(Photo courtesy of the University of Iowa)

Two days after we started preparing for the season opener last year, my quarterbacks coach called me into his office to let me know that I would be the starter. I called my dad right away, because he's probably been the biggest influence on my football career.

 

Before our first game, as we made our way from the locker room to the tunnel, I remember being pretty nervous. I just thought about all the work we had put in from January (right after my freshman season had ended) to this point, and now this was where all the practice throws and workout sessions would be put to the test. I was also thinking about the game plan, because the opposing quarterback was Wyoming's Josh Allen, a top 10 pick in the NFL draft.

 

The only team we had played against for the last nine months was ourselves, so people didn't know what to expect from our team. They also didn't know what to expect from me, because this was my first start and I didn't complete a pass the entire first quarter. But our defense picked me up when I initially struggled, and after I found my rhythm we walked away with a 24-3 win.  

 

It was really the next game when people began to take notice of me and our team. We were playing our rival Iowa State, and I can honestly say it was one of the craziest games I have been a part of. We led 21-10 in the third quarter, only to give up three straight touchdowns and find ourselves down 31-21 with less than seven minutes to play.

 

That's when your faith can be put to the test.

 

Before I say the Lord's Prayer with my teammates, I get dressed in my helmet and shoulder pads and just sit in my locker and say the prayer individually. Near the end of the prayer it says “lead us not into temptation” and as athlete, one of those temptations is to doubt yourself.

 

This week was different, however. My teammates had put their confidence in me, and I returned the favor by throwing a touchdown pass to Ihmir Smith-Marsette to put us within 31-28. Then, on the very next play, my teammate Parker Hesse came up with an interception to set the stage for a miracle finish.

 
 

(Photo courtesy of the University of Iowa)

We managed tied the game on a field goal, but this is where things really got crazy. Iowa State came right back and scored a touchdown to go back up 38-31, and although we punted on our next possession, our defense came through by forcing a three-and-out of their own. That gave us one last chance, but there was only one problem: we were down by a touchdown and had 2:54 to travel 89 yards just to tie the game.

 

It seemed like a difficult spot, but I love those opportunities, because it shows our team's character. A lot of us wear wristbands showing that we play for Jesus, and situations like that final drive give me a chance to glorify Him.

 

By the time we had driven to midfield, we had chewed up all but 1:09 left of the clock. Time was not on our side, but that's when I found my teammate Akrum Wadley. He was running a little cross route and after I threw him the ball he took care of the rest, breaking tackles and sprinting all the way for the game-tying touchdown. Then in overtime, after Iowa State could only manage a field goal, we knew a touchdown would win us the game.

 

We drove down to the ISU 5-yard line, where I found Ihmir once again. He wasn't wide open, but he was just open enough to come down with the game-winning catch. We had just come back to stun the Cyclones and win 44-41 in overtime.

 

Had my road not included the twists in turns earlier in my life, I don't know if I would have had the resiliency to help lead our team back in that game. But you need to enjoy those moments while they last, because within a few weeks God was preparing another gigantic turn in the road for me.

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Thomas Hager