PROVO — Tyler Huntley didn’t get the college offers he thought he deserved, while Matt Gay was hoping it was BYU that would offer him a chance to transition from soccer to football kicker.
Now every time they step onto a football field, their success proves a point — the most important aspect of success can’t be quantified.
If there was any doubt about that, Huntley’s 389-yard night proved that. Gay’s four field goals (7-for-7 on the season) punctuated it with an exclamation point.
So much about athletic competition is measurable.
How fast can someone run? How much weight can she lift? How high can he jump?
Sports have rules so we can determine who wins and who loses. And in making those determinations, we use stats and scores to explain why one team did what their opponent couldn’t.
But the numbers only offer part of the story. They only indicate one type of success, offer one way to win.
In fact, Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham perfectly summed up the contradictory reality that statistics offer after the Utes earned their seventh straight win over rival BYU 19-13 Saturday night.
“The score was closer than the statistics,” he said. “Statistically we beat them up, but that doesn’t matter. The score is what matters.”
It matters in that it determines who wins or loses a particular contest. But it’s the intangible that both Huntley and Gay possess that really determines success.
Athletics offer laboratories for finding that which isn’t quantifiable in all of us. How do we respond to challenges? How do we handle rejection? What do we do when we fail?
And why do some people persist when everything outside of them tells them they’re not fast enough, strong enough, tall enough or good enough?
As impressive as Huntley’s athletic abilities are, it’s his mental ability that will set him apart. It’s difficult to describe that which can’t be measured, and I’m convinced we’ve yet to see just how it enhances all of his other gifts.
A lot of great athletes were defined by specific skills. They broke records with their speed or their strength, or they won games with their athleticism and competitive nature.
But what makes the most talented athlete practice longer and harder than teammates after achieving that which they said they were striving? What makes the best player seem like the hungriest?
Why does making a mistake gut some guys, while it seems to energize others?
Both teams struggled to deal with drive-killing, momentum-mutilating, touchdown-erasing penalties. And while some players admitted feeling frustrated, players from both teams said that they try not to spend a lot of time with those types of feelings because it doesn’t help them or their teammates.
“You don’t want to be frustrated with them because they see that,” said senior linebacker Matt Hadley. “We try to keep our heads up, try to help them keep their heads up.”
Utah senior cornerback and punt returner Boobie Hobbs said that it is the support of each other that pulls players through the frustration and disappointment of mistakes.
“If someone makes a mistake, we’re going to cheer them up. Short-term memory, just forget about it. We’re not going to turn our back on somebody that made a mistake. That’s not how we roll.”
The one thing both teams said they didn’t want to do was spend too much time with the failures.
“We don’t have time to hang our heads, said BYU coach Kalani Sitake, noting that Wisconsin visits Provo next weekend. “(We’ll) learn as much as we can from this game, be proud of some of the positive things. But, gosh, we need a win. It doesn’t help you hanging your head thinking about this ,other than just fixing the issues, fixing the problems, and moving on.” That’s what successful people do on and off the football field. They offer support and encouragement to those around them, even when their teammates' failure impacts their stats.
Instead of blaming, their analysis is aimed at correcting a problem so the person and the group can succeed.
Sometimes this strength looks like optimism. But it’s not unmitigated hope. It’s founded on hard work, on commitment and on trust.
It’s based in the reality of who needs to do what better, especially when it’s you. And maybe the BYU defense illustrated this point better than anyone when Hadley and junior linebacker Butch Pau’u said that while of course they want their offense to score more points, they also see ways that they can do more to make that easier for their offense.
That’s mental toughness. That’s emotional resilience.
That’s humility, it’s commitment, and while it is harder to measure or to score, evidence of it exists in what players do, say and, most importantly, how they respond to failure.
Because while there is no stopwatch capable of measuring those attributes, eventually those intangibles are what separate talented players from great players.
It’s what made Tyler Huntley believe he was capable of leading a team in a Power 5 conference. It’s what made Matt Gay persist after the school he grew up cheering for couldn’t find a place for him.
Failure is inevitable. Defeat is likely.
What is optional is surrender.
And if you’re looking for silver linings after a sloppy, less-than-impressive athletic showing by both teams Saturday night, take heart in the fact that evidence of toughness, heart and resilience abounded.
Because wallowing, blaming or suggesting that either team just doesn’t have enough talent to compete, well, that’s just not how they roll.