In the winter of 2016, I was faced with the biggest decision of my life up to that point. It was my senior year in high school, approaching National Signing Day, and I was getting ready to determine where to spend the next four years of my life. I had made my verbal commitment to Iowa two years earlier, as a sophomore, but now at the 11th hour people weren't sure what I would do.

 

When I had first committed to Iowa, I was the first member of my class to do so. I had to put my trust in UI coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff to surround me with other good recruits who would eventually become my teammates. But Iowa was the first one to believe in me, so I believed in them.

 

And yet, now that the time was approaching to actually sign the Letter of Intent, people thought I might turn my turn my back on Iowa and head to Wisconsin. I grew up in Menominee, and now that the Badgers had signed Paul Chryst as their new coach, people thought it might be enough to dissuade me from Iowa City.

 

I wasn't raised like that.

 

My parents taught me that your word means a lot, and I think that goes back into the scripture. If I tell somebody I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability. I also remember saying a lot of prayers and asking God if this was the right decision. He ultimately led me to stick with Iowa, and after everything that has happened since, I'm so glad I listened to God's advice.

 

It's been an amazing journey, but the same person who signed on that dotted line two years ago is not the same person I am today. My faith has evolved tremendously since then, and even though I've tried to keep my roots, I've grown quite a bit on the road of my faith.

 

I've always grown up thinking that my relationship with God is like a road, full of ups, downs, twists, and turns, but if you just stay on the road, you'll get to where you need to go. That first big turn in the road for me came during my junior year in high school, when I missed almost half of the season with a broken hand.

 

I had committed to Iowa by that point, but the injury was difficult because I had grown up around the Menominee High School program for much of my life. My dad was a football coach, and even before I could play I was the team manager, so I had been looking forward to playing for my dad for years. Now that the opportunity had finally arrived, I was going to miss five or six games with this injury.

 

It's amazing, though, how God's plan often comes full circle in the end. One of my dad's former players – who suffered a pretty serious injury years before – was now in a position to understand what I was going through and help me out.

 

At another point on my spiritual road, I didn't face a turn on the path as much as a fork. A year after recovering from the injury, my grandmother passed away pretty suddenly. She was my mother's mom, and she tried to attend as many of my football growing up as she could. She was incredibly supportive of my football career, but her death didn't just affect me. It affected the entire family.

 

I think there's two kinds of reactions people can have to death: you can think why did this happen, why did this happen to me, or you can always look at like this person had a great life and did everything they could to love others and serve the Lord.

 

That was the epitome of my grandma.

 

Her death also brought on an outpouring of support from coaches, and it really showed me who cared about me as a person, beyond what I can do as a football player. Some of those people were on the Iowa coaching staff, and over the last two years my relationship with them has grown closer. I'm glad we're so close, because the last season has brought on some exhilarating highs and a few soul-searching lows.

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Thomas Hager