Running For the Goal
For a football fan, there’s nothing more thrilling than watching a receiver turn a short pass into a long touchdown run. I’m not a rabid college football fan, but I do enjoy sitting down every now and then and rooting for the home team. Such was the opportunity that presented itself New Year’s Day as the Bulldogs took on the Cornhuskers for the Capitol One Bowl.
One of the sweetest plays in the game was an 87 yard run from Chris Conley, who redeemed himself from a previous faux pas in the Southeastern Conference Championship game against Alabama.
Now I have to admit, I really didn’t know who Chris Conley was before Tuesday’s bowl game. I know, that’s sacrilegious; but as I said I’m not a rabid football fan. Blame it on years of ministry preparation on Saturday afternoons. Or that the missus is not a rabid football fan either. (Although you should have heard her hoot and holler Tuesday’s game)
So imagine my surprise when the man I’d scarcely heard of Tuesday was standing in our church sanctuary Wednesday evening! Yes sir, Chris Conley in the flesh.
Turns out that Chris knows our youth pastor very well and now that Georgia has wrapped up the season he was back home. In spite of being on the road most of the day, driving back from Florida, he agreed to come and speak to our youth in our Wednesday night service.
Now, after watching Chris Tuesday against the Cornhuskers I was well aware of his physical prowess on the field. But I had no idea that the young man runs just as hard off the field as well.
After God, that is.
Chris is a committed Christian, and in an informal question and answer session with our youth pastor, Chris sat in the sanctuary (why should the adults miss out?) and opened our eyes to the challenges of living for Christ in a college football setting. From the recruitment process, to the grueling 2 week camps, to the out of town trips, Chris outlined the temptations and pitfalls that await a young man who is not only a “Dog” but a follower of Christ.
Leaving behind all the bravado and swagger that accompanies many a star athlete these days, Chris humbly and honestly chronicled the trials and triumphs he faces daily. Like the fans, some of whom sent him death threats after the Alabama game; possibly the same who’ll send him congratulations this week. Fair weather fans. And the recruitment process that encourages you to take advantage of a system built on pride and ego. It’s a constant struggle to remain who you are, true to yourself, rather than live up to the hype others build for you. Not to mention actually finding time for your relationship with God, what with the practices and the studying and everything else that goes along with busy college life.
Chris realized early on that he was going to have to determine whether the faith he had was his faith or his parents’ when he woke up one Sunday morning in Athens and realized “I don’t have to go to church today. There’s no one here to make me go.” Fortunately, he did go. And he sought out strong spiritual leadership on the team. Like Chris Burnette. Burnette has been a spiritual mentor for Conley. Perhaps when Burnette graduates, Chris Conley will step into that role.
Chris gracious stayed for pictures with friends and fans after the service. In all, it was a fascinating night with a very impressive young man. Whether he’s sprinting down the field, football tucked beneath his arm, or ministering to a roommate struggling to find his own faith, Chris is living out the scripture:
“Wherefore seeing also we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us…” Heb. 12:1
May all we who have received the “ball” of salvation run with the grace and determination of young Mr. Conley.
Go Chris. Go Dogs.