(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

People ask me all the time how I've done it. 10 years, 160 straight starts. It's a rare achievement in any sport, especially in a physical one like football. I've had injuries, competition for playing time, and I've had to change teams twice. And yet, every Sunday, for the last decade, there I was when the first defensive snap was going off.

So people want to know: how did you do it?

The answer is simple. I didn't. God made it all possible. God is the reason for everything good that has happened in my career. I try to never take credit for any of my accomplishments, because I know God can take it away just as easily as he gave it to me.

I also remember what football was like before all this success was given to me.

It may seem like a long time ago, but I remember the last college tour I ever took. After meeting with Grand Valley State coach Chuck Martin, I didn't need to take another tour. I was a 17-year-old who was hungry to continue his football career, and Chuck was a football coach with an incredible energy.

I'm big into feeling vibes from people, and Chuck had an energy and confidence that was impossible to ignore. When he spoke, I was locked in to every word he was saying. I don't even think I blinked that entire conversation. But he convinced me to attend GVSU, and by the time I finished my college career we had won two national championships together.

Maybe it wasn't on the hard court at Michigan State, but I accomplished the same thing as my heroes did when I was growing up. I had made my city proud by winning a national title. Sometimes we don't see it at the time, but the best gifts in life are actually on the path we never wanted to take. Had I attended a D1 school, who knows if I would have won anything?


I was fortunate enough to get drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, and that's when my relationship with Jesus really took off. I began viewing my spiritual journey as a competition, and channeling my competitive nature to try and conquer all my weaknesses. Facing temptations in life is like defending a deep route. If you try to take the bait of temptation, or try to jump the route in football, it's going to burn you badly.

The thing is, God is loving and forgiving, and no matter how many times you take the bait and fall, He's still there anytime you want to turn back toward Him. I can tell you that I've strayed off course a few times in my life, but Jesus never closed his door on me. In 2011, my fourth year in the league, I made a real effort to become closer to Him than I ever had before. My effort to resist temptations was draining on me, and I realized that the closer you are to having Jesus at the center of your life, the less draining those battles start to become.

That was also the best season of my career. I recorded four interceptions and broke up 15 passes that year, and I started to realize that when you have everything going right off the field, you start to play better on the field too. I'm glad I figured that out, because I was about to play under the brightest lights of any NFL team: the Dallas Cowboys.

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Thomas Hager