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Ministry Director Mentors Penn Football Players 

by catherine elvy, staff writer

Since fall 2017, Christian Union Ministry Director Tucker Else has been steadily gaining ground in his outreach to Quaker athletes, especially to members of the football team. Given their hectic training and academic schedules, Else offers flexible discipleship sessions to players.

“Time is such a commodity,” said Else. “It’s pretty easy for these guys to live and sleep football and academics.”


Penn quarterback Ryan Glover ’21 (left) celebrates with a teammate.

For Else, ministry to athletes provides an opportunity for the sports enthusiast and son of a longtime coach to come full circle. Else played basketball at Northwestern College in Iowa after playing on both the basketball and football squads at Northern University High School in Cedar Falls.

“In high school, I was pretty heavily recruited,” said Else, who was a point guard during his freshman year with the Raiders before transferring to the University of Northern Iowa. His father, David Else, a former high school coach and principal and college professor, instilled a passion for football in his children.

With that background, Tucker Else relates readily to Penn student-athletes, including the four who attended a weekly football gathering during the spring semester, plus four or so others enrolled in Bible courses. “There is a connection with football guys and basketball guys. That’s exactly what I was focused on when I was those ages,” said Else. “When you grow up in a sports culture, it does not ever really leave you.”

Recognizing the tremendous influence players can have on teammates and peers, Else frequently attends football practices and actively encourages athletes to use their platform for service.

“These guys are natural leaders,” said Else, who joined Christian Union in summer 2016.

As one element of their spiritual discipleship, Else exhorts players to serve the needs of their teammates, especially during the thick of the season. “It’s tough being a football player and student,” he said. “They really have two full-time jobs.”

In addition, the former pastor and attorney implores student-athletes to position themselves as role models, especially to underclassmen eager to burst onto the collegiate football scene.

Among Quakers, running back Dante Moore ’20 said his mentoring sessions with Else have intensified his faith, especially throughout the spring semester as the players studied Philippians. “I have grown stronger in my faith and purpose,” said Moore.

The men focused on actively practicing the spiritual game plan of Philippians 2. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” the Apostle Paul wrote. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Given the consuming nature of collegiate sports, efforts to model that strategic passage can pose formidable hurdles during intense personal seasons.

Like other collegiate players, Moore was forced to make the adjustment from being a top-tier high school player to sharing a spot in the middle of the Quaker pack. Still, the Egg Harbor Township (New Jersey) native has funneled his energies into helping his fellow players achieve their football dreams and serving as a faithful spiritual witness.

“It’s a sport that I don't ever want to give up,” he said. “I am here because I enjoy this.”

Not surprisingly, Moore, who has devoted portions of his collegiate summers to volunteering at a recreation league in New Jersey, plans to continue coaching when he adjusts to life as an engineer in 2020.

For some players, it is only natural to dream of a professional sports career. In 2018, a trio of Penn football alumni earned spots on 53-man rosters as the National Football League entered week one. The combination gave Penn its most players on an NFL roster since the 1950s with the formation of the Ivy League as an athletic conference.

Given that legacy, “I would love to go pro,” said quarterback Ryan Glover ’21,  who is part of a Bible course led by Else. 

Still, even with the lure of pro sports action, the highly touted recruit from Atlanta concentrates on keeping each game in perspective. “I am trying to be the best quarterback I could be at this point,” said Glover.

During mentoring sessions with Else, the players probe the importance of unwavering devotion to Jesus Christ, even in the midst of the rivalry (and revelry) of Ancient-Eight showdowns. “We talk a lot before the game about playing for an audience of one,” said Glover. “You’re really only playing for Christ.”

In 2018, the Quakers wrapped up the season 6-4 overall and 3-4 in the Ivy League. Fast forward to March, Penn’s 2019 season launched with a global start when the Quakers enjoyed a comfortable win in the Penn-China Global Ambassadors Bowl in Shanghai.

Returning players, like Isaiah Malcome, ’21, are looking ahead to the regular season when they kick off on September 21 against the University of Delaware. Penn is dreaming of a run at the Ivy League title.

“We should be looking pretty good,” said Malcome. “I’m glad that God blessed me with the opportunity.”

The running back is also grateful for his mentoring sessions with Else, whom he described as extremely honest. “He supports me a lot. He’s very flexible and outgoing,” said Malcome. “He’s kind of like a therapist. We get into a lot of things.”

The fruit of such interaction is why Moore eagerly encourages his teammates to pursue spiritual conditioning, even in the midst of the all-consuming world of college football.

The New Jersey native often reminds his teammates of the importance of Proverbs 27:17. Namely, “iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”

Glover expressed gratitude for the Christian community and training that has become his lifeline. The celebrated quarterback even called Christian Union the “best thing that’s happened in my entire collegiate career.”