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Elder S. Gifford Nielsen spoke to BYU students about life lessons from The Cougar Song at Tuesday’s devotional. He described people who embody the teachings of the song. 

Elder Neilsen is a General Authority Seventy of the LDS Church. He played basketball and football for BYU during his undergraduate years. His role as quarterback eventually led him to the NFL, where he played for six years. He is currently serving at Church headquarters as an Assistant Executive Director of the Missionary Department and as an Area Assistant in the North America Northeast Area.

Elder S. Gifford Nielsen
Photo Credit: 
Isaac Wilkey/ BYU Photo

Loyal, Strong and True

“Legendary football coach LaVell Edwards embodies the essence of these lyrics,” said Elder Nielsen.

He described Coach Edwards as one who taught players to never give up, one who was humble and one who brought people together.

Coach Edwards and others Elder Nielsen interacted with while he was a football player taught him how to be “loyal, strong and true.” Elder Nielsen told of a tough game he played in. During the game, his knee was hit hard. He kept playing, but it was hit again. He was replaced, and the Cougars lost the game. He immediately had his knee examined.

“The look on the doctor’s face said it all. My college football career was over,” said Elder Nielsen.

Elder Nielsen was shocked and worried. He said Coach Edwards, athletic director Glen Tuckett, trainer Marv Robertson and Dr. Robert Metcalf gave him a priesthood blessing upon his request. They exemplified being “loyal, strong and true.” The operation worked, and he has never had another problem with his knee.

“The priesthood is not to be taken casually or lightly,” said Elder Nielsen.

Rise all loyal Cougars

Elder Nielsen said Patti Edwards, wife of Coach Edwards, was another person who personified the Cougar Fight Song.

“Together Patti and LaVell demonstrated to all of us obedience, integrity and faithfulness,” said Elder Nielsen.

The Edwards went to the temple each Friday morning before home football games and demonstrated their commitment to God by serving a mission.

In 2012, Coach Edwards had open heart surgery. Afterwards, he asked Patti to tell their bishop they can’t make it to tithing settlement, “but tell him we are full tithe payers.”

Oh! Rise and shout, the Cougars are out along the trail to fame and glory. Rise and shout our cheers will ring out as you unfold your vict’ry story

 “It was a blessing to learn so young that the ‘vict’ry story’ was never mine alone,” said Elder Nielsen, “‘The trail to fame and glory’ has nothing to do with our worldly ego and requires keeping our eyes fixed on eternal truths.”

Elder Nielsen taught that our reactions to struggles should be with an eternal perspective and focused on the gospel. Captain Moroni defended gospel principles and was a mentor to many people.

“I guarantee that somebody somewhere watches you and wants to be like you. You have more influence than you may realize,” said Elder Nielsen.

As we join in song, in praise of you, our faith is strong

Elder Nielsen described Floyd Johnson, an equipment manager in the BYU Athletic department for 46 years, as kind, humble, wise and strong in faith. 

“He spent time with athletes of every religious background, answering questions and providing comfort,” said Elder Nielsen. “He continually invited others to learn more about the restored gospel, and many accepted his offer!”

Elder Nielsen shared an example of Johnson’s gospel sharing zeal. He had challenged two BYU football players who wanted to be better missionaries to bear their testimony to somebody on the opposing team each week. Many thoughts went into their “pigskin proselytizing” as they tried to devise a plan. In a game against the Air Force Academy, the players went through the first half with no action. At halftime, they reminded one another of their commitment and, later in the game, the pair found their chance.

“As the Air Force quarterback dropped back to pass, looking for a receiver, 260 pounds hit him, driving him to the ground. An additional 240 pounds jumped on top of the pile,” Elder Nielsen said, recounting Johnson’s story. “500 pounds of priesthood power on this little Air Force quarterback and they were staring at him, face mask to face mask. The 260-pound player asked, ‘What do you know about the Mormon Church?’ The 240-pound player added, ‘Do you want to know more?’ This little quarterback looked up into those four big eyes and said, ‘Get off me, I’m a Mormon!’”   

The Cougar Song

“I can’t think of anyone who exemplifies the entire BYU fight song more than our new prophet, President Russell M. Nelson,” said Elder Nielsen.

President Nelson never stops learning, and he cares about us staying on the covenant path, Elder Nielsen said. President Nelson teaches us to be walking, living evidence of God in each aspect of our lives. 

Elder Nielsen encouraged the audience to be a powerful influence for good, with the reminder that we are sending a message through our words and actions each moment. 

“We trust you! We respect you! We love you! Go Cougars!” said Elder Nielsen.

Next Devotional: Julie Crockett

Julie Crockett, associate professor in the College of Engineering and Technology, will deliver the BYU Devotional address on March 6, 2018. Crockett’s remarks will also be broadcast live on BYUtv, (and archived for on-demand streaming), KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYU Radio and will be archived on