While working in rural Bolivia last year, I returned to nearby Sucre over the weekends to wash my clothes, take a hot shower, and attend church. It was there I met Elder Jacobson. He looked familiar… after talking for a bit, we found a mutual interest in college (American) football and he mentioned that he played for Texas Tech University. I then realized why I recognized him: he was the brother of McKay Jacobson, a wide receiver who played for BYU and the Philadelphia Eagles who I had grown up watching.
I’ve always been interested in those who choose different paths in life, and giving up the siren songs of fame, popularity, and partying that come with being a college football player in Texas to serve anonymously in Bolivia definitely qualifies as that. Elder Jacobson agreed to talk to me about faith,football, and life.
Into the Mild (ItM): What made you decide to leave Texas Tech and serve a mission?
Elder Jacobson: I had no worries but this was hard to leave my family, school and especially the team. I had always wanted to serve a mission since I was a young boy. My brothers served in Chile, Japan, Washington and my dad in Peru. Many aspects have been challenging, but it has been an incredible experience thus far.
ItM: You joined the team without a scholarship and stole a starting spot by the end of your freshman year. How did the idea of losing the spot you worked so hard for affect your decision?
Elder Jacobson: I would not say stole, I would say earned and include injuries in the equation. I am not concerned with losing a spot to start on the team. The reality is that everyday, every practice, every game I must perform. Coaches are going to play those that give the team its bests chance to win, period. I would have been in the same position to compete for a starting spot, whether I stayed or went to serve my mission just as I did. The mentality I try to always have is what have I done lately. You have to show up everyday ready to compete and win. That is one thing I love about football and sports in general. You can carry this same mentality into every walk of life and it starts with persistence and determination.
ItM: What do you say to those who say Steve Young or Bryce Harper had a bigger missionary impact for the LDS (Mormon) church without serving?
Elder Jacobson: No question that they have had an impact within the groups of people who follow American sports. They made the right choice for them and their circumstances. The decision to serve a mission is personal. There are many ways to serve and be examples. I am thankful for these two guys and their examples. I know the people here in Bolivia that I am serving are happy with my decision to serve them specifically. Many likely would never have the opportunity to learn of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the blessings that follow when one lives by its principles without direct contact with missionaries serving in their community.
ItM: How do you feel your mission affects your potential NFL career?
Elder Jacobson: I felt like I was definitely progressing as a player before my mission but I am ready to pick up from where I left off with a rejuvenated body to chase my dreams. To a man, everyone who plays college football initially thinks they can and will play in the NFL. The reality is a very small percent ever make it. I am a realist. I watched my brother McKay play in three pre-season games for Philadelphia before he was cut. It was hard on him. He had put so much into it. I was a senior in high school at the time and realized after talking with him about his football career that I need to enjoy each current moment more and not to get ahead of myself. Because of this advice and new mindset, I have enjoyed my relationships with my team mates, coaches, the practices, games and just the whole experience more than I otherwise would have. I stopped obsessing and worrying about the future and enjoyed each day. My dream is to be an Eric Weddle type player in the NFL. My mission has challenged me mentally, physically and spiritually. Hopefully these things will help me at Texas Tech, and maybe with my NFL aspirations and throughout my life… All this said, at this point in my life, being a missionary here in Cochabamba is the thing I feel that I should be doing and what I should be focused on. I look forward to the challenge and will enjoy the process if and when that time comes.
ItM: How did your teammates react to your decision to serve a mission?
Elder Jacobson: I had great teammates. They were all supportive. Not all of them understood exactly why I would ever do this but they have all been supportive. I love and miss all those guys. Some still write me every few weeks.
ItM: What did the coaches say?
Elder Jacobson: They were supportive and disappointed at the same time. We had discussed the possibility of my service when I first arrived on campus and at times throughout the year. In the end they basically said be safe and hurry back.
ItM: Do you still talk with the coaching staff?
Elder Jacobson: Yes. We have emailed back and forth some. I send them occasional updates on things I am doing. I’m sure as I get closer to my return, we will be in touch more frequently.
ItM: How do you stay in shape?
Elder Jacobson: Cochabamba has an altitude of about 8,400 feet. Like Lubbock (Texas), Cochabamba sits upon the Alti-Plano (High Plains) and at the edge of the Amazonian rain forest. Most people get altitude sickness when they first get here. My body has acclimated to this altitude. I walk around most of the day. I have an exercise and workout routine I follow each morning. I also play some futbol (soccer) for a few hours every Monday with the other missionaries. Most other missionaries are from Central and South America. Some of them are from the United States. My current companion is from the Dominican Republic. We change companions every three to four months. Football shape is completely different from any other type of shape. I realize I will have work to do.
ItM: What will happen when you return?
Elder Jacobson: I plan on returning home mid December (2015). I will enroll for winter semester and participate in the off season workout program. I will then get ready for spring ball and go from there.
ItM: How do you plan on reintegrating with the team when you return?
Elder Jacobson: I will be me. I recognize there will be mostly a new group of guys. Basically the freshmen who were there with me in 2013 will be the seniors. They will know me. All others will be new to me and me to them. I will do just what I did last time, show up, work hard, and do my part. I will have to prove myself to them and to the coaches all over again. I will have to prove they can count on me. I will do whatever I need to contribute and help the team win games. I understand nothing is or should be promised to anyone. Coaches are going to play the guys that give the team the best chance to win period.
ItM: Have you kept track of recruiting while you’ve been gone?
Elder Jacobson: No. I know the coaches are doing their best to get quality players each year. They spend a tremendous amount of time and money doing this. I hope and expect there to be a lot of competition. This will push everyone and make each of us and the team better.
ItM: How do you compare the workload of a missionary to your workload as a student-athlete at Texas Tech?
Elder Jacobson: Similar. You basically get out of it what you put into it.
ItM: You have obviously learned a lot on your mission. Since you’re currently choosing mission service over college, how much of what you learned in Bolivia do you consider practical for a future career?
Elder Jacobson: Primarily personal attributes refined and strengthened like persistence and follow through. I firmly believe there is a time and place for everything. One of my favorite scriptures from the Old Testament in the Bible is Ecclesiastes 3:1 – “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:” My opportunity now is to be a missionary. When that is over, all my attention and focus will shift from my missionary work to being the best football player, the best student-athlete, and the best representative of Texas Tech University.
ItM: What is the biggest lesson that you have learned?
Elder Jacobson: It is definitely the value of being persistent. Everyday I work very hard to fulfill my responsibilities. There is a great quote by Calvin Coolidge on his view of persistence. “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.“
ItM: What has been your best experience during your mission?
Elder Jacobson:There have been so many wonderful experiences. Most of them come from difficult circumstance overcome through struggle, work and diligence. Overall, becoming more aware of what this life is all about and realizing God does really know each one of us individually and loves us all. No one person above the other. He loves us all and wants us to be happy. We are happiest when we are not self-centered and when we serve others. I have seen many people learn of and accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Seeing people change and decide to follow God’s teachings, learn to forgive others and especially forgiving themselves has been the greatest experience here.
Elder Jacobson: When I first arrived and these young kids were just talking to me a hundred miles an hour and I didn’t understand them. I actually thought maybe there were two types of Spanish and I learned the other one. I am happy to report I am fluent in the language now. It helps when you have companions from different Spanish-speaking countries, such as my current companion from the Dominican Republic. Other than that, I think getting used to living in a different part of the world and adjusting to new food and a different culture. We are so blessed to live in the US and have warm running water and indoor plumbing.
ItM: How often do you lack running water?
Elder Jacobson: We generally have water but it is not always safe and seldom is there hot water available for showers.
ItM: What will you miss most about Bolivia?
Elder Jacobson: I don’t know for sure but the people themselves most likely. They are very humble and happy in general.
ItM: Do you watch American football?
Elder Jacobson: No, I don’t. It is not that popular here and many do not have TVs. People mostly watch soccer here.
ItM: Do you still follow football?
Elder Jacobson: My dad, family, teammates and friends keep me informed somewhat. I do pray and ask daily for God to bless Texas Tech and the fans.
ItM: Thank you very much for your time and good luck on both fields!