Nov 17, 2009

Flames transform gridiron into Bible study

by Jordan LoSasso and Peter Sawyer

With Christian rapper Lecrae playing over the speakers, the players enter the team room. Seats form a circle around the room. They are greeted at the door by a few of their teammates. These football players are not here to study more film or game plan for the upcoming game, but to engage in their own player-led Bible study called Gridiron.

For Liberty, the gridiron is not only a means in which to play football, but for football players to
grow towards Christ.

As football practice ends at Williams Stadium the players leave the locker room carrying pizza from Dominos and Gatorade. Many leave the Football Operation Center to go work on school assignments and some head home to rest. However, the remaining players head upstairs for Bible study.

Inside the team room this group takes time off from the field and the weight room to focus on Christ. They open with a video illustrating the armor of God and prayer. An intense discussion about putting on the armor of God and “making war” with sin is this evening’s focus. The large group breaks up into small groups for prayer.

“We had a need for something player-led, where guys could just come and be encouraged, grow in their relationship with Christ, but a lot of times as guys we tend to not talk about deep things,” Chris Rocco said. “It’s an avenue to be able to talk about things that really matter. It allows you to be able to see that other guys deal with the exact same issues that you deal with it, and it acts as accountability.”

Gridiron meets every Monday night at 9 p.m. after practice with between 30 and 50 players attending each session. The group meets for the purpose of
fellowship and accountability.

“We’re brothers that come together to grow in Christ and to sharpen each other as men of integrity in Christ,” sophomore wide receiver Zach Duke said.

Gridiron was not started by coaches, but by players, just a couple of weeks into the season. The foundation for the group started much earlier with a vision from senior safety Rocco.

“We had a need for something player-led, where guys could just come and be encouraged, grow in their relationship with Christ,” said Rocco, “God just placed it on my heart over the summer, and I knew that it was something we had to do.”

Rocco went to the team chaplain, Ed Gomes, with this idea. He then began asking guys on the team if they were interested in being leaders for Christ. Duke, who had been involved in a very similar ministry at his prior school also called Gridiron, accepted the invitation and became an instrumental part of the Bible study, according to Rocco.

Gridiron is open to all the players on the team but is led by a small group of devoted players. Among those players are Rocco, Duke, Tommy Beecher, Bryant Lewellyn, Ben Shipps, Matt Bevins, Brent Vinson and Brandon Robinson. This group comes together at Duke’s house on Sunday nights to
prepare for Monday.

“Our desire is for God to take control of what we’re doing,” Rocco said.

This is a time of preparation but it is mainly a time of prayer and fellowship for the leadership.

“On Sunday nights what we do is we’ll come together, we’ll pray. Before we even start planning the night we’ll just get in the Word together,” Duke said. “We’ll just really dig into God because we can’t pour into other people if we don’t get poured into first ourselves.”

They game plan the next evening, which will include icebreakers, discussion questions, and an activity. They always plan to end the Gridiron meeting in small groups.

“We just kind of bounce ideas off of each other. We usually make a unanimous decision as to what needs to be talked about the next night,” Beecher said.

Beecher transferred to Liberty with one year of eligibility left to play football and is taking classes at the seminary. He had been involved in a Bible study at South Carolina and has the same goal as the other leaders of Gridiron, which he says is “to strengthen my teammate’s walk with Christ.”

“If we did have an end goal it would be pretty much the Great Commission, we’re trying to make disciples on this football team,” Duke said.

This is a goal that these leaders take very seriously.

“I think that is a process that will never be completely met but I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Rocco said.

The team has taken strides in this direction. More important to them than the increased numbers of attendees are the eternal results.

“A couple weeks ago we saw two guys get saved and one guy rededicate his life and that makes it all worth it,” Beecher said. “Those three things are better than any touchdown pass you could have, and they mean much more.”

As the football season is nearing completion with the team fighting for another Big South Championship and a Football Championship Series playoff berth, the team continues to change, even if it is just one player at a time.

“The team has changed because if one individual changes then the team changes. There’s been three guys that accepted Christ here and several of which have taken huge strides to actually live towards God. Not only is it a change for the team but a change for eternity,” Duke said.

Contact Peter Sawyer at

Contact Jordan LoSasso at

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