(Photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletic Department)

If it weren't for my parents, I don't know where I would be today. They are the reason I have the talent to play football at South Carolina, but they are also the reason I am so strong in my faith.

Church and football have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Every Sunday we were there, but we were also there for Wednesday nights, vacation Bible school, all of it. My mom even worked at the nursery during church, so it's just been a great experience for me to be in that atmosphere from an early age. Some people think church isn't for them, but it's just about finding a church that fits you, and being around like minded people.

The lessons didn't end at church, however. My mom and dad made sure we lived a Christian life during the rest of the week too, which was a good thing when you grow up in a football-crazed household with two competitive older brothers.

My oldest brother Chas was the first one to get his shot at playing football, and he was 42-3 as a starting quarterback underneath my dad as they won two state championships together. Shuler was the next one to get his shot, and he was just as good. He was the two-time state player of the year, and as a senior he threw for 5,032 yards and 71 touchdowns.

That competitive nature could have definitely turned into jealousy or resentment, and growing up we've made the occasional comment we wished we could take back, but my parents nipped that real quick. We're not going to live like that, they would tell us. We're not going to have that in our house. The Bible teaches us not to be jealous of our neighbor, and I think it applies to my brothers as well.

By the time I got my chance to play, everyone in the family was happy to see me succeed. In fact, my brothers are two of my biggest fans in the world. Chas, who went on to throw for 24 touchdowns at Rutgers, is now an assistant coach on our strength and conditioning staff. Shuler is now at Murray State, and has thrown twice as many touchdowns (12) as interceptions (6) in his career. Those stats don't matter in the grand scheme of things, but what does matter is that we support each other.

Shuler actually logs into my app to watch our practices, so even though Chas and my dad's jobs are to help me out, Shuler does it out of the kindness of his heart. Of course, as the older brother he also likes to nit pick a play or two that I make, but it's all in good fun.

Now I have to be the one to set the example, because I've also got a younger brother and sister. In college you're faced with so many temptations, and so many things can go bad for you if you get involved with it, that being grounded in your faith is key.

Someone asked me if my family moving to Columbia at the same time has helped me stay on the right path, and the honest answer is that it shouldn't. Your ability to make good decisions shouldn't be based on whether or not your parents can be close by, or whether they can see what you do. I want to make the choices I make because I think it’s the right thing to do and I have siblings that look up to me.

One of the things I've realized over the last two years is that I have way more kids than just my siblings who look up to me. Kids all across the Palmetto State are watching what I do, which is why I'm so glad that God gave me this platform.

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Thomas Hager