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Soccer star returns from Mormon mission changed in more than one way

Kellan Christensen is returning to the Pioneers after completing his Mormon mission.

Kellan Christensen is not so vain or so enamored with presenting an athletic “tough-guy” façade that he cannot admit how scared he was at times over the past few years.

Whenever Christensen is charging down the field, leading the offensive attack for the DU men’s soccer team, he does so free from fear. Opposing defenders hardly cause Christensen to pause. Even the best goalkeepers in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) fail to throw a shiver through Christensen’s bones.

However, knocking on doors in some of the grittiest neighborhoods of Oakland, Calif., even in the name of goodwill, was enough to unnerve DU’s usually unflappable senior forward from Layton, Utah.

Christensen returned to the Pioneers soccer lineup last fall after a two-year hiatus during which he fulfilled a Mormon mission. With the unique, life-altering experience under his belt and his soccer legs fully restored after his time away, Christensen is hoping his senior season follows the blueprint established by his older brother, former DU standout Kyle Christensen (BSBA ’09).

“It was probably the best experience I’ve ever had in my life,” Christensen says of his two-year mission. “We’d do a lot of service for people. We’d help them move out of houses. We’d help them clean out their yard. But also, we went around and taught a lot of people about our religion, our church. I woke up at 6:30 every morning and went to bed at 10:30 every night for two years.

“There is no one really there to babysit you. If you don’t want to wake up at 6:30, you don’t have to. You have to have a lot of discipline and be very obedient to be able to go out and do those sorts of things. It’s really tough, especially when you’re scared. I was in Oakland, Richmond … some real scary areas. There were times where it would be nighttime and we’d have an appointment to go see people. You had to tell yourself to just go there and say that you would be all right.”

Christensen returned from his mission in spring 2010, but after such a long hiatus, he was a long way from game shape.

Throughout his time in Oakland, Christensen was allowed about one “preparation day” a week when he often played basketball, but he gained 25 pounds by the time his mission was finished.

Christensen’s spring training was cut short by a strained hamstring, yet he made a strong return during his junior season last fall.

Christensen played in all 20 games for the Pioneers — including 15 starts — and tallied five goals and three assists while helping DU reach the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.

Still, Christensen realizes he did not quite have his “A-Game” in place. He need look no further than the brilliant senior season turned in by his older brother in 2008 to understand a much higher ceiling may be in place for Christensen during his senior season this fall.

Kyle Christensen also served a two-year mission in Argentina before returning to the Pioneers for the 2007 season. The elder Christensen turned in a solid 2007 campaign, earning first-team all-MPSF honors.

Yet it was the following year when Kyle Christensen’s skills fully returned and blossomed. In his only season at DU playing alongside his younger brother, Kyle Christensen was named the MPSF Player of the Year while leading the Pioneers into the NCAA Tournament.

Head coach Bobby Muuss hardly is ready to anoint Kellan Christensen as a player-of-the-year candidate, even if Christensen boasts that type of potential. All Muuss knows is that Christensen certainly will bring more to the table in his second season back from his mission.

“I don’t know if we had certain expectations for Kellan, not knowing,” Muuss says. “I know with his brother, his first year back was OK. Towards the end of the year he got better, and his last year here obviously was his best year as the conference player of the year that year. I hope and I think Kellan is along those same lines, where probably the day-to-day took a toll on him. The fitness was always an issue from being away that long. We expect big things from him hopefully this fall.

“I think he does see that this is his last year, and I think he wants to have a special year individually and collectively. My goal isn’t for any one of these guys to be the conference player of the year, because I think we have a couple of guys in our program who could win that award. We just need production from them. The bottom line from Kellan is that his responsibility is to score goals. We need him to do that.”

The soccer aspect aside, Christensen’s mission forever changed the course of his life.

In addition to serving the community in Oakland, Christensen met a couple who insisted on setting him up with their daughter. On June 18, Christensen married that daughter, the former Brianna Swisher, in Oakland.

The young couple will live in Denver while Christensen competes in his final season and completes his general business degree.

Christensen then will return the favor by moving to Utah to study for the LSAT while his wife finishes her degree at Brigham Young University.

“She is very, very supportive,” says Christensen. “If I’m sitting at the house not doing something, she will kick me off the couch and say, ‘Go run.’ She wants me to have a good senior season and is very supportive about that.”

The soccer team — ranked No. 19 — will open the regular season at 7 p.m. Aug. 27 when it hosts No. 6 Creighton University at CIBER Field. Season and individual game tickets are now on sale at, by phone at 303-871-2336 or in person at the Ritchie Center Box Office.

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