If you were to check out my Twitter page, the first tweet you would see is of Matthew 22:39, which says to love others as you love God.

I've tried to live that out anyway I can, and sports has given me this amazing opportunity to show that to others. After that start against Tennessee, our team decided we would have weekly talks with each other. It didn't have to be about a problem or about football, but just if somebody wanted to know me or another teammate better.

Then going into spring ball of 2017, our quarterback group began saying a prayer before a scrimmage or game. I would take the first game, and then my backup Michael Scarnecchia will take the second, and so on. Our thought was you shouldn't ever play on a field that you've haven't prayed on.

It also showed that we are all equals. I might be the only one on the field that day, or the only one getting all the attention, but in the eyes of God we are all worthy to lead that prayer together. The fact is, football is going to end one day, and it's really about the faith and relationships you've built with others that are going to last over time.


(Photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletic department)

Last year I was fortunate enough to extend my Christian beliefs not just to my teammates, but my opponent as well.

As athletes we like to compete against each other and we like to win, but I don't think you ever necessarily want to hate them. As soon as the game ends, all that competitiveness dies down. We might play at different schools or live in different states, but we go through the same struggles. We're all just a bunch of young adults trying to figure out life like everybody else.

You start to recognize similarities between yourself and other players, and never was that more apparent for me than last year's game against Tennessee. By this point I was a sophomore, and I remember we were leading 15-9 in the final seconds when the Volunteers drove to our 2-yard line. They threw three incomplete passes, including one as time expired, as we rushed on the field to celebrate with the defense.

My first thoughts were to join my teammates, and then I saw Jarrett Guarantano sitting on the field in disbelief. I stopped and walked toward him to help him up and encourage him. That was just a guy who was hurting and so I emphasized to him that he's going to have a great career at Tennessee and one game doesn't define who he is or what his season is going to be.

That moment was caught on camera, and at the end of the season the SEC gave me their Sportsmanship Award. I'm not big into personal accolades, but it showed me that being a good Christian example is being seen by others.

I can also say that I'm not perfect. I've made mistakes in my life, and there's things I wish I could take back. I'm also not perfect on the field either. I struggled in some games last year, and it was only because of my teammates that we even had a chance in those games. Thankfully, they came through just when I needed them.

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Thomas Hager