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Football Players Huddle Up for Christian Union Bible Course

Tom Campisi

It is tradition for a group of Princeton football players to kneel in prayer prior to each game. The Tigers emerge from the tunnel and head to the end zone, where they reverently bow their heads.

There is also a remnant of Princeton football players who are seeking to reinforce that public witness as they seek to make Jesus Christ Lord over their lives and known on campus. These young men are growing as leaders through a Christian Union Bible Course on Colossians and one-on-one mentoring.

 

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Referring to Colossians 2:7, Christopher Heslep, Christian Union’s ministry director at Princeton, said, “We are learning to understand how Christ’s supremacy over all creation can help us to ‘continue to live our lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him and firm in our faith.’”

The Princeton Tigers, who went 10-0 in 2018 and captured the Ivy League Championship, won seven of their first eight games this year. This season is special as college football celebrates its 150th year in commemoration of the historic Princeton vs. Rutgers game in 1869. Part of the celebration included a Princeton-Dartmouth game at Yankee Stadium on November 9. The Big Green defeated the Tigers, 27-10. 

Princeton football players who attend Christian Union Bible Courses want to use their platform as ambassadors for the Gospel, Heslep said. 
 
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Princeton defensive lineman Sam Wright (51) in action against Cornell on November 1 in Ithaca, New York. 


“There has been a growing determination from the team to make their community within the team mean something,” Heslep said. “The young men have been challenged to make the body of Christ more visible in the locker room and in the classroom, and they have begun to show the desire to see it come to fruition.”

Among the team’s Christian leaders are defensive lineman Sam Wright ’21 and linebackers Tavaris Noel ’21 and Larkin Ison ’22. Heslep also pointed to the Christian commitment of backup quarterback Cole Smith ’21 and tight end Luke Gibson ’23. Additionally, starting quarterback Kevin Davidson ’20, a strong believer, is active with another campus ministry.

Wright, who hails from Lawrenceville, Georgia, was second on the team in both tackles for loss and sacks in 2018 when the Princeton defense was ranked fourth in the nation. In addition to being part of a Bible course, he has also exhibited leadership with TruThursday, Christian Union’s ministry to African, African-American, and Caribbean cultures.

“Sam has a desire to live out his faith in front of his peers, and it is evident in the way he shows tenderness and love toward those in his circles of influence,” Heslep said.

Noel, a mechanical engineering major from Yorktown, Virginia, has had to persevere through illness and injuries in his first three years. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma just a few weeks after arriving on campus as a freshman. He was healthy enough to play football in his sophomore year, but suffered a grade 2 MCL tear in the pre-season and was out for most of the campaign. This year, he tore his ACL and lateral meniscus in the first game of the season, and is again on the injured list—yet, his faith has helped him walk through these challenging times.

“I was able to overcome each of these obstacles by falling back on God’s Word and praying, (and with) encouragement from family members and friends, teammates and coaches, and the Princeton staff, and trusting in God’s plan for me,” Noel said.

“From the moment I met Tavaris, it has been clear that his faith is what drives his joy and purpose,” Heslep said. “To see how he has overcome physical setbacks (cancer and multiple injuries) with such joy and trust in Christ in his time at Princeton is a blessing to me.”

“Noel said the Bible course is a great opportunity to strengthen his relationship with God, while being surrounded with students who have similar interests.

“I appreciate the relationships I’ve made with those who choose to follow Christ, as well as those who will keep me accountable when I deviate from God’s plan,” he said.

Ison, an economics major from Huntsville, Alabama, said Christian Union has helped mold him into a better leader. Bible course offers a time to escape the chaos of school and sports.

“I love being able to connect with those in my Bible course and being assured that I will be challenged spiritually every week,” he said. “It has become one of my favorite parts of my week.”

“Christian Union has prepared me to integrate my faith into everyday life by teaching me to prioritize my faith above everything else. This is a lesson that I am still learning, especially at a place like Princeton, where the urgent things get in the way of the important things.”

Much like they devote themselves to getting better as players by weight-lifting, training, and daily practices, Ison and his teammates in the Bible course are seeking to study to show themselves approved and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Recently, one football player said, “I wonder what it would look like if we all lived boldly for our faith and were unashamed to talk more freely about our faith? I think it would be transformational.”

“My prayer for them,” Heslep said, “is that this indeed becomes a reality, and Christ is honored on the Princeton football team.