Strong side: Mission, faith help shape Dallas Lloyd into team leader

(TRI NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)

(TRI NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)

If you take a drive down the 800 block of El Camino Real, it’s impossible to miss the massive billboard at the road’s intersection with Galvez Street. On the billboard these days are close-up shots of four Cardinal football players in a row, uniformed but helmetless, their intense expressions obligating passersby to, as the billboard advertises, buy their season tickets for Stanford home games.

Working right to left, you have Solomon Thomas, expected to be the rock of the Cardinal’s defense this upcoming season; Michael Rector, the Cardinal’s primary returning wide receiver; Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey, the face of Stanford football after becoming the spark of the offense; and on the far left, rising fifth-year senior, safety Dallas Lloyd.

Lloyd may appear to be the odd one out on this billboard. While he was the team’s primary strong safety last season and played in all 14 games, he’s not as lethal on defense as Thomas, not as dominant or illustrious as McCaffrey (though no one really is) and probably not as well-known as Rector.

Beyond the billboard, Lloyd is used to being the odd one out on the team itself. He’s a Mormon, the only married player on the team and a former missionary who spent two years in Chile before coming to Stanford.

But it’s those very idiosyncrasies that have shaped him into the football player he is today, someone who deserves to be up on that billboard.


(Courtesy of Dallas Lloyd)

(Courtesy of Dallas Lloyd)

Most of the 11,000 football players across the 128 FBS schools follow a similar path: Get recruited, sign with a school, show up to college the summer after you graduate from high school to prepare for the fall football season and, if you’re lucky, earn some playing time right off the bat.

A small fraction of these players — 147 from last year’s FBS teams — deviate from this norm: They put their football careers on hold and went on two-year missions before heading off to college.

The vast majority of these former missionaries go to school at BYU, Utah State or Utah, though 11 of them play at Pac-12 schools not named Utah (specifically Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona and Arizona State). Six of the 147 former missionaries are in school out in California, and three of those six — rising junior Brandon Fanaika, rising sophomore Sean Barton and Lloyd — are at Stanford.

Unlike that of other schools that were recruiting him, Stanford’s coaching staff was supportive of Lloyd’s decision to spend two years on a mission before arriving at the Farm; thus, while Lloyd, recruited as a quarterback, was part of the 2010 signing class, he wouldn’t come to Stanford until 2012.

After getting past the recruiting hurdle, the challenges had just begun for Lloyd.

While some missionaries get called to serve within the United States, others, such as Lloyd, spend their two years in a foreign country. He was initially excited to have been matched with a Spanish-speaking country, since he knew some Spanish.

“When we landed in Chile, I got off the plane with all these other missionaries from the United States. We heard people speaking Spanish and I was like, ‘This is not what they taught me in the United States … this is not Spanish. This is not ok,’” Lloyd said. “I couldn’t understand anything.”

Along with not being able to see his family for two years, he was allowed to email his loved ones just once a week, on Mondays, for only an hour. No phone calls, texts or social media were permitted throughout the mission, though he could Skype his family twice a year, on Christmas and on Mother’s Day.

There was no one with whom Lloyd could throw around a football, and the areas where he lived did not have any gyms. Instead, his workouts consisted of running through the streets in the early morning before his studies started at 8:30 a.m. He had to convince his companion, a person he’d be paired with for as little as six weeks or as long as three months, to come along for his morning workouts, even if the companion had no desire to work out.

The missionaries would spend nine hours a day talking to Chileans on the streets, trying to teach them about Mormonism, but they were not typically well-received. While some Chileans would kindly decline to speak with them, others would tell them to get lost (“gringo, go home”). People would often invite the missionaries to their homes but would be absent when they arrived later that day.

Stray dogs would chase after the missionaries — there was a running joke that you couldn’t complete your mission without being bitten by one of them. At one point Lloyd couldn’t sleep for two weeks because he was so uncomfortable from the fleas that were eating him alive at night. People would throw rocks at Lloyd and the other missionaries, and once, a group of teenagers spat on him.

“It was so hard. It was so hard, looking back on it…” Lloyd said. “If you can go on a mission for two years, you can do anything.”


(SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

(SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

Spending two years on a mission instead of coming straight to Stanford seemed at first to trigger a setback for Lloyd’s football career.

Lloyd arrived at the Farm for the 2012 season, one year removed from the Andrew Luck era. As Kevin Hogan earned the starting quarterback job from then-starter Josh Nunes, Lloyd did not see any action. Things weren’t much better his sophomore year: He got the ball twice in the Cardinal’s first game of the season against San Jose State — the first time in the second quarter, rushing for 7 yards, and the second time fumbling the ball early in the fourth. After that, he would appear in six other games and only get the ball four more times in 2013, recording 26 total rush yards on the season. He never passed the ball that year.

“It was really frustrating,” Lloyd said. “I was upset at myself and I let these thoughts of doubt come into my mind, like, ‘If I [hadn’t] gone on a mission, then I would have been able to come straight to Stanford.’”

With Hogan’s spot at quarterback seemingly secured for the next two years and Lloyd’s prospects not looking promising, Lloyd even considered transferring from Stanford.

“I realized they were all just excuses,” he said. “They were justifying the fact that I wasn’t getting it done.”

“It’s really sad that those two years, the best two years of my life, became an excuse for why I was so frustrated,” he added. “Looking back, it had nothing to do with those two years. I was a better person and football player because of those two years.”

Instead of choosing to transfer or spend the remainder of his career on the bench, Lloyd turned his efforts to finding an alternate way to get on the field and contribute towards the team’s success: He would make the switch from offense to defense — from quarterback to safety — in his junior year.

After having finally gotten a grasp of Stanford’s offensive playbook, considered one of the most complex in college football, Lloyd had to completely switch gears and start over, learning new techniques, changing his diet, turning to film and relying on his older teammates — “Jordan Richards was the best. I had so many questions… He was so annoyed with me, I’m sure.” — to show him the ropes.

“It was really hard,” Lloyd said. “I hadn’t backpedaled since high school — which was like five years ago. I felt like a freshman again.”

Defensive backs coach Duane Akina, who had had experience coaching players who transitioned from offense to defense, came to Stanford at around the same time that Lloyd made the switch and helped him get used to his new position. Former Cardinal and NFL greats Richard Sherman and John Lynch, who both switched from offense to defense during their careers, offered their advice and helped him realize that his offensive foundation would not go to waste — in fact, it could actually be used to better analyze opposing offenses.

After playing in nine games as a junior, Lloyd finally had the opportunity in 2015 to make a name for himself: He appeared in all 14 games and, with fellow former offensive teammate Kodi Whitfield, filled the role of the Cardinal’s primary safeties. Lloyd’s 55 tackles were third-best on the team behind NFL-bound Blake Martinez and Aziz Shittu.

“I just felt like it was all meant to be,” Lloyd said. “I knew just like anything else that my experience was going to be what I made it.

“The platform was there and the work was there for me,” he added. “I just took advantage of it.”

(Courtesy of Dallas Lloyd)

(Courtesy of Dallas Lloyd)

Before he decided to go on a mission, Lloyd had reached a point where he knew he was at a crossroads with his faith: He was either in or out.

“I reflected upon the experiences I’d had in my life … the best moments that I’ve had, which have been when I’ve been serving other people or loving other people,” Lloyd said. “Despite all the trials and the [internal] storm that was going on, I felt peace and happiness deep down inside when I believed in Jesus Christ and when I tried to follow Him.”

And that’s why, despite all the difficulties from those two years, going on his mission was one of the best times of Lloyd’s life.

“From the outside, I wasn’t getting anything out of it,” Lloyd said. “But every day, you go out and you talk to people on the streets, you get to know them, you ask if you can come teach them. You talk to them about their families, you go into their homes and see what they’re like. It was the most amazing thing.”

Along with the people the missionaries would approach on the street, they got to know Chilean Mormons. The Chileans would have them over for lunch, their biggest meal of the day, or would come over for “family home evenings,” once-a-week get-togethers that allowed the Chileans to get to know the missionaries and learn more about Mormonism.

The missionaries wouldn’t have to teach the Chileans about their faith to serve them: Lloyd recalls weeding a woman’s yard for the entire day, even though she said she didn’t want to hear anything about Mormonism.

“Literally, it’s 24/7, you’re just focused on helping other people,” Lloyd said.

One day in particular stands out to him: Six families had signed up for appointments for the afternoon, but when Lloyd and his fellow missionaries arrived at their homes, no one was there. The same day, a stray dog had attacked one of the guys Lloyd was with, and people had thrown rocks at the group. They were about to go home but took a minute to pray, asking to find someone that they could help as the day closed. They looked up when they were done and saw on the street ahead a single house with its light on.

They approached the house and called out to see if anyone was home. A woman peeked out the window and her eyes went wide; she explained to the missionaries that she had just been praying for help — her husband was planning to leave her and her young son the following day.

“There were moments like that throughout my whole mission that made all of the days where horrible things happened or where nothing happened despite our hard work so worth it,” Lloyd said.

“That was probably the happiest period of time I’ve ever had.”

 

(RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

(SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

For his first two years at Stanford, Lloyd approached football in a way that is probably unrecognizable to most of his teammates today.

“My first two years here, I got really focused on myself and was really unhappy,” Lloyd said. “I [have] all these hard stories from my mission, but at the end of the day, those were two of the most happy years of my life because I wasn’t focusing on myself, I was focusing on other people. I finally had a wake-up call that that [also] applies to football.”

He figured out how to apply what he had found to be so beautiful about his mission — focusing on others instead of himself — to the sport he loved: not simply by switching from quarterback to safety so he could contribute to the team, but by becoming a leader for the defense and the team as a whole.

“He definitely does everything in his power to make it so that other people are appreciated,” linebacker Noor Davis said. “He goes out of his way to help people.”

“He’s really our comfort blanket back there,” fellow safety Whitfield said. “He has the ability to calm everyone down if things aren’t going [well] and to inspire people.”

Lloyd even stepped up to become the holder for field goals this past season after kicker Conrad Ukropina asked him to assume the role with the graduation of former holder Ben Rhyne.

“He dedicated himself to it when he really didn’t have to. He was going to start at safety, regardless,” Ukropina said. “He doesn’t have to work that hard, but he does.”

Already during this offseason, Lloyd is one of two seniors who helped organize a meeting among the leadership of the team to discuss the mentality they want to have going into summer workouts and ways in which to better help the younger players prepare for the upcoming season. He’s also planning to hold casual film sessions for the defense throughout the summer. His teammates already speak of him as a strong possibility to be one of next season’s captains.

(RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

(RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

“If you apply too much of Mormonism to football when you’re on the field, you’re not going to get along very well,” Lloyd said. “You won’t stand a chance.”

That may be true to a certain extent — it’s difficult to apply the peace-loving tenets of Mormonism to a game as brutal as football. But the ways in which Lloyd’s faith has shaped him as a player — one who can respond to obstacles and come out better from them, one who constantly puts others before himself — are undeniable.

The parallels go deeper, too.

To Lloyd, Mormonism also offers a promise for what is to come after life on earth: a knowledge that he can be with his family — his wife Libby, his parents Casey and Angie, and his siblings Jake, Ellie and Savannah — and friends, forever.

“I think about all the relationships that I’ve built while I’m here on earth, and I don’t want those to end,” he said. “It just doesn’t feel natural, it just doesn’t seem right for all the knowledge that we’ve acquired, all the experiences that we’ve had, to come just to an abrupt end… I have hope in that.”

Those same relationships are what says he’ll most take away from his five years at Stanford.

“My teammates, I love them. They’re such amazing people,” Lloyd said. “My coaches, my classmates, all of them have just touched me, inspired my life.”

Lloyd names gratitude as one of the things that’s made him happiest.

“Whenever I’m complaining or moaning and groaning because of workouts, or because I’m waking up early, or because I have to eat healthy … I just need to take a step back and realize how amazing this is and how grateful I am to be able to run around, to have a body where I can play, to have coaches and teammates and [to spend] time with such amazing people on campus that I never would have met [otherwise].”

These moments often manifest themselves in the middle of football games.  

“I just have a second to look around, at the camera that’s floating down, to look at a hundred thousand fans and my teammates and the other team,” Lloyd said. “I just take a deep breath and just realize how beautiful this whole experience is and how lucky I am to be out there.”

 

(TRI NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)

(TRI NGUYEN/The Stanford Daily)

In the final months of his mission, people told Lloyd that if he had worked his hardest and put his heart into everything he did, leaving would be one of the most difficult parts of the experience.

He doubted it. He was excited to finally see his family after two years, to get back to football and to start his life at Stanford.

But when he got on the plane to leave, he looked out the window at the Andes and started crying.

“I’d given my all for these people and had so many amazing experiences. And I didn’t want to go home,” he said. “I know it’ll probably be the same thing when I’m done here.”

Two years of his mission and four years of Stanford later, Lloyd finds himself nearing another ending: to his Stanford education and possibly his football career.

There’s plenty of work to do up until then: The players have a few weeks until their grueling summer workouts start, and then before they know it, the season will be underway. Lloyd, who has been accepted into a co-term program in the communications department, will return to the field as a fifth-year senior, looking to build upon his performance last season as he leaves his final mark on the Farm.

“I’m afraid to think about the day when it’s all said and done,” Lloyd said.

He pauses. “For now, I just want to leave my all. I want to have no regrets.”

He shifts from Stanford back to his mission — a transition he makes often, though one that seems natural, seamless. He describes how his last few months in Chile were the best because he worked his hardest and with the most urgency.

“I know the same thing is going to apply here,” Lloyd said. “I know it’s going to be the best seven months.”

His next two sentences are still about Stanford — but they are just vague enough that they might mean something more.

“I never want to leave. This is the best life.”

Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.