Sometimes it's hard to express just how lucky of a person I am.

I'm one of the lucky high school athletes who earned a college scholarship, and one of the small fraction of those players who made it all way to the NFL, but even that doesn't do it justice. I'm now entering my eighth year in the NFL, and I have yet to miss a game. There's only a handful of players in the NFL right now who can say that, and I'm one of them.

I've never been involved in a NFL game that didn't see at least one person get injured. On every single play of every single game, there's a chance that it could be the last play I ever see. You never think you're going to get injured when that ball is snapped, but when we strap on that helmet, we accept the chance it could happen.

And yet, through 7 years, 114 regular season and postseason games, and thousands of plays, God kept me healthy. As an outside linebacker I'm involved in both the run and pass game, so there's a chance on every single play that I could be the one making the tackle. But here I am, getting ready for my eighth year in the NFL. Honestly, it's crazy for me to think about it sometimes - of all the people God could have blessed with this good fortune, He chose me.

It begs the question - why me? Or beyond that, what am I going to do about it?

I grew up in a household where my faith was a central part of my childhood, and Sunday mass at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Muncie, Indiana only reinforced that. The prayer of St. Francis said "For it is in giving that we receive" and I have been blessed with the opportunity to live that out.

 
 

(Photo courtesy of Washington Redskins)

I started Kerrigan's Korner early in my career, which is aimed at helping kids in the D.C. area who are sick or have special needs. When God gave me these football abilities, I think He wanted me to use them for a good purpose, and that thought has compelled me to visit these kids.

I don't try to push my religion when I go visit the hospital, or really anywhere for that matter, but I try and use my platform by just being myself. St. Francis had another quote attributed to him, which was "preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words," so I just try to be a real good person and hope others can see God's love in how I treat them.

Expressing my faith is a challenging thing for me, and something I've worked to improve upon over the years, because I've always viewed it as a personal thing. I never wanted to make someone uncomfortable, but at the same time my faith is very important to me, and if I express it the right way, I can do a lot of good.

I can't help but smile when I'm hanging out with the kids, but that might come as a total shock to them. After all, I'm the same guy out there chasing after quarterbacks and trying to hit them as hard as I can. But believe it or not, I try to carry my Christian faith out there even when I'm on the field. Football is an emotional game, and I use my faith to make sure I carry myself with integrity out there. But the reason I act like that on the field is because of what I’m doing before the game starts.

Before I run out of that tunnel every game, in front of all the fans at FedEx Field, you can usually find me at my locker saying a prayer.

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(Title photo courtesy Washington Redskins)

Thomas Hager