Luke Willson took the wisdom of Proverbs 3 and trusted in Jesus to overcome obstacles on the path to the pros. Photo courtesy Seattle Seahawks

NFL veteran touts New Testament

  • April 14, 2021

Like most young boys envisaging a sports career, Luke Willson fantasized about lifting the championship trophy or making the dramatic clutch play. The down moments of the elite athlete rollercoaster were not included in those daydreams.

“I did not know the amount of failures I would have to endure or how bleak things could possibly be as I pursued my dream,” said the veteran tight end and Super Bowl champion with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. “Even the odds — I’m not sure how this stat is calculated — states a high school senior has a nine in 10,000 chance of being drafted to the NFL.”

Daily prayer and the wisdom of Matthew 17:20 provided Willson with armour against statistical improbabilities and other obstacles from surmounting him. The verse, which concludes a chronicle of Jesus healing a demon-possessed boy, reads: “And Jesus said unto them, ‘Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.’ ”

The 31-year-old Willson — the product of a devout Italian Catholic household in Lasalle, Ont. — is this year’s recipient of Assumption University’s Christian Culture Award Gold Medal. COVID-19 restrictions made an in-person awards ceremony out of the question, so he received the honour and delivered his acceptance speech at an online-streamed event April 6.

Willson is the youngest recipient of this award distributed annually since 1941 by the Windsor, Ont., university and joins a long and wide-ranging list of accomplished people who have been honoured, including actor Martin Sheen, politicians like former prime ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, and Catholic luminaries like Dorothy Day, Marshall McLuhan, Malcolm Muggeridge and last year’s winner, ethicist Moira McQueen.

Dr. John Cappucci, the principal and vice chancellor of Assumption University, hosted the online event. Cappucci introduced Willson to the audience by hailing the veteran athlete for his “outstanding athletic successes,” “standing as an inspirational role model for Christian youth and for constantly and publicly exemplifying Christian ideals in his professional and family life.”

After eight seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Seahawks, Willson is currently an unrestricted free agent.

Willson’s keynote address was titled “Faith on the Field.” The philosophy graduate from Rice University in Houston, Texas, perhaps subverted the expectations of the audience who may have tuned in to hear how devotion to God led to him attaining one professional sports triumph after another.

Willson felt the more fertile speaking topics were exploring how his faith helped him overcome moments of failure and hardship, and tracing back to one of his frozen moments of time as a seven-year-old. He was riding in the passenger seat of his “nonno’s” — Italian for grandfather — Ford Aerostar when he made a solemn vow to become a professional athlete.

“My athletic journey began there. I truly believe that my guardian angel and God heard the seven-year-old version of me, and in the next 24 years they have guided me, protected me and challenged me.”

Willson navigated different sports in his youth, and had much success in his early years. But it was not without struggle. He detailed how he tackled adversity as his aspiration for hockey to be his ticket to professional sports was derailed with failure after failure in Junior B training camps. He was also adept at baseball and had a stint with the Canadian Junior National team in 2008 and earned a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011.

Quoting the wisdom of Proverbs 3 to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” it was revealed that Willson’s sporting story would be carved on the gridiron rather than a sheet of ice or a baseball diamond.

Willson urged young people to adopt a desire to surrender and to view life events through a mindful perspective.

He wrapped up his lecture with by urging everyone to embrace “the Word of God to experience joy” rather than the pleasures of the world that do not come from God the Father.

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