Seattle Seahawks’ tight end Luke Willson, at right and in action above, will be receiving Assumption University’s Christian Culture Gold Medal later this year. Photos courtesy Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks’ Willson guided by God’s will

By 
  • January 17, 2021

Resilience and acceptance defined Seattle Seahawks’ tight end Luke Willson’s 2020 NFL campaign.

It was an up-and-down season for the veteran. Limited playing time led to the native of LaSalle, Ont., being released from his second stint with Seattle on Nov. 3 and later being waived by the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 19.

Ultimately, the 31-year-old’s season narrative enjoyed a late upswing as he was signed to the Seahawks’ practice squad on Dec. 30 before ascending again to the club’s active roster leading into the playoffs. Seattle’s season ended Jan. 9 in a 30-20 wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Let’s put ourselves in the cleats of the 2013 Super Bowl champion during this season of adversity. Most would have been wracked with anxious uncertainty for the future.

But nervousness does not appear to be a part of the towering 6-foot-5 athlete’s constitution. The devout Roman Catholic said he calmly surrenders to God’s plan for him.

“The bottom line is — as much as I would like to believe it — I don’t know what’s best for me,” said Willson with a chuckle. “I have the faith that whether good or bad, certain things will happen, either great or miserable, that will lead me down a path for the next day, week or year.”

Assumption University is honouring Willson’s discipleship to Jesus Christ with its Christian Culture Gold Medal for 2020. The Catholic university affiliated with the University of Windsor in southwestern Ontario will confer the medal at a ceremony on a date to be determined in the spring.

Dr. John Cappucci, the university’s principal and vice-chancellor, said Willson was picked amongst a shortlist of three candidates by the institution’s board of governors several weeks ago. An initial meeting was held in September to narrow the pool down to three finalists. Cappucci then penned and provided biographies of each contender to each board member before a final vote.

Willson’s public commitment to his faith helped him stand out in the end.

“I think what resonated with us was Luke’s public devotion to his Catholic faith,” wrote Cappucci in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “Luke does not conceal his faith, but rather openly expresses it. Luke is known to pray in the end zone before each game. These prayers are ones that he learned as a young boy growing up at St. Paul’s Church in LaSalle.”

There is indeed a ritual of four prayers lifted up to God before each game and at halftime by Willson in the end zone. He prays The Lord’s Prayer, a Hail Mary, the Guardian Angel Prayer and the All Things Bright and Beautiful Anglican hymn he learned in Kindergarten.

Willson uttered some of these prayers when he was young growing up in a Catholic household led by his father Mike and mother Wilma, who is of Italian-Catholic background. Older twin brothers Eric and Greg, and younger sister Rachel round out the Willson clan.   

Willson also has St. Sebastien, the third-century martyr killed during the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s purge of Christians, on his mind during every gridiron showdown.

“I’ve always found the story of him extremely fascinating as he was tied to a tree and shot with arrows, and he survived when he was left for dead. After he was healed he continued to go out and preach what he believed in,” he said.

“Obviously sports are not life and death, but there are a lot of lessons from St. Sebastien in that you are going to have numerous failures or arrows that puncture your body if you will, and you just need to have that faith to keep going to preach what you believe.”

In addition to a zeal for God, Cappucci said Willson’s intellectual curiosity towards the theology, philosophy and the history of the Church is striking. 

“I was impressed that Luke knew about Pope John Paul I. Luke noted that the September Pope comes from his grandfather’s region in northern Italy. As someone who studies the modern popes, I was surprised to hear this pope mentioned given his short reign of 33 days.” 

A Grade 11 world religion class taught by his uncle Robert Biasutto sparked Willson’s desire to do a deep dive into the different religions.

“I knew of other faiths but not in detail so the class was phenomenal,” said Willson. “I am a big believer in religious freedom so it was fascinating to learn the details and beliefs of each faith. In my early 20s I had the curiosity to explore different roads and that strengthened my resolve in Catholicism in a lot of ways.”

Willson also enriched his connection to God by completing a philosophy major at Rice University in Houston, from where he graduated in 2012. He explored metaphysics and enjoyed the great philosophical works of St. Augustine and Plato. Plato’s The Sophist drew him into committing to philosophical studies and John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice was an interesting “bloodbath of arguments,” said Willson.

The Christian Culture Gold Medal ceremony will be highlighted by  a speech from Willson. It will centre on how faith guided his life’s direction, including his ascendance in football when it first appeared like a baseball career was in the cards given his playing experience with the Canadian national junior program and a contract he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011.

While he is perhaps a grizzled veteran in the context of the game, Willson is still only 31 years old. Conferring the award to him is a signal to millennials and Generation Z brethren that being a young, practising Catholic is fulfilling. Willson urges the youth growing up with social media that while these platforms are enjoyable, “they are a façade” and joy comes from “internal factors rather than external factors.”

Once again, Willson is poised to trust the Lord to guide his next steps as he waits for a 2021 NFL campaign to begin this summer. The opportunity to exemplify the faith through service is also on his mind. In fact, he says there “are so many ideas buzzing around” in his head about how he hopes to serve the Lord that it was hard to narrow down to one or two ideas what he has in the works.

He’ll let God speak His will to him again. After all, it has worked out very well so far.

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