Beck’s Cougars and other Mormon college athletes

The town of Scottsbluff, Neb., population around 15,000, is nestled in Western Nebraska near the borders of Wyoming and Colorado. It’s the last place you would expect to find a college basketball team full of Mormons.

Photo courtesy WNCC / The 2011-2012 Western Nebraska Community College Cougars.

Meet head coach Russell Beck and the Western Nebraska Community College Cougars.

Beck is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The American Fork native gained experience coaching at Dixie State College, Salt Lake Community College, the College of Southern Idaho and Southern Utah before he was hired as the head coach at WNCC in 2009. Since then Beck has sought to fill his program with LDS athletes, although not exclusively. He wants good basketball players, but he also wants players with work ethic, character and an unselfish, winning attitude.

This strategy has worked for Beck. This season the Cougars finished with a record of 26-7 and were ranked in the NJCAA’s top 25. Several players have been recruited to play for Division I programs.

The team features five returned missionaries, one planning to serve a mission, and one recent convert. The team members have participated in several community activities and enjoy sharing a drug-free message at local elementary schools.

The following information was emailed to me from Charity Beck, coach Beck’s wife. The Latter-day Saints on the team include:

  • Coach Beck served a mission to Independence, Mo. He also serves in the Scottsbluff Ward young men’s presidency as first counselor.
  • Yahosh Bonner, an assistant coach from Mesa, Ariz., served a mission in Tampa, Fla., mission. Bonner serves in the ward as a Sunday school teacher.
  • Allen Beck, a 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman forward from Alpine, Utah, served in the Nashville, Tenn., mission. He also serves as the ward’s deacon’s quorum advisor.
  • Marcus Johnson, a 6-foot-10 freshman center from Grantsville, Utah, served a mission in Toronto, Canada. He serves as the ward mission leader.
  • Brady Mason, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard from American Fork, Utah, served in the Slovenia Croatia mission.
  • Raul Delgado, a 6-foot-2 sophomore guard from Mapleton, Utah, and Chihuahua, Mexico, is a recent convert to the LDS Church.
  • Mason Smith, a 6-foot-5 freshman forward from Alpine, Utah, is in the process of submitting his mission papers.

Moving along, another LDS returned missionary recently committed to play Division I basketball. This past season, Travis Wilkins was a 6-foot-3 freshman guard at Snow College. He recently committed to play for the Southern Illinois Salukis. Wilkins was the subject of a couple of features in The

Kaitlin Bogle, a 5-foot-10 junior forward from Crocker, Mo., averaged 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds for the Columbia Lady Cougars this past season. She was recently honored with a selection to the academic all-American team. Bogle played the 2009-2010 season at Utah Valley University.

In wrestling news, Matt Brown is a freshman at Penn State. Brown served an LDS mission in Angola and Mozambique.

In college baseball news, Garrett Nash is playing center field for Oregon State. Nash served an LDS mission in Tacoma, Wash.




  1. Cynthia Faye Roper

    I’ve seen first hand the care and support that Coach Beck has given to each team he has had the pleasure to coach. He has great support from home and he and his family become part of building their community wherever they live. It’s great to see these young athletes being coached by someone who cares for the welfare in each area of their lives. Thank you for sharing this article.

  2. Steve Roper

    Coach Beck is a coach of high ideals. His does not necessary look for only members of his church to play basketball but he is looking for those that want to become a responsible citizens. He teaches team values on the court so that his players will become good husbands and fathers. Wining is important to coach but winning as a team and allowing each player to fulfil his potential as a person and a player is more important. I commend Coach Beck for what he is trying to attain.

    • Trent Toone

      Thanks for your comment Steve, it does appear that Coach Beck has his program headed in a good direction.

  3. Dennis Beck, his father

    Coach Beck has high standards in regards to his basketball programs and works hard to achieve success in all of them. It is very important to him that each young man who enters his program become an active participant on the team, in the school, in the community and develop a strong sense of worth as a person. Each one matters to him personally. He has often expresses openly of the stabilizing influence that mature return missionaries bring to the program. I think his words are better than mine; “In small communities associated with most Jr. College programs there is often not a lot of exterior, attractive to young men, things to do off the court. Return Missionaries have already, in the most part, adjusted their lives to deal with these issues and tend to keep track of and help other members of the team stay out of trouble.” His caring for them while away from their homes and families becomes a big part of his success, they are expected to work hard on the court to learn and to achieve while there at school and to have fun too. It is this type of caring that helps to make his program a success.

    • Trent Toone

      Thanks for your comment, Dennis. Looks like your son is doing great work in Nebraska. I hope he continues to have success.

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