At the end of the 2016 season, my head coach was fired and replaced again. Then in the spring of 2017, something happened to me and some of my teammates that was criminal. In order to protect my teammates, football coaches and SJSU, I have decided not to make public the details of what happened.

I told my parents what happened, but I knew that their support wasn't going to undo what happened. I felt reminded of the incidents on a daily basis which would play out in my head all over again.

I tried to hold it all in. At first I reported what happened, but because I didn’t want it to be a distraction for my team, I let it go. As it turned out, I was the one who was distracted. I had never struggled academically, and all of a sudden I found myself having difficulties keeping up. I was physically in the classroom, but my mind was somewhere completely different.

It got to the point that my parents were concerned for me. Not only did I feel horrible because of what I was going through, I felt even worse for the effect it was having on others. I felt like an anchor dragging down everyone's happiness, from my parents to my teammates, and I needed something to change. In the winter break of 2017, I felt that the only option was to leave SJSU, but God had other plans for me.

Then all that recruiting nonsense from high school started to play out all over again. Since I wanted to transfer right away, and it was too late to enroll in other colleges or universities, I would need football to help with this. I would garner interest from all these schools, only to be turned away from one school after another. The difference was that I wasn't running toward something, like a scholarship. I was trying to running away from something and nobody was opening the door for me.

The only doors that seemed to really be open were those at Saddleback Church. The counselors, David and Christina, talked and prayed with me without me uttering a word. When you have nowhere to turn, turning to God is a pretty good place to start. I learned that God had the strength I needed and He had a plan for me.

In Matthew 11: 28-30, Jesus sums up exactly what I was feeling.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest," He says. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus knew what I was going to endure before I was ever born, but He also gave me the heart to take all my burdens and place them on Him. And if Jesus loved me enough to die on the cross for my sins, I knew He loved me enough to change my life back around.

God gave me the strength to return back to SJSU in the spring of 2018, though I did not want to be there. God again proved His being with miracles like changing the circumstances at SJSU to allow me to be able to endure coming back.

But I wouldn't have to do it alone. One of my teammates, Bryson, had become a Christian earlier in the season and was totally devoted to it. So was another quarterback on the team, as well as my tight end, Josh Oliver. My teammate, Mike, also attended church with me, and as time went on I slowly began to put myself back together.

Then something beautiful happened...As I began to rebuild myself, I found the strength to bring others closer to God. In a time where everything seemed to be going wrong, Jesus was the only thing going right, and I wanted my other teammates to experience that. This might have been totally out of my comfort zone ten years ago, but now I had this passion to share the gift of God's love with others.

(Josh and I celebrating a touchdown together at Autzen Stadium)

With the help of my friends, we began to invite everybody else on the team to go to church. And sure enough, many accepted our invitations. Now for the first time in my life I was the one doing the recruiting, and it turns out that recruiting isn't actually that hard when hope, redemption, and salvation are waiting on the other side.

I saw teammates accept Christ for the first time in their lives, and I found myself being brought to tears. On multiple occasions. I have witnessed many changed lives.  

My family started to change as well, and everywhere I looked, people were opening their hearts to God's love.

It was incredible to see what transpired once our team became unified by something bigger than football. We stayed together during a rough stretch over the last two years, when we lost many games.

And when we finally broke a long losing streak against UNLV, that was one of the sweetest victories of my life. It didn't qualify us for a bowl game or win a conference title, but it showed what a football team can do when we stick together.

I knew things had come full circle when I ran into TJ. He had been supporting me the entire time, and with a big smile on his face he told me that I proved him wrong about going to junior college. Of course, I knew this wasn't an apology - it was a congratulations.

I've made it a point to become a vocal and emotional leader on this team. I admired the way Joshua became a leader for his people after Moses died, and I am trying to make my last year here count. I wrote a letter to each of my teammates telling them how I felt about them, and if that helps us win more games next season, then that's great. I am focusing on changing lives with God’s help and won’t stop until my entire team is saved.

But if they can see God's love in me, and what He can do in someone's life, then that’s even better.

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Thomas Hager3 Comments