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More To Life Than Football At Tech

There’s more to life at Virginia Tech than football, and David Wilson, Logan Thomas, Grant Bowden, Antoine Hopkins, J.R. Collins, Collin Carroll and Martin Scales, all members of the Hokies’ football team, know that fact first-hand.

Each has accepted the challenge of balancing life on and off the football field with the help of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and the Chaplain of the Virginia Tech football team, Johnny Shelton.

All eight were among the special guests Thursday at an event sponsored by the Halifax County Virginia Tech Alumni Chapter and the Hokie Club and held at First Baptist Church in South Boston.

The FCA is a national, non-denominational organization, and participation is totally voluntary, according to Shelton, who is employed by that group.

Each of them shared their individual stories revolving around their efforts at balancing sports and faith while at Virginia Tech.

“Everything we do is voluntary,” explained Shelton. We don’t force the players to become a part of FCA, and that’s what builds the synergy and the trust.

“We don’t force them to do anything…that brings a lot of unity as a result.”

Off the field discipline issues have affected a number of schools nationwide, and Coach Frank Beamer took steps several years ago to bring FCA to Blacksburg.

“A lot of negative things are happening with our high profile athletes, so one thing FCA did starting in 1999 at Auburn University was put a chaplain at a Division I program,” said Shelton.

“[FCA] is all over the country, not just at Virginia Tech, but it’s been a great success, so Coach Beamer in 2006-2007 made decision he wanted a full time chaplain at Virginia Tech.

“Coach Beamer is a great guy, and that’s what convinced me to come to Virginia Tech. He said he was really concerned about the character of the players, rather than the wins and losses.”

Shelton has seen the program expand and grow since his arrival.

“It first started with 10-12 people and has grown to over 40,” noted Shelton.

Each week Shelton has a “share time” where he meets with players, and he also has weekly chapels on game days during football season.
“We dress 75 people, and we have about 60-65 who come to that,” he pointed out.

“It’s really grown the past two and a half to three years I’ve been here.”

Current Hokie and former George Washington-Danville running back David Wilson, a member of the football and track team, is one who has benefited from his involvement with FCA.

A highly recruited running back out of high school, Wilson got an early taste of the demands placed on athletes at a high profile Division I football program. 

“Having to go through two workouts, you have to love what you do, and anyone can tell you if you love what you do, it’s exciting just to get up,” said Wilson.

“It’s that extra push you need when you come to a Division I school.  I put God first, and anything can happen.”

Wilson had to deal with high expectations immediately after coming to campus in Blacksburg.

“Coming out of high school in that situation, everyone expects a lot out of you, and it’s regular for something like that to happen,” said Wilson, noting another highly recruited player, Logan Thomas (Brookville).

“I guess in that situation you have to take a step back and realize you can be defeated, and you can be blocked out, but one person who can’t be blocked out is God, and if you keep Him in front of you, you can do anything.

“Nobody can stop me as long as I stand behind God, and He has a plan for me.”

Thomas, like Wilson heavily recruited out of high school, said his family has kept him humble.

“I had no choice but to be humble, because anyone who knows me knows my family and my grandma help me stay humble.

“Everybody knows Granny back in Lynchburg (Shirley Thomas).  I can’t say enough about my family, they keep me humble, keep me in place and definitely don’t let me stray off the right path.”

Everybody expects so much of you in such a high profile program such as Tech, added Thomas, and his faith has helped him keep focused.
“No matter what, you need to make time for God, because God is who got you here.

“When I first got here I strayed real far from the path, and now its like nothing ever changed,” added Thomas, who starts and ends each day by reading the Bible.”

“It’s helped me relax,” explained Thomas.   “Sometimes things don’t go your way during the day, but you just have to relax and keep a level head.

“There are a lot of pressures around college football to play to impress people, play to impress coaches, our teammates or to give ourselves some kind of worth or identity, but the truth is our value and identity is based on Christ’s love for us,” explained Carroll.

“Our natural desire as believers is to worship God with the talents He’s given us, and Johnny has been instrumental with helping us identify with God through our sports and glorify God off the field with our interactions with our friends, coaches and family.

“Johnny Shelton’s relationship with God is contagious, and you can really tell he’s genuinely trying to follow Christ and please him.

“He’s an example of a godly man, and he encourages us in our faith and makes us want to be men of God as he is.”

The post-game prayer huddle between football opponents is ironic in one sense but even more appropriate in another, Carroll said.

“Its so funny, on the field we can be mortal enemies but after the game we can pray together to thank God for his provision and the talents he’s given us, so we’re united in our faith.”

Scales, Bowden, Collins and Hopkins each faced their own individual challenges regarding faith and football, but with the aid of Shelton and FCA, all of them said they have found a balance in their lives.

Scales admitted he initially put football before God, but he added FCA helped him regain his Christian background after some soul searching.
Bowden said he came from a Christian household but lost his way in high school.

Shelton told him he wasn’t there for football but to impact or influence people in a positive manner, Bowden recalled upon his arrival at Tech.

“My foundation is constantly being rebuilt, and we’re all under construction,” Bowden said Thursday.

Both Hopkins and Collins admitted to being a bit hesitant in letting religion become a big part of their lives.

“I got saved about a month ago, and I learned patience from reading the Bible,” said Hopkins.

“In the process of praying, you also learn patience, and you have to be specific in what you want.”

Collins said he thought he could handle life’s challenges alone but found out otherwise.

“I never opened a Bible in my life until I spoke to Johnny,” recalled Collins.

“Ever since, I’ve been reading it, and now I put God first.”