fill my time that I normally don’t think I would have, having more time, I feel like has been the best part of the pandemic.”