Josiah Slavin – Playing to Serve

Josiah Slavin

Chicago Blackhawk’s Prospect, Josiah Slavin

As the puck drops on the 2019-2020 NHL Season, A Lamp unto My Cleats will focus on Hockey for the next few months. We will kick off the season by featuring some exclusive content from Tage Thompson, Blake Lizotte, and Josiah Slavin!

As the calendar flipped from 2017 to 2018, Josiah Slavin only seemed to have one thing going for him; his name. His older brother, Jaccob Slavin, was in the midst of his third impressive season with the Carolina Hurricanes. His sister, Jordan, was also known in the hockey world, having played college hockey for the University of North Dakota. As for Josiah? He wasn’t considered to have as bright of a future. In 2018, Chicago Steel General Manager, Ryan Hardy, told Ryan Napientek of The Rink; “Christmas time last year, [Slavin] was really on nobody’s draft radar.”

It’s hard to figure out why. At 6’2” he has good size and a big frame. He touts a strong and accurate wrist shot, great hands, a tireless motor, impressive intelligence, and a fervent dedication to improve. His skating skills are not ranked as being high-end, but are considered strong enough to work at the pro level. Outside of his skating, the highest criticisms you will find are statements like “he is not an elite talent (Eric Andrews of the Rink) and “he’s not flashy” (Mike Haviland – head coach at Colorado College).

In spite of his skill set and resume, Slavin was not selected in the 2017 draft – his first year of eligibility. He was nearly passed over in 2018 as well. It wasn’t until the final round of the draft – at pick #193 – that Slavin finally heard his name called by the Chicago Blackhawks. While it was considered a solid pick, the selection didn’t make the headlines. Eric Andrews summarized the pick as follows; “It is hard to go wrong with taking a player in the last round with some skill, good work ethic and leadership abilities. If Slavin follows in his brother’s footsteps of making it to the NHL, it would likely not be anything more than a fourth line role. But, with the good head on his shoulders and work ethic, he could become a reliable depth player coaches love.”

What’s unique about Slavin, however, is that nearly every general manager, coach, teammate, and hockey pundit who writes about him all agree on one thing.  They all agree on the greatest attribute that Josaih brings to the team; his character.

Eric Andrews writes; unquestionably, though, is Slavin’s best trait: his character. He is very much a team-first player. Slavin has a very good attitude and works as hard as anybody. This selflessness and work ethic make Slavin a natural leader.”  John Hull, GM of Lincoln says; “Josaih has made a lasting impact in Lincoln, well beyond the scoresheet. His character and work ethic have been our foundation since his arrival here.”  Ryan Hardy, GM of the Chicago Steel says; “Josiah Slavin is a smart, hard-working, veteran player with exceptional character who has been rapidly developing over the last 18 months.”  Cody Chubb, Coach of the Lincoln Stars adds; “Josiah is an impressive young man with all of the necessary qualities to be a great leader.”  No matter who speaks about him, they all praise his character and his work ethic. 

There’s a good reason for this. Slavin doesn’t think of his place on a hockey team as being a position of honor and glory. He thinks of it as an opportunity to serve the people around him. He told the Fellowship of Christian Athletes; “Serving is part of my everyday life, whether it is serving God, my teammates or my coaches. The biggest priority in my life is serving God but as I am serving God, I’m serving others around me as well. It doesn’t have to be something big. It can be something as easy as holding a door or cleaning up after someone and in that I am serving God and others. Jesus is a very good example of someone who serves God through his people. In Mark 10:45 the Bible says “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Part of the reason that Slavin feels so comfortable focusing on serving others is because he believes that his own future is secure. His favorite Bible Verse is Proverbs 3:4-5; Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” He explained to A Lamp unto My Cleats; This is my favorite verse because, in the hockey world, there are a lot of unknown with trades and being sent down, which are very common in hockey. So this verse just gives me a lot of peace, knowing that God has a plan for my life and He’s going to lead me and put me in all the positions that He wants me in.”

While Slavin has been focused on serving others, his game has improved and his stock as an NHL prospect has been continually rising. At the conclusion of the Chicago Blackhawks’ annual Prospect Camp, coach, Joel Quenneville said; “The kid that might have impressed me the most was the Slavin kid (Josiah Slavin), his brother plays for Carolina.  He looks like he could be a player too.”

This season, Slavin will continue to serve God while playing college hockey at Colorado College, trusting in God to direct his path.

Blake Lizotte – Not the Easiest Path

Blake Lizotte

Blake Lizotte of the L.A. Kings, back in his days at St. Cloud State.  Photo by Minda Haas Kuhlman

As the puck drops on the 2019-2020 NHL Season, A Lamp unto My Cleats will focus on Hockey for the next few months. We will kick off the season by featuring some exclusive content from Tage Thompson, Blake Lizotte, and Josiah Slavin!

Her kitchen table was covered with “get well soon cards,” hand-written letters, her address book, and her 2012 calendar opened up to the month of August. We sat together, drinking coffee and eating one of her new-found favorite foods; toast with butter and sugar. 99-yearold Fern Kolbe shared with me her life story; which was one filled with love, laughter, hope; loss, heartache, and tragedy. As we reached year number 99 of her story, she concluded her chronicles with a sentence I will not soon forget. “If we knew beforehand what we would go through, we’d never make it.”

What neither she nor I realized was that in Lindstrom, Minnesota a young man would soon discover how true her words were.

Blake Lizotte was a 14-year old kid; the youngest of 3 brothers. He was raised in a loving, Christian home by his mother, Lisa, and his father, Mike. Mike was known as being an energetic and friendly teacher, a proud husband and father, a dedicated coach, and a faithful Christian. On August 29, Mike and his son, Blake – who both enjoyed tennis – sat together watching the U.S. Open. They had no idea it would be their final father-and-son moment here in this world.

On the morning of August 30th, Blake woke up to the sound of his mother’s screams. Mike suffered from epilepsy and had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep. Blake explained to Chris Murphy; “He’d get seizures occasionally. His brain couldn’t take it anymore and he basically passed away in his sleep. It was disbelief at the moment. You don’t really realize what’s going on until a few hours later, and it kind of hits you… It’s definitely hard, but I think God gave me peace that day and got me through it.”

Though he has now been called home to glory, Mike left life lessons with Blake that will last with him throughout his life. Blake recalls a few;

“He definitely told me to always give my all. You can’t control the scoreboard. You just control the things you can control.”

“Don’t take the little things in such a big way. Little things will happen in life you just can’t take so seriously. Something bad happens, you have to get back on your horse and get back going.”

“He always just told me to play for God and give your best effort.”

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Blake Lizotte lived out his father’s challenge; “play for God and give your best effort.”

He fought through the pain of his father’s death, thriving in sports along the way. He graduated from Lindstrom’s Chisago Lakes High School in 2016, winning All-Conference honors in both tennis and hockey. He played junior hockey in the NAHL for the Minot Minotauros in 2014-2015 and with the Fargo Force of the USHL from 2015-2017. In his final season with Fargo, he was named part of the All-USHL second team.

After High School, he attended St. Cloud State, where he added to his list of honors; In his first season, he was named St. Cloud State’s Rookie of the year, was part of the 2018 All-Conference Rookie Team, and was named 2018 Scholar Athlete Award. In his second season, he made the Conference All-Star Team.

But there was one glaring hole in his game; size. The Los Angeles Kings list him as 5’9.” He told LA Kings Insiders that he’s 5’8.”   The Los Angeles Times lists him at 5’7.”

Lizotte tells Robert Morales of Los Angeles’ Daily News; “I’m a smaller guy in stature, obviously, but I think I use that to my advantage, the way I play on my edges. That’s the way it’s been at each level and, obviously, it’s a big jump at the NHL level from NCAA, but I’m excited for the challenge and I look forward to it.”

That smaller stature is the likely culprit explaining why he was not selected in the NHL draft. He did, however, have eight teams express interest in him before he finally signed with the L.A. Kings. Lizotte made a one-game NHL debut at the end of the 2018-2019 season. He enjoyed a successful rookie camp this summer, leading John Hoven to write; “in talking to [coaches and] to other members of management, the general thought was if a team MVP could have been awarded, it would easily go to Lizotte.”

Blake’s plans from here are simple; “I have no expectations. I’m showing up and working hard every day and we’ll see what happens. I’ve always been a person where I bring my work boots every day. Whether you’re up or down, in Minnesota or California, you bring your work boots and you try to play the same and get better every day. That’s my mentality right now; how up to the rink and get better every day.”

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Mike Lizotte’s words still ring in his ears; “Don’t take the little things in such a big way. Little things will happen in life you just can’t take so seriously. Something bad happens, you have to get back on your horse and get back going.”

A young man just beginning his journey in the NHL, Blake is wise beyond his years. He’s learned already that, no matter what happens, all he can do is work hard and trust in God to work through everything that happens; the good as well as the bad. His father first passed that wisdom on to him, but Blake knows that all wisdom comes from God.

One of Blake’s favorite Bible verses is Proverbs 3:6; in all of your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. He explained to A Lamp unto My Cleats; This verse is super important to me because it is a great reminder that God should be at the center of everything I do. I believe that, if God is at the center of your life, He will guide you through the best path, not always the easiest, but the best possible path according to His will.”

Lizette went to explain to LA King Insiders; I’m a pretty faith-based person, so I’m keeping my focus on God and keeping Him at the center of my world is what helps me with the stress and anxiety – I guess what comes along with pro sports. So I think that’s been huge for me and that kind of relieves anxiety and stress; knowing that God’s got a plan and whatever that plan is, it’s the right one.”

No one knows what the future may hold for Blake Lizotte. It will likely be full of ups and downs, highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies. As Fern Kolbe had learned, if we knew beforehand what we would go through, we’d never make it. But Lizotte knows that, whatever he goes through, God will be with him and will help him through it, as He always has. That alone give him the strength to keep going, keep fighting, and keep putting on his work boots and getting to work.

Tage Thompson – Trusting His Plan

Tage Thompson 1

Tage Thompson. Photo by Michael Miller

As the puck drops on the 2019-2020 NHL Season, A Lamp unto My Cleats will focus on Hockey for the next few months. We will kick off the season by featuring some exclusive content from Tage Thompson, Blake Lizotte, and Josiah Slavin!

“God writes straight with crooked lines.”

This old saying – which is sometimes attributed to St. Teresa of Avila – often sums up our lives precisely and completely. We trust that God has a plan for our lives, but sometimes that plan is so full of twist and turns that it becomes impossible to look ahead and see what God is doing.

One person whose life has been full of such twists and turns is Buffalo Sabres right wing, Tage Thompson. In 1989, Tage’s father, Brent Thompson, was selected 39th overall in the NHL draft by the Los Angeles Kings. The elder Thompson began his career playing minor league hockey in Calgary and Medicine Hat in Alberta. He then went to Arizona to play for the King’s minor league affiliate, the Phoenix Road Runners. This was followed by stops in Winnipeg and Springfield, Massachusetts. In the Summer of 1996, the Jets moved to Phoenix, bringing Brent back to the Southwest.

While in Phoenix, Tage was born and his own crooked path began. After one season in Phoenix, Brent spent the next 8 seasons bouncing from team to team and city to city, making stops in Harford, Louisville, Hershey, Windsor CO, and Providence along the way. After the conclusion of the 2005 season, Thompson retired, and life for the Thompson family could finally settle down. It didn’t. In the years to follow, Thompson began coaching hockey. That took the family to Anchorage, Alaska and Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Tage’s early life was defined by constant change. He attended 11 different schools before graduating from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor in 2014. He then went on to play for the U.S. National Development Team in 2014-2015 before spending the next two seasons at UConn. During his time at UConn, he was selected in the 1st Round of the 2016 NHL draft by the St. Louis Blues.

In March of 2017, Thompson signed a three-year, entry-level contract, launching him on a journey that mirrored his father’s. In the 2016-2017 season, he played for the Chicago Wolves. The following season, he played for the San Antonio Rampage and the St. Louis Blues. In July of 2018, he was traded as part of package deal to the Buffalo Sabres for Ryan O’Reilly. He will begin the 2019 season in Rochester, playing for the Sabres AHL affiliate, but is expected to make the trip back to Buffalo again soon.

It’s exhausting even reading his journey!

What Thompson realizes, though, is that all the twists and turns were a part of God’s bigger plan. His family’s experiences moving across the country in the name of hockey has equipped him for his own journey. He told Buffalo Hockey Beat; “My dad went through the same thing, so he knows what it’s like and I have someone to go home to and talk to about what I’m feeling, the situation I’m in. He just lets me know the right way to be acting, (to) come to the rink with a positive attitude.”

Of greater importance, however, than how his experiences have prepared him for his hockey career is how they have shaped his faith. While Tage grew up on a Christian home and attended church regularly, he says that his faith truly became important to him when he moved to Alaska. He explained to the young hockey players at a Hockey Ministries International Camp; “I was fortunate enough to play with a kid on my team – his father was actually a pastor, so we ended up going to his church – and he was one of my best friends on my team and I talked to him a lot. [I became] just kind of interested in what it meant to be a Christian and growing my faith and trying to help others.”

That wasn’t the end of Thompson’s faith journey. He went on to explain; “I actually had a kind of a big injury the following year. I tore my ACL, MCL, I was out for a long time. It was a big year for me too – I thought it was a huge year. You want to play for the best teams and, like I said, when you’re that young you dream of playing in the NHL and you think that one year that you miss is going to cost it. It was a really tough year for me. I was getting passed up by a lot of teams. I didn’t get drafted in the USHL or the OHL or anyone. Everyone was passing on me and I was injured going through a tough injury. I was kind of doubting myself and lost a lot of confidence… When I was injured things obviously are tough and I kept trying to fix it myself. I thought I could solve it and things just kept getting worse and worse… You realize that you’re not in control of anything really – that everything happens for a reason – and that God is there and that He’s the only one that can get you out of tough situations. So, once I realized that, and just kind of gave it all to Him it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and I had no more worries about the injury and I just kind of let everything go and He took care of the rest. God took a back seat there and it was amazing, once I put Him back in perspective, in front of my life, it was amazing how my life in hockey turned around and became so much easier. Things just started clicking for me. I had a great year… For me it was just giving my life to Christ that tough transition there with the injury and then, that following season, making God my priority and doing everything for Him; playing for Him; living each day for Him.”

Watching God work through changes and trials throughout his life has taught Thompson to sit back and trust in God’s plan for his life. His favorite Bible verse is one that reflects that truth; Jeremiah 29:11. God speaks here to the Israelites during their own time of trouble. They had been carried off into exile by the Babylonians and longed to return to their home. In their time of despair, God offered a word of hope and encouragement. He promised them; “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.”

Tage has seen this truth in his own life. He prints these words and hangs them in his stall in every locker room for every team he plays. These words remind him to trust in God’s plan for him and how God’s plan is better than anything he could ever even imagine for himself. He explained to us here at A Lamp unto My Cleats; “This verse is my favorite because for me it’s so easy to get caught up in my own plans and what I want and what I hope to happen in my career and life, that I forget who’s really in control and when I look back at this verse it gives me peace knowing that God’s in control and that He has great things in store for me if I just let go and put all my trust in Him. I never have to worry or stress because God is always faithful, all I have to do is trust His plan that He has for me.”

This week, the new NHL season begins. The plan is that, after a brief stint in Rochester, Thompson will rejoin the Sabres and continue his growth as an NHL player. Whatever happens this season, Thompson will continue to trust in God’s plan and give Him glory in honor, wherever he finds himself.

Boston Scott – Not about the Doubters

Boston Scott

Boston Scott, back in his days at Louisiana Tech.  Photo by Andrew Bell

He stands 5 feet and 6 inches tall.

He weighs 203 pounds.

He never received a scholarship to play NCAA football.

He was a walk-on at Louisiana Tech.

That doesn’t sound like the resume of an NFL athlete.  Yet that describes Philadelphia Eagles running back, Boston Scott.

Scott attended Zachary High School in a small town about a hundred miles northwest of New Orleans.  He played football, soccer, and ran track.  He won the state championship in powerlifting.  He totaled more than 1,500 all-purpose yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry and scoring 17 touchdowns.  But he was also 5’6.”  In spite of his strength, his speed, and his success, he didn’t look like an NCAA football player.  He didn’t’ make anyone’s top prospect list.  He didn’t catch the eyes of college recruiters.  He didn’t receive any scholarship offers. 

But that didn’t stop his dream.  Scott enrolled at Louisiana Tech and tried out for the football team.  He told Andrew Doughty of Hero Sports; “I loved football. I was going to show up, practice hard and, if things turned my way, I would run with it.”

Run with it he did!  By his senior year, he rushed for 1,047 yards, scored 9 total touchdowns, reeled in 20 catches for 181 yards, and was named a part of the Conference USA All-Conference team in 2017.  He did not garner much national attention but was dubbed by Doughty; “The most elusive player you’ve never heard of.”

In spite of his size and his lack of recognition, he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the 6th round of the 2018 NFL draft.  He made the Saints practice squad but was then signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in week 15 of the 2018 season.

Athletes often share how they are motivated by the doubters and the haters.  They often set out to prove wrong the people who said they wouldn’t make it.  Boston Scott had plenty of people who said that he wouldn’t make it.  They, however, weren’t his main source of motivation.

Scott told Rob Maadi of the Faith on the Field Show; “At the end of the day, when you do achieve what want to achieve where are the people that said that you couldn’t do it?  They’re nowhere to be found.  I always tell people, ‘yeah it’s cool to prove the doubters wrong, but I do what I do to prove the people who believe in me right…’  That’s kind of the mindset that I’ve adopted and that’s kind of how I move.”

Scott isn’t motivated by his desire to prove people wrong.  In fact, he really isn’t motivated by what others think of him at all!  Instead, he gets his courage, strength, and motivation from God and defines himself – not by what people think of him – but how God thinks of him.  Scott’s favorite Bible verse is Joshua 1:9; Have I not commanded you, be strong and courageous?  Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord Your God will be with you wherever you go. 

Concerning those words, Scott told Maadi; so, you know, that stuck with me for a long time, because I’ve definitely been through a lot of adversity.  I was a walk-on at Louisiana Tech.  And there were a lot of times where I face adversity with injuries, you know, with not playing. And I feel like, in the league, it’s a revolving door.  You can be in.  You can be out.  You know, it’s all based on your performance.  How you perform on the field kind of dictates how people see you; how people view you.  But I know that, at the end of the day, no matter if I’m the best football player or if things don’t even work out with football.  I know that, regardless, God loves me for who I am and that’s not gonna change, you know, regardless of what happens to me; whether that’s stepping on the field – whether that’s in life.  I know that, no matter what I go through, He’s always going to be with me no matter what, so that’s why I carry myself with confidence.  That’s why I’m strong.  That’s why I am courageous; because that’s what He’s commanded us to be, because He’s going to be with us.

Scott’s words remind us the of the words of the Apostle Paul.  Paul wrote in Galatians 1:10; for am I now seeking the approval of man or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?  If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Scott demonstrates an important lesson for us.  Our motivation in life should not come from a desire to prove others wrong or to gain the approval of others.  We have a God who created us in His image, who loves us dearly, and has given His Son to die for us.  Our identity is in Him.  Our strength comes from Him.  Our motivation should come from a desire to serve Him and to live as His children.  Scott strives each day to prove the people who believed in him right.  We strive each day to give the glory to the one who died for us.

To read more about the Philadelphia Eagles and their Christian faith, check out Rob Maadi’s book, Birds of Pray, available on Amazon.

As an Amazon Affiliate site, if you purchase this book through this link, I receive a small commission.

 

Mason Rudolph – Making an Impact

Mason Rudolph

Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback, Mason Rudolph.  Photo by Bobak Ha’Eri

Image is everything.

In a culture of 33-character tweets, instagram photos, and 30-second news stories, creating marketable images is paramount.  The formula is simple; stage an inspiring photo, broadcast the image to the world, move on, and repeat.

In 2015, a 4-year old boy named Gavin King was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer called medulloblastoma.  He endured months of chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments.  In October of that year, ‘Coaches vs. Cancer’ and ‘ProCure’ collaborated to give children like Gavin an experience to create joy and hope for those who had gone through so much suffering.  After the Oklahoma State vs. Kansas State game, children like Gavin would be pared with an Oklahoma State player for a ceremony.  The day would be a blessing to the children and provide them with a joyful memory that they would never forget!

Of course, there would also be the photo-op.

In the photograph, Mason is holding young Gavin in his arms.  Gavin looks to the crowd and waves, while Mason looks up into the stands.  The picture has found its home in the King’s household, perched on a ledge at eye level and encased in a frame which bears white flowers and small Oklahoma State logos.  The frame rests on a white handkerchief with blue cursive lettering.  The lettering reads; He will wipe away every tear… Rev. 21:4.

The picture had been taken.  The image had made its way to the Oklahoman newspaper.  Mason Rudolph and OSU had done their good deed, projected their desired image, and strengthened their brand.  Now, it was time to move on a repeat.

Only that’s not Mason Rudolph.

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Mason Rudolph’s grandfather was a preacher.  He explained to Fellowship of Christian Athletes; “Growing up with my family, my grandfather being a minister, I was always around the gospel. Once I made it to college, my faith had to become my own. The distance away from my family actually strengthened my relationship with Christ. I passionately pursue Christ because I want to be a witness for Him and use this platform to impact our community. I think my faith has grown in every chapter of my life, especially in college.”  To Adam Kramer at Bleacher Report, he added; “I was brought up with a biblical background, with an idea that I could and should do what I could in my community.  If I were to get a platform through football or something else, I didn’t want this just to be a gain for myself.  I wanted to give back and impact people.”

While still at Oklahoma State, that’s exactly what Mason did.  Fellowship of Christian Athletes arranged opportunities for him to read books to children and speak to elementary school students. He led team-building exercises with high school football teams.  He spent his Thanksgiving in 2016 serving dinners at a local food bank.  He took part in Tim Tebow’s 2015 “Night to Shine” event, which serves as a prom for teenagers with special needs.  When he heard of tragedies in the area, Rudolph would go to the hospital and visit the victims.

Oklahoma State coach, Mike Gundy, said of Rudolph; “I said this three years ago, and I’ll say it again.  I have three sons, and if they could grow up to be as squared away off the field as Mason is, it would make me comfortable as a dad.  That’s the kind of kid he is.”

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Mason Rudolph isn’t concerned with his brand, his image, or creating a picture-perfect, inspirational photo.  His goal is to use the platform God has given him to become a blessing to others.

The day after the photograph with Gavin was taken, Gavin’s mother, Angela received a message from Oklahoma State.  Rudolph was seeking permission to contact the family.  He explains, “I wanted them to know I wasn’t just a guy in a picture to them.  I wanted to have some kind of relationship.”  Rudolph would send text messages to Gavin.  He would reach out with words of encouragement during times of treatment.  The two developed a special bond.

Soon after Christmas that year, Gavin was called home to glory.

Rudolph has remained in contact with Gavin’s family.  Their connection continues to be a blessing.  Gavin’s mother Angela explains; “I feel like my child and his story along with Mason’s is just going to keep going.  His impact is still here.”

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As it turns out, Oklahoma State was just the beginning of Rudolph’s journey. In 2018, he was selected in the 3rd Round of the draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.  On Sunday, September 15, 2019, Steeler’s quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, went down with a season ending injury.  Rudolph has taken over as the starting quarterback and will receive the first start of his NFL career this upcoming Sunday, September 22, in San Francisco against the 49ers.

There are many who doubt his talent.  Nick Schwartz of “For the Win,” dropped the Steeler’s odds of making the playoffs by 26% when Rudolph was named starter.  Steven Ruiz of USA Today published an article entitled, “Mason Rudolph Isn’t the Short- or Long-Term Answer at QB for the Steelers.”

Beginning this Sunday, Rudolph has the opportunity to prove the world wrong.  His plan is simple.  He will look to Christ for strength.  He tells Sports Spectrum; “Christ is at the center of it.  It’s Christ who will always be there for you; He’s your foundations.  So just getting in the Word and leaning on a few of my life verses throughout the week, as well as constant communication with my parents – that’s my secret to success.”

As young Gavin King would be glued to his television screen during Oklahoma State games, the world will be watching as Rudolph takes the field on Sunday.  Whether his college success will translate to the NFL is yet to be determined.  But his faith, his maturity, and kindness are already making an impact.

Terry Shumpert, Ty Blach, and Setting an Example

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Pitcher, Ty Blach.  Photo by Don DeBold

If you were a baseball fan in the 90’s, you may remember Terry Shumpert.  Shumpert was a 2nd Round pick out of the University of Kentucky in the 1987 draft, selected by the Kansas City Royals.  He made his major league debut in 1990 for the Royals, mostly in a utility infielder role.  He played 5 seasons with the Royals, going on the play for the Red Sox, Cubs, and Padres.  In 1997, he signed as a free agent with the Colorado Rockies.  It was in Colorado that Shumpert enjoyed his greatest success.  Shumpert would play with the Rockies from 1997-2002, peaking in 1999 with a career high 10 home runs, a .347 batting average, and a .997 OPS.  Shumpert’s final season would be in 2003 with the Tampa Bay Rays.

One day, while playing for the Rockies, Shumpert signed an autograph.  Under his signature, he wrote a Bible verse; Matthew 6:33.  The verse says Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things will be given to you.

This particular autograph went into the hands of a young boy from Colorado named Ty Blach.  Ty grew up in a Christian home and had faithful Christian parents who prayed with him every night.  Faith was a big part of his life.  He would attend a catholic high school, Regis Jesuit in Aurora.  After High School, he chose to attend a Catholic College; Creighton University in Nebraska.  In college, he immediately joined up with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and continued his walk with the Lord.

Ty would go on to have a successful collegiate career.  He would later be selected in the 5th Round of the 2012 draft and would go on to pitch for the Giants from 2016 through August of 2019, at which point he was claimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles and moved into their starting rotation.

Even as an adult, he still remembers the way that Terry Shumpert’s willingness to share his faith impacted him.  He explained to “Unashamed Athletes;” My favorite verse is Matthew 6:33. It says “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all of His righteousness and all of these things will be given to you” When I was a kid I got an autograph from Terry Shumpert who was a utility infielder for the Colorado Rockies. Under his signature he had this verse written. Ever since that day, that verse has never left me. It reminds me that in everything that I do, I should put God first and God will help take care of everything else. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Shumpert a year or so ago and I told him about the autograph and the Bible verse that he put with it and the impact it still has on me to this day. He made an impact on me with that Bible verse and I too hope to make an impact on someone’s life when I include Matt 6:33 on my autographs for fans.

In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul urges young Timothy to set an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.  Shumpert set an example of how a Christian athlete can make an impact on the lives of others.  Blach strives to use his platform to share the Gospel with those around him.  He encourages other athletes to do the same.

Blach says; the advice that I would give to other athletes who are afraid to share their faith is to remember what Jesus Christ did for you. He died on that cross so that you could live eternally. There is nothing more important in this world than that love that Jesus showed to us and sharing that love with other people is all that He asks in return. It can be difficult and you may feel unaccepted by some people in society today, but you will come to find out that there are a lot of people in the world who are very accepting of God’s love. Someone may just be needing a ray of hope in a tough time or someone else might be just as afraid to show their faith just like you. No matter what the case, God has put you in this world to make an impact on the people around you so don’t be afraid to live for Him. There are so many wonderful people in this world and you should never be afraid to seek the advice of another Christian on how they live out the gospel message in their daily life. Trust in God with all of your heart and know that He has a plan for you and to never be afraid to live your life for Him because of the blessings that he has put in our lives.

Matt Overton – the Man who will Buy Your Colts Season Tickets

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Jacksonville Jaguars Long Snapper, Matt Overton.  Photo by Jeffrey Beall

On Saturday, August 24th, the Sports World was in shock.  Andrew Luck, the 29-year old star quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, unexpectedly announced his retirement from the gave that he loves so dearly. 

People reacted in a wide variety of ways. 

Some offered their empathy and respect.  Bears backup quarterback Chase Daniel said that “it takes a strong human being to sand up and do what he believes is right for him.”   Former Tennessee Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said; “I comment him for having the guts to come forward and be truthful.  Personal health is more important than any game or team!” 

Of course, not every response was a supportive one.  Some criticized his timing.  Others doubted his commitment to the game, to his team, and to his fans.  Some, such as OJ Simpson, were most concerned about what that would means for their Fantasy Teams.  OJ tweeted; “Andrew Luck you couldn’t have shared the news before I drafted you an hour ago?”

The response that has garnered the most attention, however, was that of some of the Colt’s fans.  Some booed Luck.  Others demanded refunds on their season ticket. 

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Former Indianapolis Colt Quarterback, Andrew Luck.  Photo by Erik Drost.

That’s where Jacksonville Jaguars’ long-snapper, Matt Overton comes in.

When Colts fans demanded a refund on their season tickets, Overton had a wonderful response.  He was upset by the negative reaction of fans and said “I thought to myself, how can we turn this into a positive?”  He came up with a brilliant idea.  He went to Twitter with an offer; “To angry Colts season ticket holders who are seeking a refund, I’d be more than happy to buy your season tix off of you & donate them to @Rileychildrens patients and their families.  I’m serious.  All love, Matt.”  Riley Hospital is an Indianapolis Hospital that Overton calls “near and dear to me.”

The name ‘Matt Overton’ isn’t exactly as well known as that of ‘Andrew Luck.’  His story, however, is an intriguing one.  Overton was a talented high school long snapper who also wanted to play linebacker in college.  To find an opportunity to do both, he attended a Division II school, Western Washington.  Western Washington is not exactly a football powerhouse.  The only player ever drafted out of the school was Dave Weedman back in 1960.  During Overton’s time there, however, there was a talented kicker and punter named Michael Koenen.  Koenen was named a Division II All American by several major publications and was named to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference All-Conference team four times as a placekicker and twice as a punter.  He would eventually go on to punt for the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccanneers.  As scouts came to watch Koenen, they noticed Overton as well.

Overton, however, did not find immediate success.  He was signed as an undrafted free agent out of College in 2007 by the Seattle Seahawks, but never made the team.  Receiving no further interest from NFL teams, he went to play indoor football for the Tri-Cities Fever.  In 2009, he moved to the United Football League and played for the Florida Tuskers.  In 2010, he was signed by the Seahawks again, but again failed to make the team.  He went back to the United Football League for the 2010 and 2011 seasons, this time with the Omaha Nighthawks.

It wasn’t until 2012; 5 years after graduating college, that he got his first taste of regular season NFL action. He was signed by the Indianapolis Colts, where he played (with Andrew Luck) from 2012-2016.  In 2016 he was cut by the Colts and went on to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Overton’s career did not go the way that he planned.  He didn’t plan on waiting 5 years after college to make it to the NFL.  He didn’t plan on bouncing around through 2 other football leagues to get there.  He loved playing for the Colts, and didn’t plan on being cut.  He told Bryce Johnson at the Unpackin’ It podcast, that the one team he never wanted to play for was the Jaguars.  At times, he considered giving up.  When he faced challenges, however, Overton turned to God’s Word.  James 1:2 says Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of every kind, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Overton learned through his struggles that, even when God’s plans are different than ours, He is always doing great things in our lives.  Overton encourages us to trust in God especially in those moments.  He says “we like to think that we know best… When God takes you somewhere unexpected, just embrace it.  Allow yourself to have an open heart, an open mind, and be vulnerable to it.  Allow God to guide your steps because he will never fail you.”   He offered also the following words of encouragement on Twitter on August 26; “God loves you.  Right where you are.  No matter how big the mess is.”

 Like the rest of the sports world, Overton was shocked to hear the news of Luck’s retirement.  But he also knows that God is good, and that He will bless him, no matter what the next chapter is.  Overton put it this way; “Just listened to Luck’s retirement.  I am shocked just as you are but I 100% understand, support, & applaud.  We play a kids game for a living & there is a wonderful life to be lived outside of football…  Go get your health and your joy back brother.”

 

Adam Haseley – All Glory to God

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Adam Haseley, while playing for the Phillies’ High A affiliate, the Clearwater Thrashers.  Photo by Bryan Green

On June 4th, 2019, Adam Haseley made his major league debut for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Haseley is a top prospect for the Phillies.  He was drafted with the 8th overall draft pick in the first round of the 2017 amateur player draft.  He entered the 2018 season as mlb.com’s 6th rated Phillies prospect and improved to 3rd prior to the 2019 season.

When June 4th rolled around, and Haseley stepped out onto the field at San Diego’s Petco Park, he took to Instagram to share his joy.  He summarized his feelings with one short sentence; Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power to work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Those are the words of St. Paul, eternally recorded for us in Ephesians 3:20.

For Haseley, his Christian faith has always been an important part of his life.  He was raised by his parents, Rich and Mary-Kay, in a Christian home.  He attended First Academy, a Christian school in Orlando, Florida.  When he went to the University of Virginia, he attended a fall meeting with the team. When asked what was important to them, he spoke about his faith – quickly earning him the nickname, “Rev.”

His reputation for being a faithful Christian grew as time went on.  One Easter Sunday, Haseley was the featured speaker at the McIntire Amphitheatre at UVA.  Men’s basketball coach was in attendance.  So was Men’s tennis coach, Brian Boland.  Another Virginia baseball star, Pavin Smith was in attendance.  As were a couple hundred others.

Hasely told Andrew Ramspacher of the Daily Progress;  I was nervous.  If I did it my freshman year, I’d be completely shaken.  Probably would say no to it.  I think it’s something that, as you grow up, you’re a little more comfortable with.  Those who attended did not notice how nervous he was.  Instead, the impression they left with was how authentic his message was.

His father, Rich Haseley, says of Adam’s faith; it’s what he relies on.  And it’s always been that way for Adam.  It’s just become more and more as he’s matured as a baseball player.  He just gets a better understanding of what that faith means.

Haseley explains; “Our faith is really important.  It’s a matter of taking the pressure off and just trusting in the bigger plan.  It’s just going out there and playing and having fun.  And enjoying the opportunity we’ve been given.”

Haseley’s faith will continue to guide his as he continues to build what Phillies fans hope will be a long and successful career.  And, with each moment of success, he will continue giving all glory to God!

 

Christian Music Spotlight – Austin French

Austin FrenchFor this week’s blog post, we venture away from hearing from Christian Athletes to focus on a Christian musician, Austin French.  Austin French will be performing at the Walk on Water Winter Fest in my small hometown of Chelsea, Michigan this weekend.  If you are interested in attending, tickets can be purchases here.

Contemporary Christian musician Austin French describes his journey on his web page as follows;

“Rising contemporary Christian music artist Austin French has lived a lot of life in his 24 years. Originally from small-town Georgia, he’s spent time in Los Angeles, competing on reality singing competitions like ABC’s “Rising Star” and NBC’s “The Voice.” He’s been a worship leader at a church where 80 percent of the members were recovering addicts. And he and his wife went from having no kids to having two—one biological, one adopted—within months of each other. Now, to add to the list, he is about to release his first full-length studio album.

A life with this much adventure can only happen when you hold the posture that French does.“Life is meant to be lived wide open,” he says, “not closed off, not safe, but living close to the Lord where he leads us…our job is to live our lives with our hands wide open.”

This openness to God’s leading is largely what inspired the album, Wide Open. Released on Awaken Records/Fair Trade Services September 7, 2018, the album debuted at #2 on the itunes Christian album chart. The 12-track album features songs that speak to the ups and downs that inevitably occur while living the wide open life. The album is refreshing in its honesty, addressing the brokenness in all of us, providing empathy in our most painful moments as well as presenting the hope of Christ. Wide Open was clearly written by an artist who has experienced both joy and hardship and who has come out the other side clinging to Jesus, rather than running from him. 

But this was not always the case for French. Growing up a minister’s kid, French experienced first-hand what hypocrisy in the church can look like and just how broken people can be. “I was really hurt by the church,” says French. “I was really over it….I was going to have nothing to do with Christianity.”

In eighth grade, while attending a Christian music camp, he heard a speaker address the hypocrisy he had experienced growing up. During the altar call, he says he felt God ask him what he was going to do about it? How was he going to let others know that Christians don’t have to be two-faced, that they can be real, truthful and honest?

French responded to this call with his most natural gift: music. French, whose mother is a music teacher, has been singing since age two and grew up surrounded by music. “So I decided that day in eighth grade that I wanted to be a Christian artist,” French recalls, “and write music for my friends who didn’t go to church, and music for the broken people in my church.”

He created a band with friends in his youth group and they toured all over the country, playing music at whatever church would have them. Today, although he is now touring with major artists like Ryan Stevenson—whom he will tour the album with later this fall—and is working with some of the most established people in the industry—Jeff Pardo is producer on the album and his management, Jason Davis with First Company Management, the company also manages the Newsboys and Ryan Stevenson—he is still responding to this call to write and play honest songs that speak to the broken.

Even when French competed on “Rising Star,” where he placed second overall, he remained true to that God encounter he had in eighth grade: “Everybody on the show was like, ‘Oh, you should do mainstream. You should do pop. You should do country.’ But the day I auditioned for the show, I walked in and told them that I was a Christian artist, and this is what I believe.”

French’s vocals could make it in any genre, but his passion is for writing music that meets people in their brokenness and introduces them to the freedom of Christ.

French’s first single on the album, “Freedom Hymn,” was inspired by some of the most broken yet joyful people French has ever known. He wrote the soulful anthem after spending time on staff at a church in Delray Beach, Florida, the recovery capital of the world. French says that 80 percent of the church was in active recovery. “They were the most broken people I had ever met, but they were the freest people I had ever met,” he says.

As someone who grew up singing hymns in the church, French says he knew he wanted to write his own hymn one day, and, he says, “what better place to write it than probably the most addicted community in the world, this recovery community? You have to admit you need a savior to actually find saving.”

The song’s rings of a hope that’s for anybody, no matter how broken: This is the sound of chains breaking / This is the beat of a heart changing / This is a song of a soul forgiven / This is my freedom hymn.

When French initially set out to write this record, it was not as self-revelatory. He wanted to focus on the good moments in life, not the hard ones. But three years ago, when his dad was in an accident, everything changed. His dad miraculously recovered but spent six months in a coma. The traumatic event refocused French’s life as well as the music he was writing. 

As he explains, “I was just desperate for God…. It really changed the course of my record. What do I want my record to sound like? What are the songs that I want to write? Yes, God is a God of victory, but he is also a God that comforts us in our sorrows.”

Several songs on the album reflect this type of God, the one who is present in our darkest moments. “Why God?”, a contemplative and piano-driven track, asks the question we all do in the face of suffering: Why?

French doesn’t answer this old-as-time question with a Band-Aid or a bow. His lyrics are honest: I don’t understand / But I understand / Why, God, I need you / It’s why, God, I run to your arms / Over and over again.”

One of the many Bible Verses that has influenced French is John 5:19-23.  In this text, Jesus explains; “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.  For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.  For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”

French explains on his Instagram page; “In a world full of chaos and uncertainty there’s a God, our God, who knows exactly what He’s doing.  I have to believe that Jesus is doing greater things than just healing us.  He is rescuing us from ourselves and the grip of death.  There is Hope.  There is Truth.  There is True Love.  Look to Jesus.”

 

 

 

Trey Flowers – One of Eleven

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Sketch of Trey Flowers by Jack Kurzenknabe

One out of eleven.

Each individual on the football field is one out of eleven players representing his team.

New England Patriot’s defensive lineman, Trey Flowers, had a long time to get used to that ratio.  Growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, young Trey was one of eleven siblings.

In a family that large, you have to pitch in.  Trey’s father, Robert, owns Flowers Construction Company.  By the time he was 10-years old, Trey was already constructing walls, hanging shingles, and helping build houses.  Robert explained to Mark Daniels; “I’m a contractor. I worked hard. I wanted them to work, too.  Trey worked as hard as I did. When he was 12-years-old, he was worth $25 an hour to me. He could put on as much shingles or do as much construction work as any grown man.”

Trey learned as a young man the value of quiet, honest, hard work.  He has carried that blue-collar work ethic all the way to the NFL.  Flowers explains; “We grew up on a construction site.  It was just something about coming home, you’ve been gone from 6 in the morning to 8 at night coming home to a good meal, take a shower, go to sleep and do it all the next day. It was something that was instilled into us at a young age.”

Flowers worked hard; on the job site and on the football field.  His work was rewarded with a scholarship to the University of Arkansas.  The staff had discovered him through a YouTube highlight video and scouted him at a basketball game.  He was not, however, heavily recruited.  When he went to Arkansas, he found himself quickly buried on the bench.

That didn’t discourage Flowers.  Instead, he did what he did best; worked hard.  In time, his hard work payed off.  He became a starter and eventually got drafted by the New England Patriots in the 4th Round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Reaching the NFL hasn’t changed Trey Flowers.  He’s still known for being quiet, humble, and working hard.  Defensive Coordinator, Brian Flores, gave him a nickname; “The Quiet Storm.”

Patriot’s defensive back Jason McCourty told the Boston Globe that the nickname “makes a lot of sense. I remember when I first got here, Trey always had his headphones on and I’m like… ‘he doesn’t talk at all.’ And then when you kind of get to know him a little more, you see he does talk, and laughs and jokes a lot.  He represents what we want to be as a defense, a guy that does more with his play than with his mouth and a tough guy that whatever is asked of him — setting the edge against the run game or getting pressure on the quarterback — he’s able to be versatile.”

Flowers adds; “I didn’t know about the nickname, but I do feel as though it’s one of those things that it does fit my personality.  I don’t say much, just put my head down. Anytime I am saying something, it’s obviously something that needs to be said. I guess people appreciate the words a little bit more than saying, ‘Nah, he’s just talking.’ I think it’s just describes who I am.”

One of the reasons Flowers doesn’t brag or boast about his success is because he knows he didn’t make it here alone.  He knows that his success comes from God.  He explained to Rob Maadi on the Faith on the Field Show; “You go through life and you have different experiences and you just understand that nobody but God could have put you in that situation, So, you just know that and know that, no matter what you do, no matter how good you are, you’re not at this level without Him, so you’ve got to always stay humble and stay grounded and understand to give Him all the glory.”

A man who was one of eleven siblings, one of his favorite Bible Verses also has a one and an eleven; Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Flowers explains; “So, you know, that’s just the definition of faith which is you know the thing you’ve got to have just in life generally, and definitely out here on the football field; You gotta understand that a lot of things probably don’t look to good or your situation might not look to good but you’ve got to continue to keep the faith and continue to work hard, so that’s a big Scripture in my life.”