Steven Souza Jr. – The Importance of Teammates


Steven Souza Jr.

Outfielder, Steven Souza Jr. Photo by Keith Allison 


It is not good for man to be alone.

When God first created Adam in the garden, he was all alone.  No spouse.  No friends.  No family.  Our Triune God knew that we couldn’t live out our lives in His image if we had no one to love and care for.  So God created Eve to give Adam a partner, helper, and friend.  After sin entered the world, we needed each other more than ever.  We all need other people in our lives to encourage us and to keep us from straying in our walk with God.  The story of Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder, Steven Souza, shows why.

Souza was raised in church, but refers to himself as a prodigal son.  He quickly found himself wandering from the faith he was raised in and living life his own way instead.  Instead of living for others, he lived for himself.  He explained to the Increase, “I thought everything revolved around me.  Elevating myself in every environment I was in – whether I was with my family, friends, or teammates – I developed a lot of pride.”  But Souza soon found himself in a dark place and began to feel like he was losing his identity.

God sent teammate Michael Taylor into Souza’s life.  One day, as Souza’s life in a dark place continued, Taylor asked him how his walk with Christ was going.  Souza lied.  He said that everything was going fine, though that could not have been farther from the truth.  Perhaps Taylor saw through it, because the next thing he did was encourage him to start reading God’s Word.  Souza went to God in prayer that night, asking God to do something to show him that He was real.  But nothing happened.

Though God may not have performed the miracle Souza had been seeking, He was still at work in his life.  As Souza recalls; “over the next few days, God continued to bring key people into my life who pointed me towards Christ. One of those people – a friend of mine – invited me to church that week.”  God touched his heart that day.  Not long after – on January 31, 2012, Steven Souza was baptized.  He recalls now that, after his baptism, some things in his life changed completely right away, but other changes have been more of a slow, gradual, refining process.

To this day, God is still using other people in Souza’s life.  In another article on the Increase, he explained how God has continued to use others to help in his Christian life.  He said of his time with the Tampa Bay Rays;

“We have a team Bible study that meets once a week which has really blown up. There’s a giant group of guys that come and it’s been really fun to grow in community and knowledge of the Lord together. The relationships that we’ve been able to create with each other have been awesome, though there’s only so close you can get with a large group of guys. But there are two guys who I’ve really been able to really go deeper with. Alex Cobb and Chase Whitley have become two of my best friends and men with whom I have been able to establish solid accountability. Alex, Chase, and I have found a community with each other where we can challenge, encourage, and grow closer to God together. The three of us are able to really energize and uplift one another; within this brotherhood we can really feel the presence and blessing of the Lord. Desiring to go deeper with each other in our faith and friendship, we’ve committed to meeting daily with each other, whether over breakfast or by our lockers, to check in and share what’s on our hearts.   I’ve seen incredible encouragement and growth in my own life come as a result of these men’s fellowship. I remember last year Chase and Alex approached me one day with something that they had observed in my life—something that was manifesting itself on the field. I didn’t have wrong intentions in my heart, but I was coming across in a way that demonstrated less-than-Christlike behavior. Out of genuine care and concern for me, they pointed out to me the way that my demeanor was portrayed in certain situations on the field and encouraged me to be more careful about how I act so that I can be a good light for Christ. I immediately recognized what they were saying and was surprised at how I had not been able to see this. So thankful for their desire to lead me on a good path, I began to work on paying closer attention to my responses and actions during the game… This type of daily community and faithful accountability is what Jesus calls us to find in our brothers and sisters.”

In the article, Souza points to Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” 

This year, things will be different for Souza.  The Rays spent the offseason clearing payroll and investing in the future.  The Rays waved Whitley, who was then claimed by the Braves.  Alex Cobb remains an unsigned free agent as of this writing.  Two other fellow Christians, Peter Bourjos and Steve Cishek, both signed with the Cubs.  After watching some of his brothers in Christ move to other cities, Souza surprisingly learned that he was the next to go.  On February 20, 2018, he – along with Yankees minor league pitcher, Taylor Widener was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 3-team trade.  The Yankees received infielder Brandon Drury in the deal, with the Rays picking up a group of prospects, headlined by pitcher Anthony Banda and infielder Nick Solak.

2018 will mark a new beginning for Souza. He begins the season on a new team in a new city in a new clubhouse.  Now, it will be him who stands alongside new teammates, encouraging them with the Gospel and serving as a living example of what a man of God should be.

Sometimes, instead of sending miracles into people’s lives to show them His presence, He sends us.  God came to Souza in his time of need through his teammates.  God uses us, too, to come into people’s lives at just the right time to point them to Christ.  We should remember that in all of our relationships and in every interaction we have.  We’re there to point other people to Jesus and to be lights that shine for Him!

Matt Forte – The Workhouse Returns to His Stable


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Former Bears Running Back, Matt Forte.  Photo by John Martinez Pavliga


Change can be terrifying.

Running back, Matt Forte, is going through a major change in his life right now.  After 10 seasons in the NFL, Forte will be hanging up his cleats.  Forte played college football at Tulane, was drafted by the Bears in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft, and then finished his career with the Jets.  He retires with 9,796 rushing yards, 75 touchdowns, and two Pro Bowl appearances.

In addition to having had an impressive NFL career, Forte has an impressive faith.  He has been vocal about his faith throughout his career, even announcing his retirement through Sports Spectrum.  Here are a few of the gracious words he had to share (though I also recommend checking out his entire statement);

For the past 10 years, I’ve been blessed to play professionally a game that I’ve loved since I was 6 years old.  But, after much prayer and reflection, I’ve decided to retire from the NFL. Like so many others before me, this game has enhanced my life in numerous ways. My career in the League has been nothing short of a miracle granted by God and put on display for His glory. I will cherish the many memories made on the field and the lifelong friends I’ve made over the years in the locker room…  The past 25 years playing America’s game have left me with unparalleled joy. But, it’s time for the workhorse to finally rest in his stable. While my heart is a bit heavy as I close this chapter of my life, I am excited about what the future holds. God Bless and Bear Down!

In times of anxiety and change, Forte has learned to look to God for strength.  He explains to The Increase;It’s easy to become anxious, but the Bible warns against letting worry overtake our lives. In fact, anytime we allow worry to seep into our lives, it means we’re not trusting God. We may be trusting Him, but only to the point where we feel like we’re still in control. When we begin to realize we’re not in control, anxiety rears its ugly head. I know that is when I need to lean on God and trust Him the most.”

A verse that is near to Forte’s heart is James 1:2-4; Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Forte points out that the Bible “doesn’t say if you face trials, but when. We’re promised trials, and if you aren’t prepared for the trials that will come, you’ll find yourself overcome with anxiety. But since you know hardships are going to come, you can prepare your heart and mind to trust in the Lord’s sovereignty.  It’s one thing to say you’re not going to worry, it’s another thing to apply it to your life. For me, the more I stay conscious of my anxiety, the more I’m able to surrender it to God and trust in Him. When I feel myself getting overwhelmed, I tell myself to slow down, I go to a quiet place, and I pray. During these moments I need to realize there’s a bigger picture than what’s going on in my life this week or even this month. God calls us to take it one step at a time, without worrying about the future.

As we face changes in our own lives, we, too, can rest on God’s promises.  He promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him, to listen every time we call to Him, and to help us in every time of danger.  We never need to be afraid or feel alone.  As Psalm 46:1 reminds us; God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble!

Ben Revere – A Little Guy with Big Dreams


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Outfielder Ben Revere.  Photo by Ian D’Andrea


5’9’’ Ben Revere never thought he would ever be able to play major league baseball – ever.

His goal was simply to play college baseball.  During his senior year of high school, Division 1 colleges like University of Georgia, Florida, Florida State, and Miami showed interest in him.  It appeared that his dream was about to come true.

God had bigger plans.

In 2007, as Revere was planning on figuring out what school to go to, he was drafted in the 1st round of the Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.  He thought it was a dream.  Revere told CBN; “When all that happened I was just like, ‘oh my goodness.’ It’s just, I didn’t think I was even going to go D1 because, I was the smallest guy on every team – every team.  And it just like man, you see all these kids like 6’3,” big, hit homeruns… And I’m like, ‘there’s no way I can make it.’

People doubted him.  Some said he was too small.  Others said he didn’t have a strong enough arm.  Others said he couldn’t hit with enough power.  It took him four years in the minors to prove himself, but at the end of the 2010 season, he made his major league debut.

Revere never did develop a great deal of power.  It took him 1,466 at bats before he hit his first Major League home run in the 2014 season!  What he lacked in power, however, he made up in contact.  He hit over .300 for three straight seasons from 2013-2015.  He led the National League in hits in 2014.

While Revere has been a consistent player, his baseball career has been one of constant change.  After debuting with the Twins, he was traded to the Phillies prior to the 2013 season, then to the Blue Jays at the 2015 trade deadline, and then to Nationals prior to the 2016 season.  He was granted free agency after his one season in Washington, and signed with the Angels in 2017.  He just recently signed with his 6th team, the Cincinnati Reds, in February of 2018.  He’s grateful to God for the opportunity to play.  He told CBN; “til this day, I’m just like, ‘Thank You.’ I’m just like, ‘Thank You.’ I’m just like, ‘Really, You didn’t have to give this to me.  You know, I will love You no matter what, but You give me this chance.  I’m not going to regret it.’”

One of Revere’s favorite Bible verses is Psalm 91:1-2.  In this verse, King David confesses that “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.”  Revere told Rob Maaddi in the book “Baseball Faith;” “When I read this passage, it’s definitely heartfelt, and you realize whatever you may be going through, whatever temptations are in your life, God is saying to you: ‘don’t give up on me, and I’ll help you overcome anything and have a long life of salvation.’ Reading this passage makes me realize that God has a better plan for me.  I like to read it especially if something isn’t going well because it’s a constant reminder that the Big Man upstairs is always by your side no matter what.  You see so many athletes waste their talent because their egos become so big and they think they can handle everything on their own, but no matter what gifts and blessings God gave you, He could take it away very quickly.”

As Revere begins this new chapter in his baseball career, nothing is guaranteed.  The deal he signed is minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.  As he fights for a roster spot on a team that already has a crowded outfield, He will look to God for strength and help, grateful for the opportunity.

Carson Wentz: Strength on the Sideline


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Eagles Quarterback, Carson Wentz.  Photo by Keith Allison


On February 4, 2018, millions of people had their eyes fixed on U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, as the Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII.  As we watched Nick Foles lead the Eagles on the field, however, something amazing was also happening on the sidelines.

Carson Wentz.

Wentz is the Eagles star quarterback.  The Eagles paid a king’s ransom to trade up to the 2nd selection of the 2016 draft to select him and have been building their team around him ever since.  Wentz has done nothing but prove that he was worth it.  He’s not only been a great quarterback, but he’s also demonstrated strong character, and a selfless, team-first attitude.  He’s been quite vocal about the reason behind his attitude; his faith.  Wentz started a charity called AO1 – Audience of One.  During Week 13 of the 2017 season, the NFL sponsored a “My Cause, My Cleats” program, in which players could wear custom cleats promoting their favorite charity.  Wentz and other Eagles wore AO1 cleats, complete with the Bible Verse, Romans 5:8, which reads; but God shows His love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Wentz spent the 2017 season, not only leading the Eagles to the playoffs, but by telling the world that he’s a Christian.  Wentz accomplished a great deal!

But he didn’t play in the Super Bowl.

In Week 14, in a game against the Rams in Los Angeles, Wentz tore his ACL.  After his injury, however, what Wentz did was perhaps more impressive than any of his on-field accomplishments thus far in his young career.  Instead of leaving his team to focus on his own rehab and recovery, Wentz stuck by his teammates on the sidelines.  He took on the role of encourager, mentor, and friend.  When the defense was on the field, he would sit by his replacement, Nick Foles’, side, helping him make in game adjustments.  He genuinely rooted for his team to succeed – even when that meant winning the Super Bowl without him.  Even in his weakness, Wentz showed the world what the heart of a Christian ought to look like.

Wentz, along with several other Eagles players, put together a devotional series for the YouVersion Bible App.  Here’s what Wentz had to say;

One of my favorite things about God is His creativity.  He’s blessed us all with different skills, different abilities, different passions, different things that we’re good at, and I think that’s so unique, and in 1 Peter 4:10 it says; “Each of you should use whatever gift you have receive to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”  And various forms is what really jumps out to me, ‘cause, you see, I’ve been gifted to play football, as a professional quarterback.  But there’s other people who have been gifted to be pastors, to be businessmen… to be teachers, dentists, nurses, you name it.  And we all have this different mission field.  We all have this different platform and potential reach with our influence, but, at the end of the day, we all have the same mission.  And what’s our mission?  In Acts 1:8, Jesus says; “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Samaria and Judea, and to all the ends of the earth.”   So, at the end of the day, no matter what your job is, not matter where you’re at, no matter who you’re surrounded by, God has put it on your heart, and your mission is to tell the world about Him. To spread the Gospel.  To do it with love.  And that is our ultimate mission.  And it’s ultimately to do it for the Lord and to further His kingdom

Wentz had hoped his job this season would be to lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl as their starting quarterback – and to bring God glory on the field.  It turns out, his job was to serve as a supportive voice on the sideline.  He embraced this unexpected, unwanted job with the same zeal he uses on the field, and has brought God glory in his humility and his love for his teammates.


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A photo of Carson Wentz, Zach Ertz, Nick Foles, and 3rd string quarterback Nate Sudfeld with Tony Dungy’s son, Justin, after the Super Bowl.  While Philadelphia celebrated, these 4 men of God found a quiet place to pray together.  Photo from Tony Dungy’s Twitter account


Trey Burton – James 1:22


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Trey Burton (#8) back in his University of Florida days.  Photo by SAM_5363


On a football team, you never know when the coach will call your number and need you to step up.

The Eagles have lived that reality this year.  It all started after week one, when kicker Jake Elliott was brought in for an injured Caleb Sturgis.  Than it was running back Lagarrette Blount (and, later, Jay Ajayi) stepping in for Darren Sproles.  The list kept growing.  Linebacker Joe Walker for Jordan Hicks – and then Dannell Ellerbe for Joe Walker.  Left Tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai or Jason Peters.  Nick Foles for Carson Wentz.     For a short time there was another need for a player to step up.  In a crucial Week 14 matchup in Los Angeles against the Rams, star Tight End, Zach Ertz, was out, leaving backups Brent Celek and Trey Burton to step up.  Burton was ready.  He explained to the Increase

The biggest thing I’ve learned this year, especially in the past few weeks, is that you never know what’s going to happen, so you have to be ready at any time to step in and lead. Whether on the field, in the locker room or in team Bible study, you have to prepare as if you are the starter. On the field you never know what might happen; you have to be prepared for the worst. One of your teammates might get injured and end up out for the season. You need to be ready to give it all you have on every play. As a Christ-follower, I want to be prepared in my knowledge and trust in Him so that if anyone asks me a question about my faith, I’m ready.

God has also been teaching me to appreciate my teammates more this year, not only as they compete for our team, but as many of them work hard to build up the Kingdom of Christ. As a team needs each player — gifted specifically to execute in their position on the field — so the Church has members who are all a critical part of God’s mission, able to benefit the Church with their gifts and talents. Not one teammate is greater than the others. Everyone is needed for this mission.

We, as Christians, always need to be ready to step it up.  Whether it means stepping it up to preach the Gospel, to help someone in need, to show compassion to someone who is hurting, or to defend someone who is vulnerable.  Christians are called to be people of action.  Burton explained the following in one of his portions of the Eagles You Version devotion series;

James 1:22 says. “Be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving yourself.”  I love this verse for many reasons.  Probably the #1 reason, though, I love this verse is because it’s counter-cultural to what we believe here in America.  A lot of times we go to church on Sunday and we listen to a great sermon or we hear our pastor preach on a topic, and that’s it.  We’re not doers, we just hear.  And so, when I started reading James, I truly fell in love with it and it kind of gave me a totally different mindset about church.  Not only should we go to church; Not only should we be listening to sermons on podcasts or YouTube or whatever it may be.  But that’s not the end of it, that’s really just the beginning.  And the same with reading the word, you know, when we’re in the Word and we’re studying Scripture – that’s not the end of it, that’s just the beginning and now it’s time to act on it.  And that’s something myself and my teammates have taken to heart this year; Not just sitting and listening and those types of things– which are great – but taking the next step and being doers of what we’ve been reading and what we’ve been studying.

We’re all called to step up as Christians.  We’re called to doers of the Word.  We’re called to rise to action and serve Him wherever and whenever we have the opportunity.

Marcus Johnson; Baptized Into Christ


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Marcus Johnson being baptized by Pastor Kyle Horner in the presence of some of his teammates.  Photo is from Marcus Johnson’s Instagram account.


The week of October 8, 2017, is one that Eagle’s receiver, Marcus Johnson, will never forget.

It was the week he went viral for a reason he never expected.

It was a week that nearly never happened.

Like many young men, Marcus Johnson grew up in the church, but gradually drifted away from it.  He explained in episode 36 of the Faith on the Field Show with Rob Maaddi;

“when I was younger, my family and I always went to church – every Sunday.  We did a little bit of Sunday School; my grandparents have always been strong in their faith; and it’s always been around me.  But as I got older and I got to high school – closer to the time that I was getting ready for College – we moved from where we originally were and We hadn’t really found a church… Then, once I got to College, I was on my own.  I wasn’t going like I should have.  And it wasn’t like we didn’t have outlets.  We had FCA at the time at the University of Texas; different churches that people were going to… I just never really took advantage of it for whatever reason…  I spent 4 years at Texas, you know, just on an up and down path, you know, my life was all over the place… I guess those 4 years I hadn’t really completely bought into all of it and I hadn’t pushed myself in my faith the way I should have.”

But even as Johnson’s life was going through a time of change and instability, God was supporting him and surrounding him with people to help him through.  He says; “I always had people in my corner the whole time.”  After college, Johnson went undrafted by the NFL.  On May 13, 2016, he signed a rookie contract to the play for the Eagles.  That’s when everything in his life began to change.

He tells Maaddi that being a part of the Eagles is

“everything you could ever ask for.  Going into the NFL, last year, my rookie year, you always hear people talk about the locker room; how dysfunctional they are; how players are selfish; how they only play for money and this and that.  And Immediately, when I got here, I had so many people who were just supportive.  [There] really wasn’t anything negative in that locker room.  From that point, I knew it was something special here…  It’s been encouraging for each and every person and, like I always say, we just hold each other accountable.  We’re not afraid to speak up about our faith.  We’re not afraid to hold each other accountable, to continue to make sure that we all stay on the right path.  And it’s such a blessing to have a group of guys you can come to about anything and just be like, ‘I want to grow in this area; I feel like I need work in this area.’  And, you know, they all have their own wisdom from their growing up and whatever course their life has taken and they can all give you good, honest advice.  They’re not going to tell you what you want to hear, they’re going to tell you what you need to hear… Since I’ve gotten to Philly, I’ve grown in my faith so much… If it wasn’t for the guys in this locker room, family, and friends really uplifting me and pushing me forward, there’s no telling where I’m at right now; if I’m moving, stagnant; if I’m growing in my faith; if I’m working in the community.”

This great moment in Marcus Johnson’s career however, ended before it really ever began.  On September 13, the Eagles cut Johnson from the team.  His faith, however, got him through it.  He explains; “It was just me never doubting what God had for me and, before I got cut and everything kind of happened the way it did, You know, I heard something powerful what somebody said, you know, what God has for you, no man can take.  And you just have to trust the process.  You have to be committed to it.  And you have to know it wholeheartedly… When I got cut, I didn’t look at it as anything but a business decision from the Philadelphia Eagles I didn’t take it personal, I just took it as motivation.  I went home, I worked out and stayed ready.”  It’s a good thing he did.  In December, the Eagles brought him back!

As he rejoined the team, he continued to grow in his faith.  Through the encouragement of players like Trey Burton, Carson Wentz, Torrey Smith, and others, as well as through local pastors and his friends and family, Johnson grew in his faith.  He began feeling called to be baptized.  He wanted a local Philadelphia Pastor, Kyle Horner, to baptize him.  As the desire to be baptized grew in his heart, the whirlwind week began.

It started on Sunday, October 8.  Johnson recorded his first NFL catch in a 34-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals.  The celebration would have to be short, as the Eagles would be flying to North Carolina to prepare for a Thursday night primetime showdown against the Panthers, in a battle of 4-1 teams.  Pastor Kyle would be travelling from Philadelphia to see the game, and Johnson wanted him to baptize him while they were all there.

Johnson says that “it’s been a true blessing.  You know, when something like that happens – not talking about the catch but being baptized, it’s something that you can’t do alone.  When you take a step like that, it’s a lot of people behind the scenes and not everybody gets to see and know that helps make something like that possible and, just leading up to it, I had been talking to Pastor Kyle about it for a while, and we were trying to get it all worked out and God had it meant to be right before the game. And Kyle flew out because he was going to watch the game, and he was like ‘Man, we can do it at the hotel if you want to, and I was like, it doesn’t matter where we have it or where we do it, I just want to go ahead and take the next step and be baptized.”  On Wednesday, October 11, 2017, Marcus Johnson was baptized into Christ, surrounded by his teammates.  The following evening, the Eagles defeated the Panthers, and began to receive a great deal of attention by the national media.

That’s when the unexpected happened.  Johnson posted a picture of the baptism on Twitter and on Instagram.  The picture went viral.  Even secular sports media outlets were covering the story.  Johnson’s baptism was featured on Fox News, CBS Sports, and 247 Sports.  That was something Johnson never expected when he posted the picture.  He tells Maaddi;

“As a football player, you kind of think something I do on the field – or something else might inspire or motivate people, and that’s how it’s been for a lot of my life. I didn’t think that me being baptized would blow up the way it did and it’s just amazing how God is using it… I’m just so thankful that something like a baptism could be so wide reaching.  I’ve had so many people reach out to me; from people who are believers who are just happy for me, from people who are like ‘you know, I’m not really a believer but I really like the growth that you’ve made and, you know, it’s inspired me and, you know, it’s really a beautiful thing when something like that happens.  It’s truly a blessing… I want to show the world and I’m glad that, like I said, the baptism went viral and a lot of people were able to see it.  And, I always pray for things like that – using my platform and influence for the better and for positivity; pointing every bit of success In His name… Just like you’ve seen in the power of this post going viral.  You know, anybody can post being baptized and it’s just another picture or another video.  But, it shows how powerful our platform is and our influence is… It’s amazing to see Him use me in that way, and I just want to continue to do that.”

Baptism isn’t the end of a Christian walk.  It’s the beginning.  Johnson’s plan now is to focus on “moving forward and just diving into the Word and learning more and being more committed in the Bible; Being more committed in community; Being more committed, in His Name…  I want to continue to uplift of the people around me.”

Update (March 9, 2018): Marcus Johnson experienced the joy of being part of the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl LII winning season.  After the season, he was traded, along with a 5th Round Pick, to the Seattle Seahawks for 3-time All Pro Defensive Lineman, Michael Bennett, and a 7th Round Pick.

The Nightmare Season for Chris Maragos


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Chris Maragos of the Philadelphia Eagles.  Photo by Keith Allison


Thursday, October 12, 2017 was a great day for the Philadelphia Eagles.  They defeated the Panthers in Charlotte on a nationally televised Thursday night game, bringing their record to 5-1.  The night before the game, something even better happened!  Eagles Wide Receiver Marcus Johnson became baptized into Christ!  It was a great day for the Eagles!

But not for Chris Maragos.

Maragos is a unique football player and an inspirational human being.  In NFL terms, he’s a little guy, measuring in at only 5’10” and weighing 200 lbs.  After high school, he enrolled at Western Michigan University as a wide receiver.  He played sparingly as a freshman, reeling in 25 catches for 222 yards.  With his football career not getting off to the start he desired, he felt God leading him to transfer to a different school. 

Maragos had a great option.  He could transfer to a Division II school, Grand Valley State, where he would receive a full football scholarship, start at wide receiver, would live relatively close to his girlfriend, Serah, (who is now his wife), and, because he would be transferring to a lower level, he would get to play the very next season (NCAA rules require that a player who transfers from one Division I school to another to sit out a year).

He never attended Grand Valley State.

Instead, he felt called to enroll in a different school, the University of Wisconsin.  His friends thought he was crazy.  He says in an interview with the Increase that people were asking him; “If you can’t even make it on Western Michigan, how are you going to make it at Wisconsin?”  But that’s where he felt called, so that’s where he went.

The transition to Wisconsin wasn’t an easy one.  He received no scholarship.  He would have to sit out for a year.  For a while, he wasn’t even sure he would make the team!  They wanted him to change his position from wide receiver to safety.  But as time passed, things began to fall into place.  He made the team, earned a scholarship, became a team captain, and ultimately played well enough to sign an NFL contract with the San Francisco 49ers.  He only played in 3 games with the 49ers, but signed with the Seahawks the following year, with whom he would win the Super Bowl following the 2013 season.

The 2013 season was a dream season for Maragos.  On October 12, the 2017 season turned into a nightmare.  On what he calls a ‘fluke play,’ Maragos tore his posterior cruciate ligament, ending his season.  The injury has been a difficult one.   Maragos explained the process to The Increase;

After surgery I went from 200 pounds to 178 in a few weeks. The procedure literally zapped me of all my strength; I couldn’t eat for 10 days after. During this extremely hard time, one thing became really clear to me: just how dependent I am on the Lord. I had to completely lean into Him and trust that He would bring me through this. I felt like I had been stripped down to nothing as I learned to rely on Him for all the mundane, daily things that are easy to take for granted. I was barely able to move or eat; the simplest things suddenly became almost impossible and very time consuming…  [After] surgery, suddenly I had to trust in God for every detail and find my strength in Him for even the smallest of things. It’s been a painful process and recovery is slow, but I’ve found a new contentment in the Lord unlike anything I have experienced before.”

 “I can’t imagine going through this time without Jesus by my side. When difficult times come, all I have to rest in is the love and sovereignty of God. I’m continually asking the Lord, “How can I honor and serve You with my life? How can I draw others to You?” But during this time I’ve realized that though I can still point others toward Christ through this situation, God wants to refine me in this time. He wants me to draw closer to Him as He both challenges and encourages me. The Lord is meeting me here in the pain.”

It hasn’t been easy for Maragos.  He confesses that “these circumstances have definitely not been easy for me. My heart is heavy as I wrestle with this every day.”  What’s gotten him through it is his faith.  One of his favorite Bible verses is Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Maragos explains; “The Christian walk is not about following something blindly. It’s about trusting in God’s Word and gaining assurance from His promises, which He makes very clear to us. This is what gives us strong faith. We can have confidence in things not seen because of the resurrection of Christ and the hope God has given us through His Word and His Spirit.  This is true. This is accurate. This is sure.”

Regardless of what happens on February 4, the 2017 season will not have a fairytale ending for Chris Maragos.  But he knows for certain that God will be there to help him through these difficult times, and that the fairytale ending he’s looking forward to most – eternal life with Christ – is a sure thing! 

Stefen Wisniewski and the Grace of God

Galatians 6-7

Old school football fans know the name “Wisniewski.”

Steve Wisniewski was an 8-time Pro Bowler, playing all 13 of his seasons with the Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders.  Steve’s older brother, Leo Wisniewski, was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1982 and remained with them through their first season in Indianapolis in 1984.

Leo is a devout Christian and he brought his son, Stefen, to church every week.  He wanted his son to learn God’s Word and to have a personal relationship with Jesus.  Like many young people, however, Stefen didn’t realize how much he needed God in his life.  He explained in an interview with Beyond the Ultimate; “I grew up going to church every week, but for a long time that was all that being a Christian was for me – going to church for one hour a week…  At the time, I felt like my life was perfect: I was at the top of my class academically, I had a very successful football season, and lots of colleges were offering me full scholarships. I felt like I was invincible.”

But Leo didn’t give up.  He kept bringing his son to church, listening to Christian radio with him, and sharing the Gospel with him.  The hope was that something would stick.

Something did.

Stefen says; God planted a verse [from the Bible] in my mind when I was listening to a Christian radio station in the car with my father.  A pastor was preaching on Galatians 6:7 which says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” I remember hearing it and thinking that it made sense that our actions had consequences and that we would get what we deserved, but I never thought about what the verse meant in regards to my life.”

One summer night, that would all change.  Stefen was in a car with some friends.  He was driving too fast around a sharp turn.  He hit a guardrail, lost control, and ended up going down a hill and into someone’s back yard before finally coming to a stop about fifty yards in front of a lake.  The car was totaled, but, thankfully, no one was hurt.

Stefan recalls; “as I stood around waiting for the tow truck and police to arrive, I had a lot of time to think about what happened. The verse from Galatians immediately came to mind. I thought I could mock God by doing what I wanted, but on that night I finally reaped what I sowed. In reality I received not justice from God, but mercy, as He protected all of us in the car from injury.”

Stefen learned something beautiful on that challenging day.  “That’s one of the great things about God that I learned from the experience: God either treats us exactly how we deserve, which is called justice, or He treats us better than we deserve, which is called mercy, or He treats us so much better than we deserve that it almost defies logic, which is called grace. And grace is what God offers us for eternity because due to our sins we deserve death for eternity. But if we believe that Jesus died for our sins and receive the forgiveness that comes only from Him, we can have eternal life in heaven with Him. 

Stefen survived the accident, went on to follow in his father’s footsteps, playing football at Leo’s alma mater, Penn State.  He also followed in his uncle Steve’s footsteps, being drafted to play offensive live for the Oakland Raiders.  Stefan is now trying to do something no one in his family has done; win a Super Bowl.

But, most importantly, Stefen has followed the example his father set for him in becoming a man of God.  He says that Christ is now a part of my life every day, and my relationship with Him has given me a purpose, it has given me strength, and it has given me peace.


Nick Foles – the Backup Plan


Nick Foles

Philadelphia Eagles Quaterback, Nick Foles.  Photo by Matthew Staubmuller


There may not be any two better words to sum up Nick Foles’ NFL career so far than these; “Backup Plan.”

It all started with the 2012 NFL Draft. The Eagles and head coach Andy Reid went into the draft with two pressing needs; Defensive Front (linemen and linebackers) and a Quarterback. The top of the draft was loaded with quarterbacks, but the Eagles first pick wasn’t until #12. The big names went off the board before they got their chance to select one. Andrew Luck went 1st overall to the Colts. The Redskins traded up to the 2nd overall pick to select Robert Griffin III. The Dolphins selected Ryan Tannehill at pick 8. But that was fine with the Eagles front office. The guy they really wanted wasn’t expected to go in the first two rounds. So, with pick 12, the Eagles drafter future Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. With their second-round picks, they drafted linebacker Mychal Kendricks and defensive end Vinny Curry. A few more quarterbacks went off the board in those two rounds. With the 22nd pick of the 1st round, the Browns selected Brandon Weeden and in the 2nd round, Brock Osweiler went to the Broncos. The man they coveted was still available.

The Eagles were set to pick their quarterback of the future with pick #76. As their 3rd round pick approached, no other quarterbacks were taken. Their plan was about to come to fruition. Then the announcement came; “With the 75th pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the Seattle Seahawks select Russell Wilson; quarterback – Wisconsin.” With that, their plan fell apart.

The Eagles were left scrambling. They traded pick #76 to the Houston Texans for linebacker DeMeco Ryans and the 88th pick of the draft and went back to the drawing board. When that pick finally arrived they had come up with a backup plan. University of Arizona quarterback, Nick Foles.

Foles had a stellar preseason, but 2009 starter, Michael Vick did enough to keep his job. Vick, however, didn’t play much like a starter. He threw 10 interceptions in 10 starts, and led the Eagles got to a 3-7 start. For several weeks, fans were calling for Reid to bench Vick and give Foles a shot. He didn’t listen. But then, in week 10, Vick suffered an injury. With that, backup plan Nick Foles took over. Foles put up similar numbers to Vick’s, and the Eagles limped through the remainder of the season. They ended the year with a 4-12 record, resulting in the firing of Andy Reid.

In 2013, the Eagles hired a new coach, Chip Kelly. Kelly decided to spend training camp evaluating quarterbacks, announcing that he would choose a started out of Vick, Foles, and rookie Matt Barkley. Like Andy Reid, he chose Vick, leaving Foles to once again serve as a backup.

Vick performed better under Chip Kelly. The Eagles started out 3-4 with him as a starter, but in week 7, he got injured once again. In came backup plan Foles. The Eagles lost in his first start again the Giants in week 8. But then, something amazing happened. Beginning in week 9, the offense seemed to click. Foles led the Eagles to win 7 of their last 8 games. He finished the season with a quarterback rating of 119.2. He threw 27 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. He was named to the NFL Pro Bowl team and the Eagles made the playoffs. Foles seemed to be the Eagles quarterback of the future.

But then, 2014 happened. The Eagles played well, beginning the season with a 6-2 record. But that was more despite Foles than because of him. Then, in week 8, he broke his collar bone and was placed on injured reserves. With that, Chip Kelly decided to move on. After the season, he traded Foles and a pair of draft picks to the Rams for a quarterback he’d rather have; Sam Bradford. Foles began the 2015 season as the Rams starter, but then lost his job to Case Keenum. In 2016, the Rams moved to Los Angeles, and were ready to move on from Foles as well. They drafted Jared Goff with the 1st pick of the 2016 draft and released Foles. Now out of a job, former coach Andy Reid (now with the Kansas City Chiefs) signed Foles to be the backup to Alex Smith. That was his only season in Kansas City.

It’s got to be tough being seen as nothing more than a backup plan and being continually passed over. At one point, Foles considered leaving the game of football. He says in a devotion series created by Philadelphia Eagles players for the You Version Bible App; “I wanted to retire from the NFL, and I really struggled. I couldn’t pick up a football for about eight months. I had no love for the game; it was tough.”

It was actually a Bible verse that changed his mind! The verse was 2 Corinthians 12:9; “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.’”

Foles explains; “this Scripture… has really been a big verse for me these last couple of years. I’ve gone through ups and downs of the NFL. I’ve gone from being a starter, traded, benched, backup, backup, but this verse has brought so much meaning to my heart and in my life. I wanted to retire… but, I kept reading Scripture. I kept praying. I kept asking God. And so many of us ask God for signs. We ask God; ‘Hey, please just put it on the wall; I want to know.’ But that’s not how it works He’s not always going to do that. He can put something on your heart, but He’s not always going to give you a flat-out sign. And as I read this verse, looking back, He was shaping me. He was bringing me down to my knees.

I’ll never forget the moment when I decided that I had the heart to play football and I wanted to use the platform that God had given me to glorify Him with everything I have… I remember praying to Him, and at that moment when I prayed to Him I sort of felt this sense of calm. And what I felt in my heart was, ‘Nick, I’m going to be with you, you just need to make a decision…’ And at that moment, through that prayer, He said, ‘Hey, just take a step of faith. You’re either going to stop playing the game of football and you’re going to go onto a different area of your life and I’m going to be with you; I’m going to be the most important thing in your life – or you’re going to step back into football and you’re going to continue to play and I’m going to be with you every step of the way and you’re going to play to glorify me.’

And, in that moment, I decided to go back to the game of football and it was the greatest decision I ever made. I was so weak at that time, but… I wouldn’t change a thing because I grew so much through everything I went through. That’s a story I can share with friends, with loved ones – if I’m speaking at a church – or if I’m in the locker room; wherever that might be. Because everyone feels weak at some time in our lives. But we have to realize that, when we’re going through that, God is shaping our hearts, allowing us to grow, and helping us become who He created us to truly be.

In 2017, Foles signed with the team that first drafted him, the Philadelphia Eagles. Of course, he signed to be a backup; this time to another devout Christian, and soon to be close friend, Carson Wentz. On December 10, in a game against the Rams, Wentz tore his ACL, presenting Foles the opportunity to be the starter once again. He has responded by leading the Eagles all the way to the Super Bowl!

Foles has experienced high points and low ones. He’s suffered injuries. He’s been humbled. He’s lost his job and been passed by. But he has seen each struggle as an opportunity to grow. Even though no one enjoys suffering, God uses painful moments to help us grow. When we suffer, we can take Foles’ story to heart. God uses our worst moments to prepare us for best. As Paul says in Romans 5:3-5; Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Against All Odds – Torrey Smith

Josh Norman, Torrey Smith

Eagles Receiver Torrey Smith.  Photo by Keith Allison

Torrey Smith didn’t have it easy.

Smith was born on January 26, 1989 in Richmond, Virginia.  His mother, Monica, became pregnant with him when she was only 15 years old – his father was 25.  When Smith was born, he was ill with meningitis and jaundice, and weighed only 5.6 pounds.  His first 10 weeks were spent in an incubator, fighting for his life. It wasn’t easy, but tiny Baby Torrey pulled through.

Things didn’t exactly get any easier from there.  Over the next 4 years, Monica would give birth to 3 more children.  Raising 4 children before her twentieth birthday was too much to bear, and she needed help.  She turned to the man of the house; 4-yearold Torrey.  He immediately began learning how to prepare food and how to feed his siblings.  He spent his elementary school years changing diapers, doing laundry, and getting his siblings ready for school.  He saw and experienced violence and faced challenges that would be difficult for even a grown man.  But, through it all, In between school and helping raise his siblings, Smith found a place to find refuge, solace, and strength; sports.

It wasn’t easy, but Smith found a way to focus on baseball and football and to achieve great success.  Against all odds, it appeared that he would have the opportunity to attend college.  He was recruited by Division 1 schools including Virginia and Virginia Tech, but he chose Maryland, because it was the closest school to his home north of Fredericksburg, Virginia.  It didn’t take long for the coaching staff at Maryland to realized that they had struck gold.  In addition to having immense talent, Smith was an impressive human being.  Maryland’s coach at the time, Ralph Friedgen once said of Smith; “the good Lord made a perfect person right there.”  But things still weren’t easy for Smith.  During his junior year of college, his mother was incarcerated, and Smith had to help his siblings from afar.

During that difficult junior year, things in Smith’s life began to change.  He said in a video the called “The Locker Room’s Binding Force;” I went to Bible study, I went to church often growing up, but it wasn’t until I was my last year of College when I realized I was kind of living off of everyone else’s salvation.  Like, I wasn’t really finding out things on my own.  I wasn’t really diving into the word and experiencing that the way I experienced everything around me.  That’s when I realized I was living the wrong way.”

Smith’s newfound dedication to his faith gave him the strength to persevere amidst the challenges.  He had a strong season for the Terps and impressed NFL scouts.  Finally, the summer following that difficult junior year, after a season in which he caught 67 passes, Smith finally caught a break.  He was drafted in the 2nd round of the draft.  And, of all the teams to select him, he was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens – a team close to home.  He played in all 16 games of his rookie season in 2011, catching 50 passes for 841 yards and 7 touchdowns.  He helped the Ravens make it all the way to the AFC Championship game against the Patriots.  Smith showed his skill in that game, hauling in 3 receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown.  It was almost enough to carry the Ravens to the Super Bowl.  Almost.  They fell just shy, losing 23-20.  Smith was just 22 years old and his future seemed bright.  It seemed as if “happily ever after” had finally arrived for a young man who had been through so much.

It hadn’t.

In week 3 of the 2012 season, the Ravens had a dream matchup on their schedule.  They would square off at home against the New England Patriots in a Sunday Night prime time matchup.  Smith and company would have their opportunity to get revenge on the team that kept them out of the Super Bowl.

But then, tragedy struck.

The night before the game, Smith received news that his 19-yearold brother, Tevin Chris Jones, had been killed in a motorcycle accident.  In the middle of the night, Smith left Baltimore to be with his family.  While his teammates, coaches, and fans couldn’t blame him for leaving, the city of Baltimore was bracing themselves for an important game without their rising star receiver.

That day, Coach Harbaugh received a text message.  It was from Torrey Smith.  He would return for pre-game warmups and be ready to play.  Harbaugh said “If you’re around athletics, I guess you feel like it’s an escape, an opportunity to do what [Smith] does.  He’s been doing it his whole life; he knows what to do. When Torrey said he wanted to play, the decision was finished. He was going to get the opportunity to play, he deserved that.”

It couldn’t have been easy, but Smith played through the pain- and he played the game of his life.  He recorded 6 catches for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns.  It was just enough.  The Ravens won 31-30.  A few months later, the Ravens would get another matchup against the Patriots; this time in the AFC Championship.  The Ravens defeated New England for a second time that season, and would go on to win the Super Bowl.  He finally got his happy ending.

Smith knows that it was God who helped him through the difficult times in his life.  Now, he dedicates his life to helping others through difficult times and showing them that they can go to God for strength.  Smith said in “The Locker Room’s Binding Force;” I feel like it’s a part of my purpose.  If you knew all the things I’ve been through; I probably shouldn’t be sitting here in front of you.  And for me, I think it’s important that other kids know.”

Smith strives to be the one who lets them know.  He said that his purpose is to “go out and show people that He’s real.  And talk to them about it, because when I was young, you couldn’t tell me. [I was] like, ‘man, if God’s real, why is all of this happening to me?   If He loves me so much, why are we in this situation?’  That’s a real struggle for a lot of people.  And when you’re young and you’re growing in your faith, and you go to church because that’s what your mom told you to do; that’s kind of how I was living, so I can relate to them.  So, I can talk to them like, ‘hey man, this is just a storm.  This is just a trial.  It’s the first of many.  Just continue to stay steadfast;’”

In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul charges the people of Corinth with these words; my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord you labor is not in vain.  Remaining steadfast in the Lord is a major focus of Smith’s walk with the Lord.  He says that being steadfast “is something that’s said a billion times in the Bible, which kind of hit home with me.  That’s what I try to do.  I’m not perfect.  I’m never gonna be perfect, actually.  But it’s something I try to grow and try to share that with the youth as well, when I have that opportunity.”

God gave Torrey Smith the strength he needed to remain steadfast in times of trouble.  He promises to do the same thing for us.  We can all live in God’s promise from Isaiah 41:10; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.


Note: I strongly recommend watching “The Locker Room’s Binding Force” in its entirety.