BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall often talks about how he loves having athletes who come into the program and prove their value by working hard.

One of those players - Cougar sophomore wide receiver JD Falslev - recently was rewarded for doing just that.

"Mendenhall pulled me aside on the practice field and started grilling me, kind of joking around," Falslev said. "He asked me when my birthday was and when I said it wasn't until April, he said he had an early birthday present. That was when he told me I would be on scholarship starting in January."

With most of the highly-touted high school players being offered scholarships before they even arrive in Provo, there aren't many guys who get to have a similar experience. For Falslev, it was a moment to savor.

"It meant more than anyone can know," Falslev said. "I know how much much family has sacrificed for me so I could follow my dreams and be here. To relieve some pressure from them and be more independent, it means a lot. All the hard work that went into it, I wouldn't change anything."

Mendenhall explained that moments like that are one of the things he most enjoys about being in charge of a college football program.

"It's one of the coolest things you get to do as a head coach, to reward hard work," he said. "If I had my way - and I think it would solve a lot of problems in college football - if players had to come in and earn their scholarships rather than be given them on the front end. JD (Falslev) is a great example of that."

For the players and coaches who work with Falslev every day, the recognition couldn't have gone to a more deserving player.

"It is an emotional experience for the young man and for all of us," said BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. "To see a child come in and not have the opportunities of financial aid, then to work his way into that is great. No matter how you twist it, it doesn't feel quite right if you are not getting a check on Monday. He has battled through and turned out to be one four very best players on offense this year."

Cougar junior quarterback Riley Nelson added: "For JD (Falslev) to have worked into a position to make plays for us and help the team, it's really special for him especially since he wanted it so bad. He grew up in Aggie country wanting to be a Cougar, which isn't an easy thing. For him to do that and now to perform on the level he's performing at and then to earn a scholarship, we are glad for him and glad he gets that help financially."

Falslev came to Provo from Smithfield, Utah, as a walk-on in 2009. He redshirted his first year, then saw action in 13 games in 2010.

This fall he has had a big impact in the pass game (24 catches, 219 yards, two touchdowns) and on special teams, including a memorable punt return for a touchdown in the 38-28 loss to TCU.

Falslev said that although being a walk-on pushed him to improve, he doesn't believe that having a scholarship now will make any difference in how he performs.

"It doesn't change how I work or do things," he said. "The only difference is that I'm being paid. It hit me a couple of days later that everything is still going to be the same. The only change will be I might have some more money in my account. Hopefully I can keep the same mentality."

Other players have also gone a similar route and that was something Falslev said drew him to become a Cougar.

"Mendenhall said I had a great opportunity to earn a scholarship here and that was a big part of my decision was how they treated walk-ons," he explained. "At other programs, walk-ons are holding down markers. My dad made the point the BYU was going to give me the best opportunity and they really have."

The sophomore said he thinks he's grown into a bigger role, which has helped his cause.

"I've gotten more involved in the offense," Falslev said. "It's been fun making some plays."

He believes he might have a greater appreciation for having the scholarship funds to aid him in his pursuit of a degree in exercise and wellness, with a goal of becoming a football coach.

"There are guys on scholarship that appreciate it and there are guys who don't," Falslev said. "I've been friends with some who don't and it's hard seeing them have something you don't and take it for granted. But I wouldn't trade it for the world and I know I appreciate it."

Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.Most people in Utah Valley couldn't be happier with a trip to Hawaii in early December. A little vacation to the islands sounds like a great respite from the darker days and cooler temperatures here.

While the BYU football team won't exactly be there for sightseeing - not with the season finale against the Warriors coming up on Saturday (5:30 p.m., ESPN2) - they are looking forward to the chance to enjoy some of the scenery.

"I don't know how much of the islands we'll be able to see," said Cougar senior running back Bryan Kariya. "I'm sure we'll see something because that's a long ways to go without seeing something. It will be nice to go and see the water and the beach, but the primary focus is to go win a football game. That's the mindset we need to take. We can't get caught up in the tourist attractions. We need to understand we have business to take care of."

BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall joked during Monday's press conference that he might find something to keep him from the stadium.

"The surf report is supposed to be good, so if I'm not at the game you'll know what's happened," Mendenhall said.

The head coach said the Cougars are planning on flying to the islands Wednesday, taking Thursday to enjoy themselves, then buckling down and get to work to finish preparations on Friday.

"When you go to Hawai'i, it's a vacation destination; the weather's nice, there is the ocean right there," Mendenhall said. "It's natural (to be distracted) unless you frame it to your team that there are times to focus on playing and times to focus on fun, and having clear delineations in between.

"The practice model will set the tone for what we expect on Saturday, and that's the best way I know how to handle it. The maturity level of the players will also come into play and some will have a harder time than others."

For some of the BYU players, however, going to Hawaii won't be a distraction in the same way; it will be going home.

"I'm pretty excited," said senior defensive lineman Simote Vea. "I've played quite a few times in that stadium (in high schoo). It was different. I've been to a few Hawaii games and it's not your typical BYU game. There is alcohol and some crazy people."

10 Cougars on the football roster are listed as coming from the islands and since BYU has made the trip since 2001, for those guys it will be the first chance to play in front of family and friends.

"I'm excited to play in front of people who know me," Vea said. "I hope they can all be there. I'm trying to get tickets for them."

Vea said that last team the Cougars were in Honolulu, he was wearing a different color than he will be this time.

"In 2001, I was wearing a green shirt," he recalled. "I was a freshman in high school and it was a pretty big game. I remember it being really long and there was over 100 points scored. I was excited, but since then I've changed."

Vea is hoping he might get a year back but he said that if he doesn't ending his senior year playing at home in Hawaii will be really nice.

"I think it's a good way for me to finish out," he said.

Rivalry renewed: Although nine years have passed since the last meeting, Mendenhall is glad that the Cougars and the Warriors will be playing regularly once again.

"(When scheduling) we look for the most intriguing matchups," Mendenhall explained. "With the Polynesian population and the LDS people with ties to Hawaii, it created a great atmosphere. The stadium was often full for the BYU game. We worked hard to have Hawaii be the last game so we could have a contest of special significance before the bowl game."

The Cougar head coach said the recruiting was a factor in deciding to play in Hawaii and said that it was all part of a strategic plan to open up many areas for BYU to recruit.

Thanksgiving with Mendenhall: Before the holiday last week, Mendenhall wasn't sure what it would be like since his team had the week off instead of preparing to play Utah like they had in past seasons.

"It was long, which I'm sure is not what Holly wanted to hear," he said. "I had a good time with the kids and with Holly. I got on a horse a couple of times, but it seemed like we should've been playing a game. I didn't watch football, which was anti-climactic. I didn't quite know what to do, so I'd have to get in the rhythm of how to handle it if I did it year after year."

He also said that he missed having the Utah game, something he never thought he would admit.

If he can play, Nelson will start: Although junior quarterback Riley Nelson has been cleared to fly to Hawaii, Mendenhall said that the junior hasn't been cleared to play yet.

"Riley Nelson has another checkup this week," Mendenhall said. "There will be another CT scan. He has been cleared to fly but that doesn't necessarily mean he has been cleared to play yet. We are going to prepare both quarterbacks throughout the week. Hopefully as more information comes from the medical staff the more we will know."

He was very clear, however, that if Nelson gets the OK then he will be the one taking the snaps.

Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.