Faith and Football: BU players follow cross through victories, loss

No. 42 senior wide receiver Levi Norwood kneels in prayer before kickoff during Baylor’s game against Texas Tech on Nov. 29 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.Constance Atton | Lariat Photographer
No. 42 senior wide receiver Levi Norwood kneels in prayer before kickoff during Baylor’s game against Texas Tech on Nov. 29 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Constance Atton | Lariat Photographer
By Cody Soto
Sports Writer

When No. 6 Baylor football stepped into its brand new riverside stadium for its first season game on Aug. 31, the team had a lot to live up to. As defending Big 12 champions, the Bears were expected to do it again.

In a season full of high and low points, the Bears took the word “Christian” to heart. Team chaplain Wes Yeary has been with the team all season, and he’s seen the transformation the team has made in their spiritual lives.

The Baylor football team doesn’t just live out it’s faith on Sundays. The sports ministry team provides players with one-on-one meetings and Bible studies as well as a team chapel and prayer service before each game. These opportunities provide players with a large amount of growth, Yeary said.

“Part of [working with the team] is just being there through the relationships with the young men and being able to encourage, serve and talk with them through things they are facing, as well as helping them prepare for things that they may encounter,” he said.

The mentality of Baylor’s players gave them a chance to make another championship run this season, and senior quarterback Bryce Petty said it required everything they had to be successful.

“Football is the ultimate team game. You can’t do it alone,” Petty said. “There are 11 guys out there and everyone has to be all in, giving all they’ve got in their individual roles to be successful as a team.”

The Bears have relied on senior leaders to not just lead them to football wins, but also to provide them with encouragement and guidance in their spiritual lives.

“Being surrounded by other Christians that are strong in their faith when you go out to play the game, you know that there’s a sense of faith within your teammates,” junior running back Silas Nacita said. “That brings us together. It’s a constant reminder. Seeing others play for Christ makes you play for him just as hard.”

Petty is a prime example of a spiritual leader for Baylor football. In his two years as a starter, Petty has shown on and off the field how he feels about his faith.

His in-game traditions, praying before every snap and pointing to the sky after every touchdown, are a part of Petty’s “all in” mindset.

“Praying before each snap has given me more peace and comfort than I ever thought was possible. It helps me keep perspective,” Petty said. “I play and live with God’s confidence and strength, knowing that He is right there beside me every step of the way.”

The 2014 season has one been another historical season for Baylor football, but it isn’t unblemished. Petty was forced to sit out the second game after suffering two cracked transverse processes in his back.

Other injuries to players adjusted the lineup for head coach Art Briles in non-conference play.

However, the biggest bump on the road happened in Morgantown, W. Va., when the Bears took a 41-27 loss to West Virginia on Oct. 18. Their first loss put a thorn in the team’s side, but it didn’t dim the light on another Big 12 championship.

“The West Virginia game was a tough loss for us, and we could have easily been done with the season and thought we would be out of the playoff conversation, but we came together and were able to regroup and bond together,” senior nickelback Collin Brence said. “It’s been amazing. These guys have never given up. We have kept our faith and have grown closer through that.”

With their positive mentality, the Bears didn’t drop a game after West Virginia to finish out the season with an 11-1 record.

However, that still came with a price. During the team’s 48-46 win over Texas Tech on Nov. 29, Petty suffered a mild concussion late in the third quarter.

He didn’t let that bring his spirits down though. His faith kept his worries calm, he said.

“This is all part of the plan. There’s a purpose for all this,” Petty said after the Texas Tech game. “If anything, it’s making me dependent on Him. You have to be dependent on God, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Petty did just that. After passing his medical screenings the day before Saturday’s game, Petty had one of his most impressive games against Kansas State. He had 412 yards on 34-of-40 receptions for one passing and rushing touchdown.

With Petty leading the way, Baylor hoisted the championship trophy in Waco for the second year in a row.

“I’m so proud of those guys in the locker room. When you work so hard with each other and you’ve got a common goal and reach it, it’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Petty said. “We’re just humbled. I don’t know why God put me in this position to lead these guys, but God is good.”

Baylor football did not have a perfect road to the Big 12 title, but it was their faith that kept them in the race for another conference championship. The four-month journey served as a great preparation tool for life itself, Yeary said.

“The real mark of a man is how he responds when he does get knocked down,” Yeary said. “Learning to deal with setbacks really prepares these young men for life itself, but when we have the hope of Christ in our lives and trust that He works all things, we can keep pressing on.”

The football program isn’t just training them for Big 12 and national championships, but for a victory on God’s team.

“I don’t think any of us leave the same compared to when we got here. It’s a blessing to watch players come in here and leave as men of God who have a sense of purpose and calling in their life that goes beyond the football field,” Yeary said. “So many of them leave here knowing that they’re in God’s hands and He has a plan and purpose, and to think that we have been given the privilege to equip them for that is a real blessing.”