Devotional of the Week — Tony Romo’s Greatest Success

Houston Texans v Dallas Cowboys

“Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” II Peter 3:17-18

Tony Romo has undergone a spiritual transformation the last few years (which we talk about on pages 40-43 of our most recent print issue). During that time, he has been mentored by godly men, gotten married, become a father and has seen what’s most important in life.

“One thing as I grow into a husband is being a spiritual leader of my family, my wife and the people I surround myself with,” Romo told Sports Spectrum. “I heard John Wooden, the UCLA basketball coach for all those years, once said success is peace of mind. For me, my greatest peace of mind, my greatest success, you might say, is when I walk the spiritual journey, when I’m a spiritual leader to my family and the people I’m around. That’s what I’m striving for, and that’s where I hope to continue to go and grow.”

Romo gets it. His lofty ambitions aren’t success in the world’s eyes, but success in God’s eyes. Having experienced success, he realizes that all the things the world chases after are empty, unless your focus is on your relationship with Christ.

Grow in your walk with God and sense the reality, peace, and fulfillment of a God-focused life.

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor at Sports Spectrum magazine. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Devotional of the Week — Christ Reflector

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“He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30

Fresno State quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful Derek Carr said his faith in Christ was the No. 1 thing in his life. “You can ask anyone who knows me, that’s the first thing they should tell you, and if they don’t, then I’m not doing the right thing,” he said. “Derek Carr is not the Fresno State quarterback. First of all, he’s a Christian and then he’s the Fresno State quarterback; that is what’s the most important thing to me, to be noticed as a Christian first and a quarterback second.”

In a way, it echoes what John the Baptist said about himself in John 3:30 when Jesus began His ministry. “He must become greater; I must become less.”

When Derek Carr says he wants to be known as a Christian first and then to be known for his abilities as a football player second, he wants people to see Christ in him and through his life before they see him as a quarterback. Christ must be first, or greater, and Derek Carr and his abilities must be second—a far second—and he must decrease.

It’s a reminder that the some of the most important things in the world’s eyes (sports and fame) are not the most important things in God’s eyes. If you’re a believer and people look to you and only see you and the abilities God gave you without seeing God, then they’ll miss God. Our lives shouldn’t overshadow God and what He is doing. Our lives should reflect Christ and point people to Him.

Live your life in such a way that when they look at you they’ll see God. As Derek Carr says, if they don’t then you’re “not doing the right thing.”

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Giving A Way Of Life

Nicole Jennings SpreadTo whom much is given, much is required.

Nicole Jennings says those words with a deep passion, referencing Luke 12:48, which is also the motto for the Greg Jennings Foundation.

She lives that Scripture out on a daily basis, whether it’s running her husband’s foundation, taking care of the couple’s four children, or lending support and a voice to the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission’s “Building Hope for the Future”—a $7.8 million campaign that will build a new shelter to serve 290 homeless women and children in Kalamazoo County, Mich.

Her voice isn’t one merely of a pro athlete’s wife (her husband Greg is an eight-year NFL veteran and two-time Pro Bowl selection who has won a Super Bowl), it’s a voice of someone who has lived through the struggles of a person in need.

“I was in their shoes and I had someone come in and help me and get me out of that situation,” says Nicole. “I feel like I’ve been blessed with so much and my response is to really bless/help others. How dare I be in that situation (to help people) and have such a success story and then to come out on the proverbial top and not give back does not make much sense. That’s the thing that motivates me and keeps me going.”

Nicole Jennings was a child when she and her mother had to spend several nights at Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, a homeless shelter in the town the couple grew up.

“At the time when my mother and I had to stay there, we didn’t have any place else to go. If they weren’t there, we wouldn’t have had a place to lay our heads at night.

“Because of the history I have with the center, I thought it would be a good way to give back to the community, to the actual mission,” says Nicole, who earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2006 from Western Michigan and is currently pursuing a master’s degree.

“While I don’t remember much, the fact that I was a resident (at the mission) created an important perspective on life for me. To have the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission as part of my history taught me that people care and that it is possible to make a real difference in another persons’ life. When I go into a mission or shelter that serves women and children, I feel a real connection, like I am part of them and they are part of me.”

She and her husband both grew up in the community and graduated from Kalamazoo Central High, so their love for the area runs deep.

“This project means a lot to the Kalamazoo community, I’m glad that my wife is a part of such a great endeavor,” says Greg, who is in his first year with the Minnesota Vikings after spending his first seven with the Green Bay Packers, a team he won Super Bowl XLV with in 2011 when the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25. “I’m proud of all my wife’s many projects. She’s very active in the communities we call home.”

Greg’s support for his wife and her heart for giving goes beyond words, though. When he’s playing, his focus is on his job as an NFL player and she is supporting him. When his season is finished, the focus goes on his wife and her endeavors.

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“He’s great. He’s awesome, especially during the offseason,” says Nicole, when asked if Greg helps her. “He always says that it’s my ‘on’ season.”

The couple’s driving force to reach out to people who may or may not have similar stories to Nicole’s, comes back to their faith, which is more than a catchy motto based in Scripture.

“It is who we are,” Nicole says. “It’s not necessarily a role that it plays. It’s our lives. It’s just something we call on and get our strength from. It’s just a way of life.

“It’s important for our kids to also realize that it’s not something we talk about, it’s something that we live and that’s what helps us get through every day.”

Nicole’s only objective isn’t to help raise funds for the project, but also to inspire others to get involved.

“I am hoping this story will not only encourage people to give to this mission, but also inspire everyone to live lives of service to others. Our communities and country face many challenges but each of us has the capacity to do something special in our families, neighborhoods, communities and beyond,” she says.

“People ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ It’s not about the fame, it’s not about the accolades, it’s not about these interviews. I do it and I don’t care who knows if I do it. It’s just something I know I need to do, because I feel like it’s required of me.”

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor for Sports Spectrum magazine.

Airing It Out — Freely pardoned

UCLA v Nebraska

On Nov. 14, the Nebraska Board of Pardons will decide whether to pardon former Heisman Trophy winner and University of Nebraska great Johnny Rodgers for a felony he committed in 1970 at the end of his freshman year.

Rodgers, who was convicted the following year, along with two others, of grand larceny (stealing $91 from a Lincoln, Neb., gas station), told the World Herald in Omaha that the reason he is asking for the pardon is that “It’s something that’s hanging out there.”

The crime impacted him little on the field; two years later he won the Heisman Trophy and he left Nebraska holding numerous records (he still owns more than 40 school records today).

Rodgers is now 62 years old, and nearly 43 years has passed since the crime, which he was given two years of probation for committing. He was also ordered to pay back the money he stole as well as court costs.

I could make a case for granting him the pardon on the basis that a court document said that the crime was committed without threats, use of force or violence.

But I won’t.

I could make a case for granting him the pardon on the basis that, when he was discharged from probation two years later, a probation release order signed by a judge stated that his civil rights were “restored the same as though a pardon had been issued.”

But I won’t do that, either.

This column isn’t about whether or not to pardon Johnny Rodgers, mainly because I don’t know all the facts, I don’t know Johnny Rodgers’ heart (only God does), and I don’t know much other than what media outlets have reported (as we’ve found out, that’s not very reliable, either).

This column is about you and me, and really anyone, and how God handles pardons.

Famous theologian Jonathan Edwards, considered one of America’s greatest intellectuals, once preached a sermon, “Pardon For the Greatest Sinners,” based on Psalm 25:11, which says, “For thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity; for it is great.”

Edwards pointed out these things about David’s cry for help: David asked God for help, not anyone else; David confessed his transgression; David told God that it was too much to bear.

Notice that David didn’t cite his past goodness or that he didn’t promise to do better the next time. He was humbled and merely told God that he couldn’t bear the burden any longer, and in doing so he, in essence, admitted that only God could pardon him.

David couldn’t wish the burden away or close his eyes and ignore the burden so that he would feel better. Taking away the burden could only be lifted if he went to God, confessed his sin, asked for God’s help and admitted that it was too great for him to bear.

God character in similar situations is confirmed in Isaiah 55:7, which says, “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

We have to turn away from our sin, turn to the Lord, and then He will pardon.

Although a board will decide if Johnny Rodgers should be pardoned from his past sin, we don’t have to rely on fallible humans to decide whether we’re pardoned from our wrongs. God, who is righteous, just, merciful, and forgiving, will decide. He can look at our hearts, and if we repent (or turn away), turn to Him and admit that we can’t carry the burden, He will freely pardon us.

It’s a reminder that human involvement can make things go away on paper, but God is the only one who can carry our burdens and give us true freedom from our sin.

By Brett Honeycutt

This column was published in the October 2013 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. His column addresses topics from a biblical perspective. Follow him on Twitter-@Brett_Honeycutt

Back to Fresno

DerekCarrStoryThe phone rang. It was sometime in 2008 and Pat Hill, then Fresno State’s football coach, was calling to see how David Carr, the oldest of son of Rodger and Sheryl Carr, was doing.

David was a former Fresno State record-setting quarterback who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft by the expansion Houston Texans and was featured on the cover of Sports Spectrum that year.

Carr took plenty of hits those first few seasons (from the media and from defenses) and had since left the Texans, playing with the Carolina Panthers for one season before ending up with the New York Giants in a backup role.

Hill was just calling to check up on his former pupil.

After Hill had gotten past the pleasantries and had asked about David, Rodger Carr jokingly asked, “Why haven’t you called Derek?”

Rodger was asking Hill about the Carr’s youngest son, who would end up having a record-setting senior year as quarterback at Bakersfield (Calif.) Christian and had become one of the nation’s best high school quarterbacks after passing for an eye-popping 4,067 yards and 46 touchdowns in only 13 games, while also rushing for 281 yards and five more scores.

Hill laughed and said, “I didn’t think we had a chance of getting him.”

Rodger handed the phone to Derek, who was being recruited by BCS heavyweights Alabama, Notre Dame, LSU, Texas Tech, Southern Cal, Arizona, Utah, and Cal.

“He offered me (a scholarship),” Derek recalls. “I remember I didn’t wait long. I called him the next day and committed because that’s what I wanted to do all along.”

Oddly, because Fresno State hadn’t expressed interest, Carr didn’t think he was good enough to play for the Bulldogs, a non-BCS Division I school that plays in the pass-happy but highly respected Mountain West.

“I just really thought I wasn’t good enough or they didn’t think I was good enough,” Carr says. “I didn’t think they wanted me until he called and talked to me.”

Fast forward five years later to 2013.

Some things have changed, but a lot hasn’t.

Hill is no longer the coach (he was let go after a 4-9 season in 2011, only the second losing season for him in the previous 13 years, and replaced by Tim DeRuyter).

Carr married the former Heather Neel on June 29, 2012, and more than 13 months later, on Aug. 5, 2013, the couple had their first child, Dallas Mason Carr, who was named after Derek’s middle name. Dallas weighed 7 pounds, 10.9 ounces.

Being a married college student is easier than if he was single, Carr says.

“Because she keeps me more organized. I’m not the most organized person in the world. Just having her there to be a best friend and really helpmate to myself, it’s so much fun to not worry about getting caught up in this, getting caught up in that,” he says. “I know what I’m going home to; I have my wife and my son, so I know who I’m going home to and I have a stable environment to go home to. I don’t have too many worries that others might have.”

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What hasn’t changed, though, is Carr’s adeptness at quarterback, his unwavering faith and his respect for his brother – one of the reasons he wanted to play at Fresno State.

Carr is once again one of the top quarterbacks in the nation his senior year as he comes off the heels of leading the Mountain West in passing (4,104 yards, 37 touchdowns) and being named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

He also comes into this season listed on nearly every major watch list for postseason awards like the Heisman Trophy, Davey O’Brien, Maxwell and Walter Camp after compiling 7,648 yards passing and 63 touchdowns the last two seasons.

He only needs 3,048 passing yards to break the school record, which was set in 1986.

More than all the numbers and what he does on the field, his faith is what drives him.

“It’s No. 1,” he says. “It’s the No. 1 thing in my life. You can ask anyone who knows me, that’s the first thing they should tell you, and if they don’t, then I’m not doing the right thing. Derek Carr is not the Fresno State quarterback. First of all, he’s a Christian and then he’s the Fresno State quarterback; that is what’s the most important thing to me, to be noticed as a Christian first and a quarterback second.”

“I know where my talent comes from, and it’s not from my abilities,” Derek says. “I know where it comes from and He can take it away in a second.”

His focus on his faith is helped by having a brother like David, who Derek looks up to and who plays the same position. David, now in his second stint with the New York Giants after spending 2008 and 2009 with them and then 2010 with the San Francisco 49ers, has been a guiding influence on and off the field.

“David is so intelligent when it comes to our faith,” Derek says. “He’s given me some of the best advice that sticks with me all the time, some funny and some serious. On the field, off the field, the first thing he ever told me was, ‘Don’t be an idiot. On the field, don’t be an idiot, don’t force stupid passes, have a reason for what you’re doing. And off the field, don’t be an idiot, and that one’s self-explanatory.’”

It’s basic, simple, yet blunt and needed, especially in today’s culture.

Derek also says that David gave him another “great piece of advice that always sticks with me” and has helped him endure the praise and the undue criticism of playing one of the most-watched positions in big-time college football.

“People are going to say great things about you, people are always going to say bad things about you,” Derek recalls David telling him. “Don’t listen to either of them, because you can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. Don’t listen to either of them. Say thank you, be polite and accept it. Be thankful and grateful for it, but at the same time don’t be too high and don’t be too low, because as high as they put you, they can tear you down just as fast. That’s something he’s taught me since I was very little, very young.”

The biggest lesson, though, is remembering the source of his skills. For Derek, it comes back to what’s No. 1 in his life.

“I know where my talent comes from, and it’s not from my abilities,” Derek says. “I know where it comes from and He can take it away in a second.”

His focus on his faith is helped by having a brother like David, who Derek looks up to and who plays the same position. David, now in his second stint with the New York Giants after spending 2008 and 2009 with them and then 2010 with the San Francisco 49ers, has been a guiding influence on and off the field.

“David is so intelligent when it comes to our faith,” Derek says. “He’s given me some of the best advice that sticks with me all the time, some funny and some serious. On the field, off the field, the first thing he ever told me was, ‘Don’t be an idiot. On the field, don’t be an idiot, don’t force stupid passes, have a reason for what you’re doing. And off the field, don’t be an idiot, and that one’s self-explanatory.’”

It’s basic, simple, yet blunt and needed, especially in today’s culture.

Derek also says that David gave him another “great piece of advice that always sticks with me” and has helped him endure the praise and the undue criticism of playing one of the most-watched positions in big-time college football.

“People are going to say great things about you, people are always going to say bad things about you,” Derek recalls David telling him. “Don’t listen to either of them, because you can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. Don’t listen to either of them. Say thank you, be polite and accept it. Be thankful and grateful for it, but at the same time don’t be too high and don’t be too low, because as high as they put you, they can tear you down just as fast. That’s something he’s taught me since I was very little, very young.”

The biggest lesson, though, is remembering the source of his skills. For Derek, it comes back to what’s No. 1 in his life. 

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor at Sports Spectrum magazineThis story was published in the August 2013 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. Print and digital subscribers, log in here to view. Not a subscriber to Sports Spectrum? Subscribe here

Devotional of the Week — Built for Pittsburgh

Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates“And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Mark 16:15 (ESV)

The success of the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates, who broke a 20-year losing streak and made the playoffs, began because Pittsburgh Manager Clint Hurdle wanted to make a difference by choosing something other than what people told him to do.

Hurdle recounted his decision to Sports Spectrum in the 2013 Spring issue.

“Everyone told me that I had to go to New York,” recalls Hurdle, who says that people advised him to take that job because of his connection with the Mets as a player and minor league manager. “But every time I woke up, I said Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, I knew that I could make a difference.”

Being a Christian, he wanted to make a difference on and off the field.

He asks men whenever he talks to them, “Are you making a difference? Jesus doesn’t want a finished product. He wants to help you become a finished product. Jesus will help you become a finished product.” The disciples were a work in progress, as evidenced by their lives during Jesus’ ministry. Jesus just wanted someone He could mold, who was willing, so that when He sent them out (as he did in Mark 16:15), they would be ready.

Making a difference doesn’t mean being ready now, but it means being willing to be used. God wants hearts that are willing, not resistant.

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

NFL Closeup — David Akers

Fall 2013_Spreads (dragged) 6Each time David Akers was cut by his last two NFL teams, his departure oddly followed deep runs by his teams in the playoffs.

It didn’t deter him from continuing to succeed, though.

Now with his fourth NFL team, he is once again one of the NFL’s top kickers, this year playing for the Detroit Lions and their high-powered offense.

Akers, who has made six Pro Bowls, played in two Super Bowls (2005 with Philadelphia and 2013 with San Francisco) and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000s, owns three NFL records. During the 2011 season, while playing for the San Francisco 49ers, he set single-season records for most points by a kicker (166) and field goals made (44). Last season, he tied the NFL record (held by three others) for the longest field goal when he kicked a 63-yarder at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers.

Akers understands, though, that success on the field is empty unless a person is focused on something more meaningful.

“We can use this platform to make a difference,” Akers told Sports Spectrum for the 2012 Summer issue. “When all eyes are trained upon us, let’s give God the glory in all we do. Trying to make a daily difference in the life of someone and be as Christ-like as possible. That’s my message and what I try to live by.”

- Brett Honeycutt

This story was published in the Volume 27, Number 4 issue of Sports Spectrum magazine. Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor at Sports Spectrum. 

NFL Closeup — Russell Wilson

Fall 2013_Spreads (dragged) 5Russell Wilson, one of the top rookies in the NFL last season while guiding the Seattle Seahawks to the second round of the playoffs, had Seattle off to a fast start again this season and dreams of making another postseason appearance.

Last season, Wilson passed for 3,118 yards and tied Peyton Manning’s NFL rookie record with 26 touchdown passes in the regular season, before passing for an NFL rookie playoff record 385 yards in a 30-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons and earning a spot in the Pro Bowl.

But Wilson, who became a Christian when he was 14, isn’t all about football. He is known for his strong faith and uses his popularity to point people to Christ by tweeting Bible verses to more than 380,000 of his Twitter followers.

“You have to stand for something and (God) has given me this tremendous platform,” said Wilson, while speaking at Northwest University, a Christian school in Kirkland, Wash., during the school’s third annual athletic Hall of Fame Benefit in March.

Football wasn’t always his only sport, though. Wilson was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 41st round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft out of high school, but turned them down to pursue football and baseball in college at North Carolina State. He played for the Wolfpack from 2008-2010 in both sports (earning ACC Rookie of the Year in football) before being drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies.

While playing in the minor leagues with the Rockies organization, Wilson continued to play college football. After three years at N.C. State where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications, he transferred to Wisconsin where he led the Badgers to the Big Ten title and a berth in the 2012 Rose Bowl, while being named the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year and setting the FBS record for passing efficiency (191.8).

His accomplishments defy what pundits feel he should be able to do.

“I should not be in the NFL—I am 5-10 and five-eighths,” he said. “All the adversity and naysayers, God doesn’t care about that.”

-Brett Honeycutt

This story was published in the Volume 27, Number 4 issue of Sports Spectrum magazine. Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor at Sports Spectrum. 

Airing it Out — Someone else’s responsibility?

aaron-hernandez-618gettyThe beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Proverbs 4:7

Parents, in general, rear their children to get an education, excel at sports, and excel at life, sometimes in that order, and sometimes with sports before education, but usually, excelling at life seems to come last on the importance meter.

Strangely, those same parents wonder what happened when their children fail at life. Questions abound like: Why did they disobey? Why did they get involved with the wrong crowd? Why did they start doing drugs? Why didn’t they do something that would have led them in a different direction?

Then the light comes on, or seemingly, with accusations more plentiful than the questions: It’s the teacher’s fault. It’s the coach’s fault. It’s their boss’ fault. For some reason, though, they never take responsibility for never putting life first or never putting responsibility on the person who made the wrong decisions.

It’s always, or so it seems, someone else’s fault.

A great example of that is the case of Aaron Hernandez, the young, former rising NFL star who was playing with one of the league’s best teams over the past 10 or more years, the New England Patriots.

After news broke that he was alleged to be involved with the killing of minor league football player Odin Loyd, and possibly several others from previous years, some people in the media began looking for answers.

Why would he do this? Their answers were shockingly irresponsible, blatantly void of logic and common sense, and, one could say, naïve. They hurled accusations at Urban Meyer, who was Hernandez’s college coach at the University of Florida, and Bill Belichik, Hernandez’s NFL coach with the New England Patriots.

It must have been their fault. Why? They reasoned that Meyer and Belichik could have prevented his bad decisions by doing more to discipline Hernandez, and they could have done a more thorough background check, which would have helped Hernandez turn his life around.

They asserted, in essence, that Loyd was killed because of those two coaches, and they shouted it from the top of their lungs hoping everyone would hear and cast stones at the two people who were the furthest from the situation—without thinking one simple, yet common sense thought like, “Maybe it was Hernandez’s fault.” Maybe it is the fault of the person who is alleged to have been involved in the murder, and other murders, as well. Maybe Hernandez just didn’t care and maybe he did what he wanted to do, regardless of the well-being of others.

Here’s a revelation: People who know to do right, do wrong, despite being told that certain things are right and certain things are wrong. Seriously. It happens. And people who know to do right, do right. Yes, that happens, too.

People have freedom to choose, despite what their coaches, teachers, parents, friends and others might tell them. We can either choose to do right or wrong. It’s each individual’s choice and their choice alone.

Ultimately, the responsibility is on the person who took the action, good or bad.

But personal responsibility isn’t popular, and it’s not easy, either. What is easy is blaming someone else.

Lacking in the media’s dissection of the situation was the more obvious, and logical, question: Why didn’t Hernandez take more personal responsibility for his actions?

For some reason, the light bulb didn’t come on for the media, and the blame game ensued. It’s a common tactic in our culture. We have a wreck, it’s someone else’s fault. We’re late to work, it’s someone else’s fault. We forget to pay a bill, it’s someone else’s fault. Our child doesn’t excel in school, it’s someone else’s fault (and that someone else rarely includes the child or parent). Our child doesn’t excel in sports, it’s someone else’s fault (and rarely is the question asked if maybe he or she isn’t fit for that sport or could possibly excel in something else or benefit from more help by their parents).

Let’s begin asking the questions that lead to personal responsibility instead of the questions that lead to blaming others, because our actions, whether influenced by good or bad role models, are ours and ours alone.

We make the choice to do right or wrong each day.

By Brett Honeycutt

This column was published in the September 2013 Sports Spectrum DigiMag and Vol. 27, No. 4 print issue. Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine. His column addresses topics from a biblical perspective. Follow him on Twitter-@Brett_Honeycutt

Starting Anew

BenPikeStoryBen Pike will not be charging into “The Swamp” on Aug. 31 when the University of Toledo opens its football season at the University of Florida.

He also won’t be running onto the field at the Glass Bowl, the Rockets’ home turf, on Sept. 14 when Toledo plays its first home game this season against Eastern Washington.

Instead, his surroundings will be a little different and more than eight hours away.

Pike traded in his senior year at Toledo, where he would have been fending off offensive lineman to chase down quarterbacks or plunging through the line to stop running backs, for teaching and coaching teenagers at Fort Zumwalt West High in O’Fallon, Mo., about 45 minutes outside of St. Louis.

But there’s more to the story than someone giving up college football to start their career.

Pike’s motivation to forgo his senior season was borne out of a love, not to help himself but to help someone else.

Jolting News

Ben Pike met Ashlee Barrett at an Athletes in Action Bible study on Toledo’s campus. Pike was a freshman and Barrett was a junior who had transferred from the University of Evansville, along with her coach, to play basketball.

Pike pursued and Barrett, Pike admits, was a little reluctant. A freshman pursuing a junior? That was the holdup, but only for a little while.

“When we started being around each other and hanging out, it was an instant connection. It was pretty special,” Pike tells Sports Spectrum. “I always tell people, first time I saw her, the first thing I noticed was her outward beauty; she was tall, 5-foot 11, long, blonde hair, big, blue eyes. But as I got to know her more personally, I got to see what a great person she was. She was kind to others, which was amazing to me.”

They were engaged in December of 2011 and set their wedding date a year and a half later, for June 15, 2013.

But five months after their engagement, in April of 2012, Pike received a phone call that his fiancée had to be hospitalized.

“I got the first flight out of the Detroit airport,” Pike says. “You walk into this room and you see the person you love hooked up to a ventilator…it’s very, very heartbreaking…What had happened, she had become septic, so the infection had spread through her blood stream. The doctors weren’t sure she would make it through the night.”

Barrett, who had been teaching after her graduation, made it through the night, and Pike thought he and his fiancée would be going home soon. Then her parents and a doctor walked into the room.

“That’s when we could tell something was wrong and that’s when we got the news that she had leukemia,” Pike says. “When we heard that, it was very, very emotional. A lot of tears were going and a lot of people were not sure what was going on because it’s kind of hard to believe.”

“In the midst of all that’s going on, I was standing by her side, and she took my hand and looked me in the eye and said, ‘I’m so glad it’s me and not you.’ For her to just say that when she’s going through the worst thing that’s ever happened to her just kind of speaks to what kind of person she is in her substance and her kindness for other people. It was just truly remarkable to me.”

Admittedly, Pike struggled with reconciling his faith with what his then fiancée was going through in the hospital.

“For me, initially, I was mad. I was,” Pike says. “I didn’t understand why it was happening. I didn’t think she deserved it. I couldn’t see how it could come to this. But I think that was a very natural response to have. As I got time to step back from the situation and look, I started to realize…I talked with God and prayed and had many conversations about this…He was able to give me a peace that it was okay; that in the end, it was all going to work out. I may not understand why, but I’m not supposed to understand why right now. But we just know and we trust in God that at the end of the day, that something amazing is going to happen, the glory is going to go to Him.”

Prayer, treatments, and loving support from Pike and seemingly everyone helped during Barrett’s ordeal with leukemia.

Nine months passed, including Pike playing his junior season at Toledo as he helped the Rockets to a 9-4 season, including an eight-game win streak and a bowl bid to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Utah State on Dec. 15. Toledo lost, but it was the first time the program had back-to-back nine-win seasons since 2004 and 2005.

Because of everything that had happened, Pike had begun discussing with his coaches, at some point during the season, about the possibility of not coming back his senior year so that he could be with Ashlee.

“I told him there’s a good possibility that I won’t be coming back for my senior year,” Pike recalls, telling head coach Matt Campbell. “He said, ‘Ben, that’s fine. We’ll treat you like a senior this year. You can do all the things the seniors get to do…At the end of the season, if that’s still what you want to do, that’s great, you go ahead and do that. If you want to come back, you can come back.’”

His coaches understood what was important and things seemed to be going well for everyone.

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A Fateful Visit

In late January, Pike was greeted with a visit from his parents.

“It was a Friday night. I had called and texted (Ashlee) that night and she hadn’t responded,” Pike recalls. “So I kind of knew something wasn’t quite right, but didn’t know what…My parents came to tell me and I knew something wasn’t quite right…They came to tell me Ashlee’s cancer had come back. Again, that moment, I wasn’t quite sure why it was happening, because I thought we were out of the woods and that we were moving on to bigger and brighter things.”

This time, though, it was different. There was a resiliency and a toughness in his mind and heart that had been cultivated from the first experience.

“We both were going to hunker down and do it again. At the end of the day, we know that God is in control,” Pike says. “This second time around is where we’ve really seen some good things, how it affected other people and what’s come from it…We know that through all bad things, that if we trust God, He’s going to work it for His glory and His good…When times are hard, and you think you can’t go on, He’s given us the strength to get through another day.

“Going through this whole thing, it’s been pretty remarkable to me because I’ve never once heard Ashley question, ‘Why me?’ ‘Why is this happening to me?’ I’ve never once heard her question that, which is another thing I think is pretty incredible. Because I would think that would be a pretty normal reaction, normal response for someone to go through this.

“She’s an inspiration to me…her positive attitude is remarkable to me.”

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The Decision

That was enough to compel Pike to give up football. So, in February he did just that. He knew he wanted to be with Ashlee, the person he wanted to marry, and he knew she needed him.

Pike doesn’t want to be admired because of his decision, though. All of the admiration, he said, belongs to Ashlee. Giving up football to help her fight cancer was an easy decision.

“A lot of people are saying how that I’m doing something admirable or sacrificing something, and I just don’t see it that way,” Pike says. “I see it as I’m gaining the love of my life and I get to spend every day with her. At the end of the day, it was an easy decision because I need to be here for her. I need to be here to make sure she gets through this and I can support her and be with her every day to love and support her. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a hard decision at all. I’m not the one who needs to be admired or looked up to, she needs to be the one who’s looked up to and admired for how she’s…fighting day in and day out.”

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Wedding Bells

They were married this summer, on June 15. There was no receiving line because of the fear of germs from hugs and handshakes. Their honeymoon will be at a later date, too, so that Ashlee can remain close to her doctors, who are still monitoring everything.

His coaches and teammates, who had supported him emotionally and given him rides to and from the airport while he flew back and forth from Toledo to St. Charles, Mo., before finally moving to be closer to Ashlee, were supporting him once again.

One teammate, Hank Keighley, was Pike’s best man, two other teammates were in the wedding, and head coach Matt Campbell, defensive line coach Eli Rasheed and several other teammates were there in attendance.

Even more important is that their life with each other began with a faith journey, which both committed to before Ashlee found out she had cancer.

They both had committed to follow Christ, but Ashlee wanted to get things straight with her baptism.

“When we first met, we would talk about faith a lot,” Ben Pike says. “She was born and raised Catholic, and I was born and raised Baptist. We began to go to churches together and started to kind of explore that route. She found a church that she really liked, First Baptist Church Harvester in St. Charles, which is where she lives. That weekend before she found out she had cancer, she made the decision to be baptized.”

The pastor of the church has been someone the couple has leaned on for guidance.

“Bob Engle has been a huge, huge support for her and us,” Ben Pike says. “He has just been there for us. So, we’ve had support from every direction.”

“Even though cancer will be a part of our daily lives for a few more years,” Pike told the Cleveland Plain Dealer before his wedding. “We’re both very excited to be able to close that chapter on our lives and start a new chapter.”

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sport Spectrum magazine. This story was published in the August 2013 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. Print and digital subscribers, log in here to view. Not a subscriber to Sports Spectrum? Subscribe here

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