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College football’s next wave of would-be stars

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Mitch Hyatt #75 of Clemson during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, January 11, 2016 (Credit: Cal Sport Media via AP Images/John Green)

Wednesday will mark the first day that college football’s next wave of would-be stars can sign their letters of intent and commit to playing at one of the hundreds of programs around the nation. It’s a big day for many high school seniors and one they have been working towards for the last several years. College programs have begun recruiting kids earlier and earlier, with many of the best getting offers from schools when they are still high school sophomores.

And while I’m sure all of us would have been prepared for that level of national attention as fifteen-year-olds, many of these students aren’t. The pressure to commit from coaches, fans, friends, and even family can be overwhelming at times, and it doesn’t stop until they put their names on the financial aid agreements of their future universities. As a result, a kid is not technically committed to a school until National Signing Day arrives. So while they may have given a verbal agreement to attend a particular university, other coaches will often continue pressuring and pursuing them.

That constant pressure is a big reason why de-commitments are becoming an increasingly problematic yet normative part of the entire process. And even if the prospective athlete should decide that the choice he made as a fifteen-year-old was wrong, many are hesitant to change their minds because of the backlash that often follows. Jilted fans that take personal offense to the personal choice of someone they’ve never met frequently attack these high-schoolers on social media with a level of venom and scorn that would never be seen in a face-to-face setting.

As a result, while the recruiting process can be fun to watch from the outside, for the student-athletes National Signing Day often comes as more of a relief than a source of real joy and excitement. It represents the chance to finally get back to focusing on the game they love and the opportunity to continue pursuing that love at the next level.

Life is just more fun when you can remain focused on the things that bring you joy. For the Christian, Scripture is clear that our focus needs to remain on the one in whose presence is the fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). That doesn’t mean that keeping that focus will always be easy though.

One of the stories in the Gospels most relevant to our day-to-day lives is Matthew 14:22–33. In this passage, the disciples have left Jesus alone on a mountain to pray and have set off across the Sea of Galilee without him. When they had nearly made it to the other side, they got caught in one of the violent storms that so often took place on that small body of water. Matthew tells us that, in the midst of that storm, Jesus came walking out to them on the water.

As soon as they recognized that it was Jesus, Peter asked to go out to him and joined Christ as one of the only two people to ever actually walk on water. It was a pretty amazing moment made possible by the fact that, in addition to the whole Jesus-is-God-and-let-him-do-it thing, he was so focused on getting to his Lord that he didn’t give a second thought to the crashing waves, violent winds, and eleven other disciples that he left in the boat. As long as his focus remained on Christ, he was good.

The important thing for us to note though is that the storm didn’t go away when he got out of the boat. The danger was just as real, if not more so, than it had been before Jesus showed up. The only difference was that when his attention was on Christ, all that other stuff began to seem less frightening. He knew joy and peace so long as the Lord remained his primary focus.

The same is true for us today. Jesus was quite clear that this life will not be without its moments of trouble (John 16:33). However, we can have peace in the midst of that trouble when our focus remains on God.

It’s been said that “Sometimes the Lord calms the storm. Sometimes he lets the storm rage and calms his child.” In either case, if your focus remains on Christ then you can know his peace and joy no matter what is going on around you. Where is your focus today?