Mere hours before Beau Rydalch walked across the football field at Thursday night's graduation ceremony at South Summit High School, the 6'6" basketball player, who recently committed to play at the University of Utah after a two-year LDS mission, was back in the room where he spent the most time throughout his high school career - the gymnasium.
Completely empty, save for a janitor or two doing some end-of-the-day cleaning, Rydalch noted how bittersweet it was to know his high school days would officially be over by Friday morning. Sitting on the stairs looking out at the empty court, he said it was hard to come to grips with the fact that he'd never again don a green Wildcats jersey.
"It's weird - I'm excited to move on with life, but I love being here and playing here," he said. "Every time I walk into this gym, it's a different feeling than it was before.
"It's sad and almost depressing. But I'm moving on to better things that are going to be good for me."
Though he's excited for the next stage of his basketball career, he's also ready to take the next step in his life and serve his mission.
Man on a mission
On July 2, Rydalch will pack up his things and head to Ecuador, where he'll serve a two-year Mormon mission.
Going to an area not known for its basketball will make it hard for him to stay in top form, but he knows that's not important compared to the other work he'll be doing.
And, he added, he thinks he'll be just fine.
"I think I'll be alright," he said. "Just having my muscle memory - that helps a lot. There are certain players who come back from missions and do just fine - Tyler Haws, the BYU kid, for one."
Basketball will be the last thing on his mind when he sets off on his journey, though. When he found out he would be heading to Ecuador, he was ecstatic.
"I was way excited," he said. "I didn't know much about Ecuador at all. I had to look on a map to see where it was. I knew it was in South America, but had no idea where exactly. It'll be a good experience.
For those unfamiliar with the mission process, Rydalch had no say in where he'd be going.
"It's like an application almost," he said. "You have to fill out a bunch of steps and you have to have a dentist visit, a doctor visit, your wisdom teeth removed, all that stuff. You have to go through a series of interviews with church leaders and turn all that in.
"Then, in a couple weeks, they send back your 'call.' You don't choose where you're going - it goes through church headquarters and there are tons of missions across the world."
South Summit coach Dusty Hatch said he thinks Rydalch will have no trouble staying sharp on his mission.
"I served an LDS mission and I had a ball in my hand almost every day," he said. "Granted, I was in L.A. and not Ecuador, but there are still opportunities that he can get a ball in his hand and work on his game a little bit."
When Rydalch returns to the United States in June 2016, he'll get to work preparing for the Utes' basketball season.
For Utah fans, the sight of a Rydalch in a basketball uniform will be a welcome sight.
In 1988, Beau's dad, Craig Rydalch, and uncle, Mark Rydalch, both committed to the Utah basketball program. Over the course of their careers, both Mark and Craig would eventually become captains of the squad.
Beau Rydalch said he couldn't wait to have some of the same experiences his father had. After all, he added, his dad has told him plenty of stories about Utah.
"Oh yeah," Rydalch laughed when asked if his dad talked about his playing days. "I know about a lot, like all the stories he'd tell me about [former Utah head coach Rick] Majerus and how rough practices were.
"Whenever I'd come home from a practice I thought was hard at all, I wouldn't even bother complaining to my dad. I did once, my junior year. I was like, 'Man, today's practice was rough.' He's like, 'You have no idea,' and goes on to tell me the stories. So never again."
None of his father's stories dissuaded Rydalch from committing to Utah, however. In fact, they only strengthened the desire he's had since he was a child to follow in his father's footsteps.
"It's a dream come true," he said. "When I was younger, we had my dad's jerseys from when he played there. Me and my brothers would always take them out, wear them around and act like we were my dad."
Soon, though, Rydalch will have his own Utah jerseys and his own stories to tell his future kids.
The right fit
It didn't take long for Rydalch to make up his mind when he paid a visit to the Utah facilities. He decided to commit as a preferred walk-on before he left that day.
"When we went through on the visit, we were going to walk down to the locker room," he said. "During that time, it was just me, my parents and Coach Hatch. We talked about it and we all felt that it was the best spot for me. We all had a good feeling about it."
"As a preferred walk-on, he gets every opportunity a four-year scholarship player gets," Hatch added. "He gets to go to all the road games and everything. He has all the advantages, the only disadvantage is he has to pay his own way. But Beau's the type of kid that will take advantage of this."
Education was also a factor Rydalch considered.
"I was just going to take the best education I could get out of the schools that were recruiting me," he said. "That's a big point for going to the U, too. The education is just awesome."
Though he won't get started on his degree for a couple years, he's already got a plan.
"Psychology," he said when asked what he wants to major in. "I'd like to do that and then go into pre-med and get into psychiatry, or I'd like to just do sports psychology and try to become a coach."
On the court, Rydalch will have to work on his strength and physicality when he returns from his mission.
"That's probably the biggest thing," Hatch said. "We all agree that he has to get much stronger. Beau recognizes that and he works hard to improve in areas where he's weak."
Hatch said Rydalch's work ethic ensures that he'll at least have a chance to succeed. And, he added, the entire South Summit program will be rooting for him.
"It's exciting for all of us, especially Beau," he said. "It's a great opportunity."