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Four Years of Wheaton Football: Lessons and Relationships for a Lifetime

Posted by Jansen Van Grinsven on Mar 16, 2017 9:17:46 AM


“Personal glory is a bad motivator. Revenge is a bad motivator. But playing for a cause is the greatest motivator in the world.” — Coach Mike Swider, Head Football Coach

My four years playing football at Wheaton have been filled with joy and pain, but through the Christ-centered focus of the program – and the men in the program – I am able to see the constant blessing it has been to me. With only one catch for nine yards my sophomore year as the peak of my career statistically speaking, my time at Wheaton hasn’t been what I had initially envisioned.

Before coming to Wheaton, I anticipated being a starting kicker/punter for the Thunder. But after greater focus was placed on my role as receiver during my first years at Wheaton, I started to transition from punting/kicking into the role of being a receiver. I took on this task and began to enjoy the position. The reason I say I enjoyed it traced back to high school, when we had a predominately run-style offense which meant we rarely threw the ball. As the years went on, I continued to work on this position. Fast-forward to this past year. I felt like I had played well during spring ball which set me up for the opportunity to compete for playing time in the fall. Coming back for summer camp, I was in the best shape of my life. And after what I thought to have been a decent camp, I hoped that all the time, energy and effort invested into this program would finally pay off with the ability to get on the field on Saturdays as a senior. But as it turned out, it wasn’t. I wasn’t as good as the other guys competing for my position. I’m not going to lie, it stung. Had I wasted four years’ worth of lonely hours in summer lifting weights in the gym, all the sprints run under the sun on abandoned fields? All the Saturday mornings at the end of winter running routes? Did it now all amount to nothing?

Through my years as a part of this program, I have learned the importance of not finding my identity in anything other than Christ. When I initially was looking at Wheaton for college, the aspect that stood out to me was how Coach Swider spoke of how the program cared more about the spiritual formation of the players than winning, even though they cared a great deal about winning.

Now having completed four years in this program, I can undoubtedly affirm the truth in that statement. Wearing the Wheaton football jersey is something I am honored to do, but it doesn’t define me. At my core, I am defined as a child of God, worthy to call the creator of the universe my Father. Don’t misunderstand me, I am far from being finished and continue to struggle daily finding my identity in Christ, but the encouragement and challenges from the people who surround me here on this team and school have been profound in developing  my faith — and for this I am grateful.

Despite not getting playing time on the field, Wheaton football gave me so much more. The stats will fade away, but I know the relationships with my teammates will remain. I saw these relationships grow in a  variety of ways. They grew  in weekly small group meetings throughout the year during which we discussed what is happening in our lives. They happened during weekly chapels throughout the season where we worshipped with each other and listened to experiences of seniors in the program instead of practicing for a game the following day. They grew during spring break mission trips when we labored together and encouraged past football alumni from around the world. These and many other experiences have been where I draw some of my fondest memories of being on this team.

A familiar adage says “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” Because of the friendships I’ve made through football, my future is bright. This is not because I won’t have to deal with adversity or hardship, but because I know that I will have the support and encouragement from these friends whenever I am struggling in the years to come.

Through Wheaton football, I have learned what it is like to be surrounded by a band of brothers motivated by a cause: a cause bigger than personal glory and larger than any feelings of revenge. A cause that is blind to individual stats and instead cares about what we can do together. A cause that would wake me up in the middle of summer to complete a workout at the same time as my  teammates across America. A cause that challenges me to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. A cause that demands devotion to Christ.

The cause of Wheaton football does not end for me as I graduate this year. It is a way of life that has been ingrained in me and players who have gone before me through this program. I have seen and will continue to emulate what it is like to strive towards a life of having a cause.

Reprinted with permission.

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Topics: Athletics