Not Just for Kicks

“Not Just for Kicks,” New Era, Sept. 1990, 12

Not Just for Kicks

Earl Kauffman, a football kicker and punter for BYU, talks about his conversion.

Playing football for a major college seemed like nothing more than a remote possibility. In many ways, I was an average kicker and punter on our high school team in Converse, Texas, a suburb of San Antonio. But then during my junior year I had a few lucky breaks. At one game I kicked a 58-yard field goal. Later our team played the number two team in the nation, and we beat them by a score of 54 to 22. Recruiters were at that game, and I repeatedly kicked the ball out of the end zone. I guess they liked seeing that power in my leg because the offers started coming in by mail and the phone started to ring.

Five major colleges, including BYU, tried to recruit me. I was pretty excited because they were all prestigious schools. Visits to the different campuses were arranged, and the process of elimination began. My dad, who never missed a game I played in, encouraged me to be thorough in my investigations. I was not LDS, so Church membership did not entice me to BYU. However, all my life I had lived many of the same principles and values taught in the LDS faith but didn’t realize it. I knew nothing of their beliefs.

In high school I had many opportunities to drink and smoke and do a lot of other unwholesome things. It just didn’t make sense to me to participate. In fact, it seemed destructive. So I got very good at saying, “No thanks.” Sometimes I would even challenge my friends to give it up. Also, I could see the misery that immorality caused, and I wanted no part of it. I made a personal commitment to save sexual intimacy for marriage. It seemed the only right way. At times I felt pretty alone, but I held on to my personal beliefs.

My family was not religious, so I didn’t belong to a church. It was through evangelists on television that I first learned about prayer. It made sense to pray, so I did and it felt good to be able to talk to my Heavenly Father. I felt I had a friend I could talk to who understood how I felt.

When I visited the different campuses, the recruiters tried to show me a good time, and it always seemed to include drinking. When one took me to a bar, I said, “Please don’t offer me a drink, because I don’t drink.” I can remember thinking, “This is going to be just like high school with everyone trying to get me to be a part of a lifestyle I’m not interested in.”

Then BYU flew me in to visit their campus and meet the coaches. What a difference! The whole atmosphere was refreshing. People were genuinely friendly, and I was treated with courtesy and respect. I was not taken any place where people were drinking, and I was never even offered a drink. I couldn’t believe it, but it felt so good. The coaches were great, and their winning record was impressive. But then again, there were some impressive things about the other schools too.

When I returned to Texas I had narrowed it down to two colleges, BYU and one other. I decided to pray about which one would be right for me. After the prayer I knew it had to be BYU.

My freshman year at BYU was like coming home. I felt so comfortable with the required standards. I began to ask questions about the Church, and my teammates were eager to share without pressuring me. They encouraged me to read the Book of Mormon. Bob Stephens, an LDS team member, and I hit it off and became close friends.

One day Bob and I decided to take dates on a ride up the canyon. As the four of us drove up a steep hill, the car engine died. We tried and tried to get it started, and nothing seemed to work. It was an embarrassing situation until a policeman came along and asked if he could help. We asked him if he could take the girls back. They volunteered to go for help while we stayed with the car.

While we waited I thought it was the perfect opportunity to ask Bob some serious questions about the Church. Generally speaking, football players are not the most articulate people, and Bob is no exception. However, when he began to answer my questions he sounded like a scholar. He answered every question with authority and conviction. I was deeply impressed.

Then I noticed an unusual thing was happening. Though it was cold and I didn’t have a coat on, I noticed I was feeling warm. I thought it must be because my arms were folded, so I stretched them out across the back of the seat. But the warmth stayed. It was a comfortable feeling, difficult to describe.

When I was through asking questions, I said, “I think the car will start now, Bob.” And it did, with the first turn of the key. It blew me away. I thought, This must be the work of the Lord so that I could have this chance to talk seriously with Bob. It seemed like a little miracle to me.

After that I asked to see the missionaries and with every discussion the gospel logically unfolded. I had resisted reading the Book of Mormon before because in the past I found the Bible difficult to follow and understand. But as soon as I began to read the Book of Mormon, I understood it and even enjoyed reading it. The more I learned through study and prayer, the more I knew the Church is true. It all made sense.

I called my dad and told him about my desire to join the Church. He asked me to wait. “Come home for the summer and then decide,” he said. I have a great deal of respect for my dad, so I followed his advice. All summer long he challenged my beliefs. I found myself continually defending my newfound faith. Not once did I feel like backing down, but instead I became even stronger in my convictions.

At the end of the summer he said, “I can see you really do believe this new religion. I was just testing you to make sure your decision was your own and not based on the influence of others. Go ahead and get baptized. You have my blessings.”

In the fall when I returned to BYU I decided I wanted my dad to be there when I was baptized, so my baptismal date was arranged at a time when he would be in town to see one of our games. I’ll never forget my baptism. It was the happiest day of my life. Bob baptized me, and Coach LaVell Edwards confirmed me. And then, with tears running down his cheeks, my dad put his arm around me and said, “I’m really proud of you, son. I love you.”

My dream to play major college football for a winning team has come true. But even more important, I have found real happiness as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Playing major college football is a dream come true, but my baptism was the happiest day of my life. My best friend baptized me, my coach confirmed me, and my dad was there to watch.