Dave Dravecky: Healing and Grace

September 26, 2014


The struggle of recovery from a major injury is something that, thankfully, many people will never experience. The initial pain and trauma of the injury, the endurance of surgical repairs, and months of arduous rehab are stations on a path all of us would choose to avoid if we could.

Major-league All-Star Dave Dravecky has been down this path not once, but several times. And though his body bears the evidence of the frightening and hellish path he’s walked, something in his countenance makes an impression that’s exactly the opposite of what you might expect.

Dravecky was a farily unheralded left-hander out of Youngstown State University in Ohio when the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the 21st round of the 1978 MLB Amateur Draft. Like almost all pro baseball players, he spent the first few years of his career working his way up through the minor leagues. It was before Spring Training in 1981 that a curveball was thrown his way. “There’s two days left in Spring Training 1981 and the next thing you know I’m traded to the San Diego Padres,” Dravecky relates.

While this may have been disorienting for some young players, Dravecky took the trade in stride and came in contact with a fellow player that would change his life.

“What was really cool is that it was there that I met Byron Ballard. Byron became the guy in my life that challenged me to read the Bible. August 27, 1981, my wife and I were baptized by Roy Wheeler. It was, of all places, in Amarillo, Texas—the most beautiful place in the universe for Jan and I, and the most amazing experience of our life. It began a journey that has been a very interesting journey to say the least.”

It was less than a year after his baptism that he got to make his mark in the majors. Right out of the gate, Dravecky proved that he belonged among baseball’s finest players.

“Getting to the big leagues and now being a major-league ballplayer, and experiencing an All-Star game, experiencing a World Series and then getting traded from the San Diego Padres, which were a last-place team, to the first-place Giants. Going into postseason play against the Cardinals and pitching the two best games of my life . . . I thought, man, 1988 is going to be my year.”

Dravecky had a solid start to the 1988 season (2-2, 3.16 ERA*), but he began to notice an abnormality on his pitching arm. A lump had developed, eventually growing to the size of a golf ball. He couldn’t forestall it; he went to the doctor.

“We’re sitting there and the doctors are starting to examine the x-rays. All of a sudden we hear one of the guys say, ‘Man, this is a tumor,’ and my heart went into my throat.”

Dravecky underwent surgery to remove the cancerous tumor. With it, the surgeons had to take out half of his deltoid muscle.

After months of rehab and training, Dravecky was set to make his post-surgery debut on August 10, 1989. The crowd welcomed him back in a big way.

“I went to the bullpen and there was a standing ovation. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, man, I’m just Dave Dravecky!’ And then I got out to the mound and I was just overwhelmed by all of these things that were happening. I completed eight innings in a victory against the Cincinnati Reds.”

His comeback could hardly have gone any better, as he pitched well (especially considering the circumstances) and the Giants picked up the win. Going into his next start in Montreal five days later, Dravecky was eager to get back on the bump.

“A couple of hours before the game, I was talking with Bob Knepper over a pre-game lunch. We started talking about the comeback, and how awesome it was, and how it was such a miracle, and then he looks at me and says, ‘I hate to burst your bubble, man, but it’s not the miracle of the comeback here that’s so important, it’s the miracle of salvation, it’s the day you met Jesus that is so important. What God has done is He’s given you a platform through baseball to share His love with those who hurt.’”

The comment took Dravecky off guard in the moment, but it proved prophetic soon enough: “Five hours later, I’m lying on the ground with a broken arm and all I could hear were Bob Knepper’s words.”

The end of the comeback just as it had started wasn’t even the worst of it. “The cancer reoccurred,” Dravecky explains. “There were more surgeries. With each surgery, there was less and less margin to be able to remove anything because now they were down to bone.”

Eventually, the doctors’ options for saving Dravecky’s life came down to just one, and it was drastic. Just eight years after he was announced to the NL All-Star team and two years after his last pitch in the big leagues, on June 18, 1991, Dravecky’s left arm and shoulder were amputated.

Wanting to use the God-given platform Bob Knepper had illuminated, Dravecky began a new career as an author and a public speaker, but behind the scenes, new clouds were gathering over Dravecky’s life.

“I felt so much pressure to be an example for others. I entered into an identity crisis. I went into clinical depression. Then I became a very angry man because I did not know how to deal with these emotions that I had pushed and pushed and pushed; it was horrible.”

The community of Christ-followers around Dravecky was used by God in an example of His design for the lives of all who are His.

“As a result of some really good friends, who loved me in spite of my behavior, God began to heal. It’s hard to even admit those things, but there’s been great healing in being able to expose the lies of my life, the hiddenness in my life because it’s in that freedom that I’ve come face-to-face with true grace; that love that comes even on my worst day.”

Still working as a public speaker and an author, Dravecky has proven to be an inspiration for his courage and willingness to keep pushing on when things get tough, leaning on God and his brothers and sisters around him.

Who has he discovered God to be? Dravecky answers in a rapt, reverent voice barely above a whisper. “The most loving, the most gracious, the most understanding, the most encouraging, the most forgiving person in the universe and in my life.” —Brian Rzeppa with Ken Hughes

*ERA: Earned Run Average. A statistic used to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness, obtained by calculating the average number of earned runs scored against the pitcher in every nine innings pitched.

For more stories like this, go to The Increase. Or subscribe to this blog:

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The struggle of recovery from a major injury is something that, thankfully, many people will never experience. The initial pain and trauma of the injury, the endurance of surgical repairs, and months of arduous rehab are stations on a path all of us would choose to avoid if we could.

Major-league All-Star Dave Dravecky has been down this path not once, but several times. And though his body bears the evidence of the frightening and hellish path he’s walked, something in his countenance makes an impression that’s exactly the opposite of what you might expect.

Dravecky was a farily unheralded left-hander out of Youngstown State University in Ohio when the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the 21st round of the 1978 MLB Amateur Draft. Like almost all pro baseball players, he spent the first few years of his career working his way up through the minor leagues. It was before Spring Training in 1981 that a curveball was thrown his way. “There’s two days left in Spring Training 1981 and the next thing you know I’m traded to the San Diego Padres,” Dravecky relates.

While this may have been disorienting for some young players, Dravecky took the trade in stride and came in contact with a fellow player that would change his life.

“What was really cool is that it was there that I met Byron Ballard. Byron became the guy in my life that challenged me to read the Bible. August 27, 1981, my wife and I were baptized by Roy Wheeler. It was, of all places, in Amarillo, Texas—the most beautiful place in the universe for Jan and I, and the most amazing experience of our life. It began a journey that has been a very interesting journey to say the least.”

It was less than a year after his baptism that he got to make his mark in the majors. Right out of the gate, Dravecky proved that he belonged among baseball’s finest players.

“Getting to the big leagues and now being a major-league ballplayer, and experiencing an All-Star game, experiencing a World Series and then getting traded from the San Diego Padres, which were a last-place team, to the first-place Giants. Going into postseason play against the Cardinals and pitching the two best games of my life . . . I thought, man, 1988 is going to be my year.”

Dravecky had a solid start to the 1988 season (2-2, 3.16 ERA*), but he began to notice an abnormality on his pitching arm. A lump had developed, eventually growing to the size of a golf ball. He couldn’t forestall it; he went to the doctor.

“We’re sitting there and the doctors are starting to examine the x-rays. All of a sudden we hear one of the guys say, ‘Man, this is a tumor,’ and my heart went into my throat.”

Dravecky underwent surgery to remove the cancerous tumor. With it, the surgeons had to take out half of his deltoid muscle.

After months of rehab and training, Dravecky was set to make his post-surgery debut on August 10, 1989. The crowd welcomed him back in a big way.

“I went to the bullpen and there was a standing ovation. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, man, I’m just Dave Dravecky!’ And then I got out to the mound and I was just overwhelmed by all of these things that were happening. I completed eight innings in a victory against the Cincinnati Reds.”

His comeback could hardly have gone any better, as he pitched well (especially considering the circumstances) and the Giants picked up the win. Going into his next start in Montreal five days later, Dravecky was eager to get back on the bump.

“A couple of hours before the game, I was talking with Bob Knepper over a pre-game lunch. We started talking about the comeback, and how awesome it was, and how it was such a miracle, and then he looks at me and says, ‘I hate to burst your bubble, man, but it’s not the miracle of the comeback here that’s so important, it’s the miracle of salvation, it’s the day you met Jesus that is so important. What God has done is He’s given you a platform through baseball to share His love with those who hurt.’”

The comment took Dravecky off guard in the moment, but it proved prophetic soon enough: “Five hours later, I’m lying on the ground with a broken arm and all I could hear were Bob Knepper’s words.”

The end of the comeback just as it had started wasn’t even the worst of it. “The cancer reoccurred,” Dravecky explains. “There were more surgeries. With each surgery, there was less and less margin to be able to remove anything because now they were down to bone.”

Eventually, the doctors’ options for saving Dravecky’s life came down to just one, and it was drastic. Just eight years after he was announced to the NL All-Star team and two years after his last pitch in the big leagues, on June 18, 1991, Dravecky’s left arm and shoulder were amputated.

Wanting to use the God-given platform Bob Knepper had illuminated, Dravecky began a new career as an author and a public speaker, but behind the scenes, new clouds were gathering over Dravecky’s life.

“I felt so much pressure to be an example for others. I entered into an identity crisis. I went into clinical depression. Then I became a very angry man because I did not know how to deal with these emotions that I had pushed and pushed and pushed; it was horrible.”

The community of Christ-followers around Dravecky was used by God in an example of His design for the lives of all who are His.

“As a result of some really good friends, who loved me in spite of my behavior, God began to heal. It’s hard to even admit those things, but there’s been great healing in being able to expose the lies of my life, the hiddenness in my life because it’s in that freedom that I’ve come face-to-face with true grace; that love that comes even on my worst day.”

Still working as a public speaker and an author, Dravecky has proven to be an inspiration for his courage and willingness to keep pushing on when things get tough, leaning on God and his brothers and sisters around him.

Who has he discovered God to be? Dravecky answers in a rapt, reverent voice barely above a whisper. “The most loving, the most gracious, the most understanding, the most encouraging, the most forgiving person in the universe and in my life.” —Brian Rzeppa with Ken Hughes

*ERA: Earned Run Average. A statistic used to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness, obtained by calculating the average number of earned runs scored against the pitcher in every nine innings pitched.

For more stories like this, go to The Increase. Or subscribe to this blog:

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Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila: Open-Mindedness Is A Virtue

The major benefit of having an open mind is that you then have the capability of growing as a person, as well as the opportunity to learn more than you already know.

But it’s sometimes difficult to be open to more than you know and are comfortable with. For former Green Bay Packers star Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, the diversity of opinions that surrounded him as he grew up helped him in many ways, especially in his aptitude for learning new ideas.

“Both parents came from Nigeria. There’s seven of us, my dad was Muslim and my mom was Christian, so I grew up in that kind of dynamic. During my years at San Diego State, I remember having arguments as a Muslim; I claimed to be a Muslim at heart, and arguing with all of the Christians on the team. A lot of the guys couldn’t answer my questions and said they’d get back to me. I was searching for truth, I was searching for something greater than what I was experiencing,” Gbaja-Biamila says.

He was also searching for something greater professionally. After his time at San Diego State, Gbaja-Biamila was selected by Green Bay in the 2000 NFL Draft.

Not only was KGB going into a situation where he would play for a perennial Super Bowl contender in Green Bay, but he would also have the chance to be mentored by some of the best people in the league.

“(Director of Player Development) Gil Byrd was something different, something I’ve never seen before. He and his family just took me under their wings. I saw how he’d treat his wife, how he’d treat his kids. I remember one day he said, ‘We don’t worship the same God.’ It kind of offended me and took me back a little bit. I said, ‘Okay, well, show me where Jesus said he was God.’” Gbaja-Biamila had already had this conversation with a variety of friends, teammates, and students, but this time was different.

“I was expecting him to give me the typical answer like I had gotten in the past because that was what my dad had always told me: ‘You ask these Christians these questions and watch how they stumble.’ This guy opens his Bible to show me something I’ve been asking all of these people for. I was just so blown away that this man was prepared to give me an answer for what he believed in.”

“So I went home and I decided to hit the Bible for myself because what I argued was always what my dad had told me. I remember getting on my knees, I didn’t know which god I was praying to, but I wanted to pray to the guy who created me. I prayed: “God, whoever created Muhammed-Kabeer Olanrewaju Gbaja-Biamila,”—and I said my whole name just to make sure he was right—“As I read this Bible, help me to find the contradictions so that I can show these Christians where they are in error.”

“I decided to start in the Old Testament. One of my arguments was that man wrote this book; it wasn’t God. So as I was reading through it, I got to Chapter 6 and in there He says, ‘Every inclination of man in the heart is wicked all of the time.’ Then I get into the laws and I start seeing all of these things of what not to do and I’m saying, ‘That’s a sin? And that’s a sin?’ My sins were multiplying before my very own eyes. I became aware that the things that this God was saying were sins, I had already committed.”

“So I started thinking there was no hope. There was no way I was going to make it to Paradise. There was no way I could make it on my own. But because of all of this stuff I heard about Jesus, all of a sudden Jesus started making sense, and as I was reading [scriptures specifically about Him], I saw how perfectly good he was. I knew that if there’s hope, there’s hope in Jesus. So I ran to the Cross. I was on this journey to prove the Bible wrong, but the Bible ended up proving me wrong.”

While many would find it impossibly difficult to turn from the faith of their father—particularly within the traditions of Islam—Gbaja-Biamila showed his open-mindedness yet again.

“I needed the Old Testament, the laws, to see that if I compare myself to that standard, I fall short. But because of God’s promise through His son Jesus Christ, and His blood that was shed for me, that’s why I get to go to Heaven.”

KGB’s NFL career has now ended, but he has stayed active in every community that he has lived in since. His work with both the homeless and youth in Green Bay was admired by many, but he stays humble throughout it all.

“If I’m doing any bragging, I’m going to be bragging about Your Son and what Your Son did for me. All the good stuff I’ve done is because of what You did for me. It’s always about His glory and what He’s done. I’m just fortunate and very blessed that I get to be a part of anything good that He’s got going on.” —Brian Rzeppa

For more stories like this, go to The Increase.

Increase-Blue_Red-transpweb

The major benefit of having an open mind is that you then have the capability of growing as a person, as well as the opportunity to learn more than you already know.

But it’s sometimes difficult to be open to more than you know and are comfortable with. For former Green Bay Packers star Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, the diversity of opinions that surrounded him as he grew up helped him in many ways, especially in his aptitude for learning new ideas.

“Both parents came from Nigeria. There’s seven of us, my dad was Muslim and my mom was Christian, so I grew up in that kind of dynamic. During my years at San Diego State, I remember having arguments as a Muslim; I claimed to be a Muslim at heart, and arguing with all of the Christians on the team. A lot of the guys couldn’t answer my questions and said they’d get back to me. I was searching for truth, I was searching for something greater than what I was experiencing,” Gbaja-Biamila says.

He was also searching for something greater professionally. After his time at San Diego State, Gbaja-Biamila was selected by Green Bay in the 2000 NFL Draft.

Not only was KGB going into a situation where he would play for a perennial Super Bowl contender in Green Bay, but he would also have the chance to be mentored by some of the best people in the league.

“(Director of Player Development) Gil Byrd was something different, something I’ve never seen before. He and his family just took me under their wings. I saw how he’d treat his wife, how he’d treat his kids. I remember one day he said, ‘We don’t worship the same God.’ It kind of offended me and took me back a little bit. I said, ‘Okay, well, show me where Jesus said he was God.’” Gbaja-Biamila had already had this conversation with a variety of friends, teammates, and students, but this time was different.

“I was expecting him to give me the typical answer like I had gotten in the past because that was what my dad had always told me: ‘You ask these Christians these questions and watch how they stumble.’ This guy opens his Bible to show me something I’ve been asking all of these people for. I was just so blown away that this man was prepared to give me an answer for what he believed in.”

“So I went home and I decided to hit the Bible for myself because what I argued was always what my dad had told me. I remember getting on my knees, I didn’t know which god I was praying to, but I wanted to pray to the guy who created me. I prayed: “God, whoever created Muhammed-Kabeer Olanrewaju Gbaja-Biamila,”—and I said my whole name just to make sure he was right—“As I read this Bible, help me to find the contradictions so that I can show these Christians where they are in error.”

“I decided to start in the Old Testament. One of my arguments was that man wrote this book; it wasn’t God. So as I was reading through it, I got to Chapter 6 and in there He says, ‘Every inclination of man in the heart is wicked all of the time.’ Then I get into the laws and I start seeing all of these things of what not to do and I’m saying, ‘That’s a sin? And that’s a sin?’ My sins were multiplying before my very own eyes. I became aware that the things that this God was saying were sins, I had already committed.”

“So I started thinking there was no hope. There was no way I was going to make it to Paradise. There was no way I could make it on my own. But because of all of this stuff I heard about Jesus, all of a sudden Jesus started making sense, and as I was reading [scriptures specifically about Him], I saw how perfectly good he was. I knew that if there’s hope, there’s hope in Jesus. So I ran to the Cross. I was on this journey to prove the Bible wrong, but the Bible ended up proving me wrong.”

While many would find it impossibly difficult to turn from the faith of their father—particularly within the traditions of Islam—Gbaja-Biamila showed his open-mindedness yet again.

“I needed the Old Testament, the laws, to see that if I compare myself to that standard, I fall short. But because of God’s promise through His son Jesus Christ, and His blood that was shed for me, that’s why I get to go to Heaven.”

KGB’s NFL career has now ended, but he has stayed active in every community that he has lived in since. His work with both the homeless and youth in Green Bay was admired by many, but he stays humble throughout it all.

“If I’m doing any bragging, I’m going to be bragging about Your Son and what Your Son did for me. All the good stuff I’ve done is because of what You did for me. It’s always about His glory and what He’s done. I’m just fortunate and very blessed that I get to be a part of anything good that He’s got going on.” —Brian Rzeppa

For more stories like this, go to The Increase.

Increase-Blue_Red-transpweb

Justin Forsett: God Is Faithful

He was a seventh-round draft pick; few would have predicted that Justin Forsett would ever find himself in the situation he’s in with the Ravens. But his backstory is full of twists and turns that strain belief.

“I grew up Christian, a preacher’s kid, always in church. In a Christian household, I gave my life to Christ at an early age; I’m one of those guys that’s all in. I was one of those kids that went through high school with my Bible—reading it, praying every night as I was doing push-ups and sit-ups trying to get to the NFL. I wasn’t doing any alcohol, drugs, or anything like that. I was a virgin until I got married. I was trying to live the best I could for Christ,” says Forsett.

Though he was living in high integrity with his values and leading a God-honoring life, he seemed to be missing out on the attendant blessings; those around him kept passing him up, both in his social life and with college offers for football. This frustrating experience made him cry for help.

“It seemed like everyone that wasn’t a believer were the guys getting all of the blessings. They were getting the scholarships and getting the girls, and having a fun time. I remember going down to my basement and crying out to God and saying, ‘God, what’s going on? They don’t read Your Word, they’re not doing the right things, but they’re receiving the blessings. God, You’ve got to show me something.’”

God answered. Forsett accepted an offer from the University of California, where he played all four years. His time there was incredibly fulfilling, both on a personal and football level. He left Cal after amassing over 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground. (He had also met his soon-to-be wife.)

These numbers, produced in a big conference like the PAC-10 (now the PAC-12), had Forsett hoping that he would be picked somewhere in the middle of the following year’s NFL Draft. In fact, he had thought that the third round was where he would come off of the board.

“I had expected to get drafted in the third round. I had some great years at college so I was expecting a big day. My name wasn’t called and my teams just kept falling off of the board and it felt like I just had this whole thing happening to me again: ‘He’s not strong enough, he’s not fast enough,’ and I was asking God why and I was really torn up on the inside trying to figure out what my future was going to look like. Was I going to have an opportunity to play the game?”

Finally, the Seattle Seahawks picked him. In the seventh round. Though he was grateful to have the opportunity to be selected, he knew it would be a long climb to the top of the depth chart, given that three established veterans were already ahead of him.

“I remember in Week 1 we played Buffalo and I was inactive. Tuesday is our off day in the NFL; my phone rang from a Seattle phone number. It was the Seahawks and they said, ‘We’re going to release you.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, what’s going on? You believed in me.’ And again, the future was uncertain.”

Forsett marched on, even with this bad stroke of luck. He didn’t have to wait too long to find a new team, as the Indianapolis Colts signed him a day after his release from the Seahawks. He looked forward to the new opportunity.

“I was there for about four weeks and I got another Tuesday phone call. It was raining outside, I remember, and they said, ‘We’re going to release you. We’ve got some voids we have to fill at another position.’ At that point I was like, ‘Wow, what’s going on here? I’m a rookie and I’ve been cut two times in the space of a month.”

With his career now seemingly adrift, things looked pretty bleak. “A couple of days before that, my dad had told me that my mom, who had been battling cancer for a while, maybe only had a year to live. So I was at a point where I was a rookie, I’d been cut twice, and I was sending money back home whenever I got it to help my mom go through treatment and pay for insurance. So I had the burden to not only find a way to provide for myself, but to provide and take care of my mom. It was heart-crushing.”

Stunningly, the Seahawks signed him again, just one day after his release from Indy. This time, Forsett stuck around for the next four seasons. He credits his faith in giving him the persistence to keep moving forward.

“God always gave me a sense of peace in the middle of the storms that I was in. Every obstacle that looked impossible, He made possible. God is still opening doors for me. When people say I can’t do something and try to put me in a box, God breaks that box. He does above and beyond anything I could think of asking Him for. In my life, I’ve discovered God to be a faithful, loving God, someone who is always in control and someone who I can trust.” —Brian Rzeppa

 

For more stories like this, go to The Increase.

Increase-Blue_Red-transpweb

He was a seventh-round draft pick; few would have predicted that Justin Forsett would ever find himself in the situation he’s in with the Ravens. But his backstory is full of twists and turns that strain belief.

“I grew up Christian, a preacher’s kid, always in church. In a Christian household, I gave my life to Christ at an early age; I’m one of those guys that’s all in. I was one of those kids that went through high school with my Bible—reading it, praying every night as I was doing push-ups and sit-ups trying to get to the NFL. I wasn’t doing any alcohol, drugs, or anything like that. I was a virgin until I got married. I was trying to live the best I could for Christ,” says Forsett.

Though he was living in high integrity with his values and leading a God-honoring life, he seemed to be missing out on the attendant blessings; those around him kept passing him up, both in his social life and with college offers for football. This frustrating experience made him cry for help.

“It seemed like everyone that wasn’t a believer were the guys getting all of the blessings. They were getting the scholarships and getting the girls, and having a fun time. I remember going down to my basement and crying out to God and saying, ‘God, what’s going on? They don’t read Your Word, they’re not doing the right things, but they’re receiving the blessings. God, You’ve got to show me something.’”

God answered. Forsett accepted an offer from the University of California, where he played all four years. His time there was incredibly fulfilling, both on a personal and football level. He left Cal after amassing over 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground. (He had also met his soon-to-be wife.)

These numbers, produced in a big conference like the PAC-10 (now the PAC-12), had Forsett hoping that he would be picked somewhere in the middle of the following year’s NFL Draft. In fact, he had thought that the third round was where he would come off of the board.

“I had expected to get drafted in the third round. I had some great years at college so I was expecting a big day. My name wasn’t called and my teams just kept falling off of the board and it felt like I just had this whole thing happening to me again: ‘He’s not strong enough, he’s not fast enough,’ and I was asking God why and I was really torn up on the inside trying to figure out what my future was going to look like. Was I going to have an opportunity to play the game?”

Finally, the Seattle Seahawks picked him. In the seventh round. Though he was grateful to have the opportunity to be selected, he knew it would be a long climb to the top of the depth chart, given that three established veterans were already ahead of him.

“I remember in Week 1 we played Buffalo and I was inactive. Tuesday is our off day in the NFL; my phone rang from a Seattle phone number. It was the Seahawks and they said, ‘We’re going to release you.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, what’s going on? You believed in me.’ And again, the future was uncertain.”

Forsett marched on, even with this bad stroke of luck. He didn’t have to wait too long to find a new team, as the Indianapolis Colts signed him a day after his release from the Seahawks. He looked forward to the new opportunity.

“I was there for about four weeks and I got another Tuesday phone call. It was raining outside, I remember, and they said, ‘We’re going to release you. We’ve got some voids we have to fill at another position.’ At that point I was like, ‘Wow, what’s going on here? I’m a rookie and I’ve been cut two times in the space of a month.”

With his career now seemingly adrift, things looked pretty bleak. “A couple of days before that, my dad had told me that my mom, who had been battling cancer for a while, maybe only had a year to live. So I was at a point where I was a rookie, I’d been cut twice, and I was sending money back home whenever I got it to help my mom go through treatment and pay for insurance. So I had the burden to not only find a way to provide for myself, but to provide and take care of my mom. It was heart-crushing.”

Stunningly, the Seahawks signed him again, just one day after his release from Indy. This time, Forsett stuck around for the next four seasons. He credits his faith in giving him the persistence to keep moving forward.

“God always gave me a sense of peace in the middle of the storms that I was in. Every obstacle that looked impossible, He made possible. God is still opening doors for me. When people say I can’t do something and try to put me in a box, God breaks that box. He does above and beyond anything I could think of asking Him for. In my life, I’ve discovered God to be a faithful, loving God, someone who is always in control and someone who I can trust.” —Brian Rzeppa

 

For more stories like this, go to The Increase.

Increase-Blue_Red-transpweb

Matt Hasselbeck: Making Disciples

One of the most crucial things for a successful entry to the NFL is the ability to adjust not only to the increased pace and speed of the game (and many other on-field factors), but also to the chaotic lifestyle that becomes available.

Luckily for many young quarterbacks around the league, there are guys like Matt Hasselbeck that are willing and able to provide the guidance they may not even know they need. Hasselbeck didn’t get to this point overnight, though, and he definitely had some help along the way.

As the son of a former NFL tight end, Hasselbeck got an early introduction to the life of a professional football player. Despite some of the obvious downsides, there was always a sense that it was where he would go.

“When people asked what I wanted to do when I grow up, I’d say, ‘I don’t know. I’ll just play in the NFL, I guess, like my dad,’” Hasselbeck recalls.

It’s an unrealistic dream for most, but Hasselbeck made it happen. He worked his way up to being the starting quarterback of his high school team and eventually was named an honorable mention All-American during his senior year. He drew enough attention during that season to warrant a scholarship offer from the prestigious Boston College, which he accepted.

After his four years there, he was unsure of his next ste. He wasn’t confident that he would be drafted, but things ended up falling in his favor.

“I was drafted in the 6th round, pick 187, and I can remember when I got the call from the Green Bay Packers. Andy Reid, the quarterbacks coach, said, ‘Hey, tell me what you think about this next pick.’ I watched the ticker. It started flashing, then it showed my name. I threw the phone up and we celebrated. I picked the phone back up and said, ‘Hey, coach, you know no one was probably going to draft me. You didn’t need to draft me,’ but I was fired up.”

The excitement eventually turned into the confidence essential for any young athlete, quarterbacks especially. “I got there and I saw that they had a ton of quarterbacks, but my coach came in and he kind of instilled some confidence in me that I didn’t have in myself. One of the first things he said to me was, ‘Listen, you need to believe that you can be the backup quarterback on this team.’”

After spending some successful years in Green Bay learning behind one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in Brett Favre, Hasselbeck signed with the Seattle Seahawks and began the next chapter of his career, as well as a major point of his life.

It was there that he met Trent Dilfer. “He was a little churchy for me,” Hasselbeck says with a wry smile. “Come to find out, after years of being with him and seeing him go through things in his life, the dude is legit. He was a great teammate.”

Following a chapel service one day, Hasselbeck was disappointed. In the privacy of the elevator, he shared his thoughts with Dilfer.

“I was critical of what the chaplain had talked about. I was like, ‘Man, I’m so glad this guy I had invited to chapel said no, because the chaplain is never going to reach that guy with that kind of a message!’ Trent looked at me and said, ‘It’s not the chaplain’s job to reach that guy, it’s the chaplain’s job to teach you so that you can reach that guy.’ And I was like, ‘Woah, really?’

Hasselbeck had spent plenty of time mentoring players on the field, but he hadn’t really thought about mentoring them in their faith.

“I’m good at teaching a young quarterback the playbook: ‘Hey, what do you do here Fox-2XY?’ ‘Aw, dude, play action is the whole deal and I’m going to tell you, 9 out of 10 times you’re going to be throwing to the tight end unless certain corners cover, you’re going to be throwing the post. Otherwise, you’re going to go to the tight end right to the X and I guarantee that the X is going to be open every single time. Unless they’re playing 2-man on the outside or they’re playing bump’n’run, then you’re going to have your fullback and it’ll be an easy gain, it’ll be second and four.’ I know that; I can give that away, I can share it. Not only can I run the play, I can teach you the play.”

“But I wasn’t at a point in my faith where I could share it like I knew it, the way I could with my playbook. I wasn’t like a starter, I was like a rookie. Even though I had had the playbook for years, I didn’t really know it. I wasn’t making disciples; I was introducing people to the chaplain and feeling good about myself.”

Hasselbeck took the opportunity to grow, and continued to influence other players the rest of his time in Seattle. When he moved on, it meant he was able to impact lives in even more cities.

“There was a moment for me where I really felt something powerful that I can’t even really explain. Last year, we were at a conference-type thing. I had invited our two young quarterbacks and I was like, ‘Man, I hope it’s okay for them, I hope they like it. I mean, I like it, I hope they like it!’ They were teaching on baptism and I was a little nervous about how my guys would receive it. I was about to say, ‘Hey, I don’t know how you feel about this,’ and tell them my baptism story, but before I could say anything, both of them and their wives said, ‘Would you be willing to baptize us?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Yes!’”

Hasselbeck’s mentorship has clearly resonated far beyond any help he gave anyone with the football playbook. His relationship with God is one that he cherishes and one that he hopes to share with even more people.

“God is present in all things, big or small, all the time. He can do anything He wants to do, with anyone He wants to do, through anyone He wants to do it with.” —Brian Rzeppa

For more stories like this, go to The Increase.

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One of the most crucial things for a successful entry to the NFL is the ability to adjust not only to the increased pace and speed of the game (and many other on-field factors), but also to the chaotic lifestyle that becomes available.

Luckily for many young quarterbacks around the league, there are guys like Matt Hasselbeck that are willing and able to provide the guidance they may not even know they need. Hasselbeck didn’t get to this point overnight, though, and he definitely had some help along the way.

As the son of a former NFL tight end, Hasselbeck got an early introduction to the life of a professional football player. Despite some of the obvious downsides, there was always a sense that it was where he would go.

“When people asked what I wanted to do when I grow up, I’d say, ‘I don’t know. I’ll just play in the NFL, I guess, like my dad,’” Hasselbeck recalls.

It’s an unrealistic dream for most, but Hasselbeck made it happen. He worked his way up to being the starting quarterback of his high school team and eventually was named an honorable mention All-American during his senior year. He drew enough attention during that season to warrant a scholarship offer from the prestigious Boston College, which he accepted.

After his four years there, he was unsure of his next ste. He wasn’t confident that he would be drafted, but things ended up falling in his favor.

“I was drafted in the 6th round, pick 187, and I can remember when I got the call from the Green Bay Packers. Andy Reid, the quarterbacks coach, said, ‘Hey, tell me what you think about this next pick.’ I watched the ticker. It started flashing, then it showed my name. I threw the phone up and we celebrated. I picked the phone back up and said, ‘Hey, coach, you know no one was probably going to draft me. You didn’t need to draft me,’ but I was fired up.”

The excitement eventually turned into the confidence essential for any young athlete, quarterbacks especially. “I got there and I saw that they had a ton of quarterbacks, but my coach came in and he kind of instilled some confidence in me that I didn’t have in myself. One of the first things he said to me was, ‘Listen, you need to believe that you can be the backup quarterback on this team.’”

After spending some successful years in Green Bay learning behind one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in Brett Favre, Hasselbeck signed with the Seattle Seahawks and began the next chapter of his career, as well as a major point of his life.

It was there that he met Trent Dilfer. “He was a little churchy for me,” Hasselbeck says with a wry smile. “Come to find out, after years of being with him and seeing him go through things in his life, the dude is legit. He was a great teammate.”

Following a chapel service one day, Hasselbeck was disappointed. In the privacy of the elevator, he shared his thoughts with Dilfer.

“I was critical of what the chaplain had talked about. I was like, ‘Man, I’m so glad this guy I had invited to chapel said no, because the chaplain is never going to reach that guy with that kind of a message!’ Trent looked at me and said, ‘It’s not the chaplain’s job to reach that guy, it’s the chaplain’s job to teach you so that you can reach that guy.’ And I was like, ‘Woah, really?’

Hasselbeck had spent plenty of time mentoring players on the field, but he hadn’t really thought about mentoring them in their faith.

“I’m good at teaching a young quarterback the playbook: ‘Hey, what do you do here Fox-2XY?’ ‘Aw, dude, play action is the whole deal and I’m going to tell you, 9 out of 10 times you’re going to be throwing to the tight end unless certain corners cover, you’re going to be throwing the post. Otherwise, you’re going to go to the tight end right to the X and I guarantee that the X is going to be open every single time. Unless they’re playing 2-man on the outside or they’re playing bump’n’run, then you’re going to have your fullback and it’ll be an easy gain, it’ll be second and four.’ I know that; I can give that away, I can share it. Not only can I run the play, I can teach you the play.”

“But I wasn’t at a point in my faith where I could share it like I knew it, the way I could with my playbook. I wasn’t like a starter, I was like a rookie. Even though I had had the playbook for years, I didn’t really know it. I wasn’t making disciples; I was introducing people to the chaplain and feeling good about myself.”

Hasselbeck took the opportunity to grow, and continued to influence other players the rest of his time in Seattle. When he moved on, it meant he was able to impact lives in even more cities.

“There was a moment for me where I really felt something powerful that I can’t even really explain. Last year, we were at a conference-type thing. I had invited our two young quarterbacks and I was like, ‘Man, I hope it’s okay for them, I hope they like it. I mean, I like it, I hope they like it!’ They were teaching on baptism and I was a little nervous about how my guys would receive it. I was about to say, ‘Hey, I don’t know how you feel about this,’ and tell them my baptism story, but before I could say anything, both of them and their wives said, ‘Would you be willing to baptize us?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Yes!’”

Hasselbeck’s mentorship has clearly resonated far beyond any help he gave anyone with the football playbook. His relationship with God is one that he cherishes and one that he hopes to share with even more people.

“God is present in all things, big or small, all the time. He can do anything He wants to do, with anyone He wants to do, through anyone He wants to do it with.” —Brian Rzeppa

For more stories like this, go to The Increase.

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Seneca Wallace: The Power Of Community

September 25, 2014

With a history that spans over 95 years, the Green Bay Packers are one of the more historic sports teams in the world. The hallowed Lambeau Field, Vince Lombardi, and legendary players like Bart Starr, James Lofton, Reggie White, and Brett Favre loom so large that it’s tough to stand out.

In the 2013 NFL season, quarterback Seneca Wallace did just that. With star Aaron Rodgers on the mend, head coach Mike McCarthy turned to Wallace to start their game against the Philadelphia Eagles. With that, Wallace became the first African-American to start at quarterback in the team’s history.

“Being able to run onto Lambeau, with a team that everyone knows, being the first African-American starting quarterback in the history of the Green Bay Packers organization, was amazing.” Wallace says. “There is a reason why God brought me to Green Bay and gave me that opportunity. I wish it would’ve lasted longer, but it was awesome.”

That journey to the frozen tundra in Green Bay was a long one that featured many ups and downs, but in the end it has just made Wallace’s rise to the NFL that much greater.

Growing up in California, Wallace was born into a rough situation. His parents separated when he was 11 years old; prior to that, there was constant conflict between his mother and father. His relationship with his father was especially difficult.

“My dad sold drugs. There was me, my two older brothers, and my dad’s previous kids that he had with somebody else. I still remember that the only time we communicated with him was through an intercom; we talked down to where he was at on the first floor. There was no going fishing, there was no, ‘I’m going to help you change a tire on a car or get up under the hood,’ or those types of things.”

Despite, or perhaps because of, his home situation, Wallace was diligent and hardworking on the football field. It paid off in 1998, when Oregon State University offered him a scholarship. Unfortunately, the exciting news came under darker clouds.

“That same year, I found out that my mom had cancer. I was in a little bit of resentment, you know? ‘Jesus, why would you allow this to happen to my mom?’”

He passed on the offer from Oregon State, playing impressive back-to-back seasons at Iowa State University instead; that got him drafted in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Installed as the starter in Seattle at the time was Matt Hasselbeck.

“I think God placed me in Seattle for a reason, you know? I was there with Matt Hasselbeck, Trent Dilfer, Jim Zorn; very strong believers of God in this room. And so as I grew as an NFL player and quarterback, I also grew in my faith.”

“When I got to Cleveland, my faith got even stronger. I was around Reggie Hodges and Ben Watson. Those guys [in Seattle and Cleveland] . . . I’ve never been around that much love and that much faith in my life. Being around guys who showed me how to be a husband, father, man . . . they showed me how to let my guard down and not let it all be about me.”

Though he is not on an NFL roster at the time of this writing, Wallace continues to develop in ways that will help him should his days in the league come to a close. He remembers his childhood and knows that things will be different should he ever have children of his own.

“You know, I don’t have kids yet, but I know that once I have kids, I’m going to be a nourisher, I’m going to be a lover and put God first. I’m going to do all the things to be able to build up son or my daughter. I’m going to be there in any way possible, [because] I know the things that I missed out on when I was younger.”

Whether he gets another shot at making at impact at the highest level of football or not, Wallace is confident in the Lord.

“He’s never going to forsake me, He’s never going to turn His back on me, even if I don’t play another snap in the National Football League. He will still lead me down other paths, other avenues, where He knows that I can serve my purpose here on earth.” —Brian Rzeppa

For more stories like this, go to The Increase.

Increase-Blue_Red-transpweb

With a history that spans over 95 years, the Green Bay Packers are one of the more historic sports teams in the world. The hallowed Lambeau Field, Vince Lombardi, and legendary players like Bart Starr, James Lofton, Reggie White, and Brett Favre loom so large that it’s tough to stand out.

In the 2013 NFL season, quarterback Seneca Wallace did just that. With star Aaron Rodgers on the mend, head coach Mike McCarthy turned to Wallace to start their game against the Philadelphia Eagles. With that, Wallace became the first African-American to start at quarterback in the team’s history.

“Being able to run onto Lambeau, with a team that everyone knows, being the first African-American starting quarterback in the history of the Green Bay Packers organization, was amazing.” Wallace says. “There is a reason why God brought me to Green Bay and gave me that opportunity. I wish it would’ve lasted longer, but it was awesome.”

That journey to the frozen tundra in Green Bay was a long one that featured many ups and downs, but in the end it has just made Wallace’s rise to the NFL that much greater.

Growing up in California, Wallace was born into a rough situation. His parents separated when he was 11 years old; prior to that, there was constant conflict between his mother and father. His relationship with his father was especially difficult.

“My dad sold drugs. There was me, my two older brothers, and my dad’s previous kids that he had with somebody else. I still remember that the only time we communicated with him was through an intercom; we talked down to where he was at on the first floor. There was no going fishing, there was no, ‘I’m going to help you change a tire on a car or get up under the hood,’ or those types of things.”

Despite, or perhaps because of, his home situation, Wallace was diligent and hardworking on the football field. It paid off in 1998, when Oregon State University offered him a scholarship. Unfortunately, the exciting news came under darker clouds.

“That same year, I found out that my mom had cancer. I was in a little bit of resentment, you know? ‘Jesus, why would you allow this to happen to my mom?’”

He passed on the offer from Oregon State, playing impressive back-to-back seasons at Iowa State University instead; that got him drafted in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Installed as the starter in Seattle at the time was Matt Hasselbeck.

“I think God placed me in Seattle for a reason, you know? I was there with Matt Hasselbeck, Trent Dilfer, Jim Zorn; very strong believers of God in this room. And so as I grew as an NFL player and quarterback, I also grew in my faith.”

“When I got to Cleveland, my faith got even stronger. I was around Reggie Hodges and Ben Watson. Those guys [in Seattle and Cleveland] . . . I’ve never been around that much love and that much faith in my life. Being around guys who showed me how to be a husband, father, man . . . they showed me how to let my guard down and not let it all be about me.”

Though he is not on an NFL roster at the time of this writing, Wallace continues to develop in ways that will help him should his days in the league come to a close. He remembers his childhood and knows that things will be different should he ever have children of his own.

“You know, I don’t have kids yet, but I know that once I have kids, I’m going to be a nourisher, I’m going to be a lover and put God first. I’m going to do all the things to be able to build up son or my daughter. I’m going to be there in any way possible, [because] I know the things that I missed out on when I was younger.”

Whether he gets another shot at making at impact at the highest level of football or not, Wallace is confident in the Lord.

“He’s never going to forsake me, He’s never going to turn His back on me, even if I don’t play another snap in the National Football League. He will still lead me down other paths, other avenues, where He knows that I can serve my purpose here on earth.” —Brian Rzeppa

For more stories like this, go to The Increase.

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