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BYU equipment truck back on the road for one more journey this season to Boca Raton for bowl game

Tom D'Angelo
Palm Beach Post
Hal Morrell, left, and Fili Taufa transported equipment from Provo, Utah for the BYU football team to the team hotel in Jupiter. BYU plays UCF in the Boca Raton Bowl on Tuesday night at FAU Stadium.

When Carol Morrell waved goodbye to her husband, Hal Morrell, and his co-driver Fili Taufa three weeks ago ahead of their 4,400-mile round trip to Conway, S.C., she never imagined what that journey would become.

The two men who drive the Brigham Young University equipment truck were being tracked like Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Whether it was social media accounts, thumbs up from passengers in passing cars or calls from national radio hosts and reporters looking for anecdotes from the open road, Morrell and Taufa were the most famous truck drivers since the "Rubber Duck." 

Astonished and perplexed at the curiosity and interest in her husband, Carol told him: “You’re just truck drivers. That’s all you do.”

Not just any truck drivers, the truck drivers who were a big reason the Dec. 5 BYU game at Coastal Carolina was able to be pulled off in less than 72 hours. And the truck drivers who, weeks after pulling their rig across the country, did it again, this time for a 5,000-mile round trip from the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, to Boca Raton where the Cougars face UCF Tuesday in the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl.

If the College Football Hall of Fame ever opens an Equipment Truck Driver wing, Morrell, 64, and Taufa, 56, will be the first two inducted.

More:Rare south Florida visit for BYU Cougars in Boca Bowl

More:BYU set to play UCF in RoofClaims.com Boca Raton Bowl

Breaker Breaker One Nine

Every major college football team sends an equipment truck to road games ahead of the team. The truck is loaded with helmets, pads, cleats, jerseys and footballs; communications equipment for coaches; projectors and movie screens for hotel setups; medical gear and more. Most everything is on wheels. No trip is too long, as proven by Morrell and Taufa, who will have made three trips to the East Coast this season (Navy, Coastal Carolina and the bowl game) and driven a total of 17,530 miles for five road games.

Morrell estimates the pair has logged about 160,000 miles in 9½ years driving the truck together. That includes about 65 games. The only time the truck was unable to haul the gear was when BYU played in the 2019 Hawaii Bowl.

“They haven’t found a way for me to drive a truck to Hawaii,” Morrell said.

Morrell takes the wheel of the freightliner tractor with the 45-foot trailer first for the long trips and hands it off to Taufa after 11 hours before they start alternating. Sleep is precious for Morrell. Easier for Taufa.

“It’s like trying to lay in a bed during an earthquake,” Morrell said. “You feel every bump in the road, you’re continually shaking.”

Said Taufa: “I sleep like a rock.”

Both are truckers by trade. Morrell once owned Bailey’s Moving & Storage, and Taufa was an employee. In 2002, Bailey’s purchased a trailer and donated it to BYU. In 2011, BYU was looking for new drivers and Morrell and Taufa agreed to take the job.

They have been together since the middle of the 2011 season, with Morrell missing three games, and Taufa missing his first game this year because of his daughter’s wedding.

“It’s like a vacation for me,” Taufa said. “When you drive for BYU, they order you all the gear, you drive all over the nation. I like to travel.”

Said Morrell: “The great thing about driving for BYU, we’re not in a conference where you go to the same place every other year.”

Some trips can be eventful, like the time a woman spun out on a slippery road in front of the truck, resulting in a T-bone accident. Because they were going about 40 mph, she was okay. But her Toyota didn’t stand a chance against a vehicle weighing about 65,000 pounds fully loaded. Or spending 14 hours on the side of the interstate in Asheville, N.C., waiting to be towed after the compressor blew. Or spending 12 hours in York, Neb., because of computer issues.

Not all experiences are bad. Morrell and Taufa were warmly greeted by fans while driving through Iowa City in 2018 after BYU had upset No. 6 Wisconsin, an Iowa rival. And that recent trip to Coastal Carolina had several surreal moments, one when they were greeted by fans at 1 a.m. during a stop in Nashville. The school was posting updates on the BYU equipment Twitter account.

"It was fairly organic," said Brett Pyne, the director of communications for football. "We posted some stuff on social media once the game happened and the uniqueness of trying to go across country last minute, that’s where that all became more of a story."

The team honored Morrell and Taufa before that game by choosing them to walk on the field as the flag bearers.

"We thought that was a nice way to honor what they did,” Pyne said.

Unlike the Boca Raton Bowl, in which they had three days to prepare for the trip, Morrell and Taufa were told about four hours before they hit the road for the Coastal Carolina game. Even then, they were not sure of their destination.

It was Wednesday at about 4 p.m. and equipment manager Billy Nixon could not tell them where they were headed because a contract was not signed.

“He says, ‘Hal, how soon can you get ready to go?' I said, ‘Where am I going?’ He said, ‘All I can tell you is you need to head toward the Carolinas.’

“I said, ‘Bill, there’s a lot of schools down there.’ ”

They were told when they got to Omaha, Neb., they would let them know if they could proceed or if they should turn around and head home.

By the time they arrived to South Carolina, they were celebrities.

“I remember as a kid reading Sports Illustrated thinking, ‘Wow, how great that would be to be in Sports Illustrated as an athlete,’ ” Morrell said. “And here, 50 some odd years later, I’m in Sports Illustrated as a truck driver.”

Sports Illustrated:The Last-Minute, 2,200-Mile Journey to Get BYU on the Field at Coastal Carolina

Hal Morrell, left, and Fili Taufa unload equipment Sunday for the BYU football team staying in Jupiter. The men drove the gear from Provo, Utah.

Truckin’ on down to Boca

Considering the Orange Bowl was not an option, BYU, 10-1 and ranked No. 16 by the College Football Playoff committee, could not have a picked a longer trip than Boca Raton for a bowl game. For Morrell and Taufa, though, they shrugged their shoulders, packed up their bags and hit the road.

Morrell and Taufa left Provo around 11 p.m. Thursday and arrived 47 hours later to their hotel in Jupiter. They mapped out a more southern route because of weather and were slowed down by heavy snow in Utah and Colorado. Their journey took them through eight states.

The truck holds 200 gallons of fuel, but they gas up when it gets down to about 50 gallons. That means a fill up about every 800 miles. They stopped three times for gas on the trip to South Florida.

As for food, they bring a cooler, pick up food when stopping for gas and try to eat a sit-down meal once each trip. As for those other "pit stops," those just come naturally.

“If Fili can get three hours out of me, he’s lucky,” Morrell said.

Morrell and Taufa are under the regular COVID-19 testing protocols as the team when they are working and they are tested prior to hitting the road.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, neither has ever been stopped for speeding while driving the truck.

As for enjoying each other’s company, they have no choice. The two are friends from vastly different cultures who enjoy talking … when one is not sleeping of course. And Taufa likes his country music.

“We talk about people we used to work with. We talk about old times,” Taufa said.

Morrell is a native of Salt Lake City and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU. Taufa was born in Tonga and moved to Hawaii in 1988 before settling in the Provo area. He played rugby in college but acknowledged/admitted he did not understand football when he arrived in this country.

“I’m a fan now,” he said.

And now it’s Morrell and Taufa who have a lot more fans.

“I can’t believe it,” Taufa said about the newfound fame discovered during the trip to Coastal Carolina. “I was surprised. People were so nice, they asked us if we needed food and anything to drink. Taking pictures.

“We felt like we were rock stars.”

Hal Morrell, left, and Fili Taufa in the cab of their truck as they drive from Provo, Utah, to Conway, S.C., three weeks ago for BYU's game at Coastal Carolina.