Apr 28, 2009

Ed Gomes Ministers to Flames Football

by Mitchell Malcheff

For most football fans, about the only similarity that faith shares with football is the obvious…Sunday. For Liberty University football chaplain Ed Gomes, though, the parallels go far deeper.

Gomes’ involvement in athletics started on a different kind of competitive field; one made out of hardwood that stretches 94 feet from endline to endline. He was pretty good too, good enough to earn a full basketball scholarship to Liberty, then Lynchburg Baptist College. There was no Big South back when Gomes started his college career in 1974 as a point guard. For that matter, there was no Vines Center. They played their games at Jefferson Forest High School against colleges like Shepherd, Winchester and Hampden-Sydney.

Traces of Gomes’ athleticism are still evident. The big hands of a basketball player and a trim waistline stand in sharp juxtaposition to a graying moustache and bald head. Though he never played football, his years on the court have given him a unique way to relate to athletes of a different kind.

“My whole life has been involved with basketball, and some folks will say, what in the world are you doing involved with football?” Gomes said. “The principles of winning or losing are basically the same … instead of a basketball court, you’ve got a football field. I enjoy relating principles that relate to athletics to life.”

Though he may not understand the intricacies of a Cover Two defense or the West Coast offense, Gomes certainly sounds like a coach as he discusses what his role as chaplain is. His voice picks up in both intensity and volume when he opens up on his favorite subject; what he terms whole person development. This is Gomes’ real work within the team, coaxing them to prepare a game plan not just for the field, but for life.

“I may ask what kind of game plan does Coach Gillespie [the team’s strength coach] have for you in the weight room or what kind of game plan [do] your professors have for you in the class room, and I’ll use that as a springboard to ask what kind of game plan do you have in your spiritual life? What kind of game plan do you have in your social life?” Gomes said. “We open up against West Virginia and I don’t think they’re worried about how many Bible verses we’re reading or how much time we’re spending in prayer, but again I use football … to talk about what’s going on in [their] spiritual life.”

That game against the Mountaineers that Gomes references is another sign of the turnaround that has taken place since Coach Danny Rocco arrived in 2006, the same year that Gomes became chaplain. A near miss against Wake Forest in 2007 and a 10-2 record in 2008 have many wondering just how high this team can climb. Knocking off the Mountaineers in Morgantown would be an apt sign that maybe the summit is within reach.

A willingness to take on the big boys of college football isn’t the only indicator of the beginnings of a healthy program. Running back Rashad Jennings, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound bulldozer who rushed for 1,500 yards on the way to picking up Big South Offensive Player of the Year honors, was taken in the seventh round in Saturday’s NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jennings will join former teammate Vince Redd in the NFL, a linebacker who signed with the New England Patriots after going undrafted in 2008. Though the talent of Jennings and Redd is evident, Gomes believes that the team’s emphasis on character played a larger role in their success than many realize.

“When the scouts come, they ask the coaches, what about his character? … We talk to our guys about real life … and if they don’t develop good patterns then they’re not going to go to the next level because there is such an emphasis on character [in the NFL].

Though character may not show up on the stat sheet, the Flames have seen evidence of its importance and have gone so far as to present the Luke 2:52 award at the end of each year to a player who displays the whole person development that Gomes and the rest of the coaching staff stress. And though Gomes may not play a part in diagramming X’s and O’s on the field, he will be there every step of the way as Rocco and the Flames continue to build on their early success and work toward their ultimate goal, which according to Gomes is a lofty one.

“The dream is alive … why not win a I-AA national championship, why not win a division one championship … why not Liberty?”


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