Category Archives: Football

Senior on the sidelines

“Personal glory is a bad motivator. Revenge is a bad motivator. But playing for a cause is the greatest motivator in the world.” — Coach Swider

My four years playing football at Wheaton have been filled with joy and pain, but through the Christ-centered focus of the program and the men in the program I am able to see the constant blessing it has been to me. With only one catch for nine yards my sophomore year as the peak of my career statistically speaking, my time at Wheaton hasn’t been what I had initially envisioned.

 

Before coming to Wheaton, I anticipated being a starting kicker/punter for the Thunder. But after  greater focus was placed on my role as receiver during my first years at Wheaton, I started to transition from punting/kicking into the role of being a receiver. I took on this task and began to enjoy the position. The reason I say I enjoyed it traced back to high school, when we had a predominately run-style offense which meant we rarely threw the ball. As the years went on, I continued to work on this position. Fast-forward to this past year. I felt like I had played well during spring ball which set me up for the opportunity to compete for playing time in the fall. Coming back for summer camp, I was in the best shape of my life. And after what I thought to have been a decent camp, I hoped that all the time, energy and effort invested into this program would finally pay off with the ability to get on the field on Saturdays as a senior. But as it turned out, it wasn’t. I wasn’t as good as the other guys competing for my position. I’m not going to lie, it stung. Had I wasted four years’ worth of lonely hours in summer lifting weights in the gym, all the sprints run under the sun on abandoned fields? All the Saturday mornings at the end of winter running routes? Did it now all amount to nothing?

 

Through my years as a part of this program, I have learned the importance of not finding my identity in anything other than Christ. When I initially was looking at Wheaton for college, the aspect that stood out to me was how Coach Swider spoke of how the program cared more about the spiritual formation of the players than winning, even though they cared a great deal about winning.

 

Now having completed four years in this program, I can undoubtedly affirm the truth in that statement. Wearing the Wheaton football jersey is something I am honored to do, but it doesn’t define me. At my core, I am defined as a child of God, worthy to call the creator of the universe my Father. Don’t misunderstand me, I am far from being finished and continue to struggle daily finding my identity in Christ, but the encouragement and challenges from the people who surround me here on this team and school have been profound in developing  my faith — and for this I am grateful.

 

Despite not getting playing time on the field, Wheaton football gave me so much more. The stats will fade away, but I know the relationships with my teammates will remain. I saw these relationships grow in a  variety of ways. They grew  in weekly small group meetings throughout the year during which we discussed what is happening in our lives. They happened during weekly chapels throughout the season where we worshipped with each other and listened to experiences of seniors in the program instead of practicing for a game the following day. They grew during spring break mission trips  when we labored together and encouraged past football alumni from around the world. These and many other experiences have been where I draw some of my fondest memories of being on this team.

 

A familiar adage says “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” Because of the friendships I’ve made through football, my future is bright. This is not because I won’t have to deal with adversity or hardship, but because I know that I will have the support and encouragement from these friends whenever I am struggling in the years to come.

 

Through Wheaton football, I have learned what it is like to be surrounded by a band of brothers motivated by a cause: a cause bigger than personal glory and larger than any feelings of revenge. A cause that is blind to individual stats and instead cares about what we can do together. A cause that would wake me  up in the middle of summer to complete a workout at the same time as my  teammates across America. A cause that challenges me to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. A cause that demands devotion to Christ.
The cause of Wheaton football does not end for me as I graduate this year. It is a way of life that has been ingrained in me and players who have gone before me through this program. I have seen and will continue to emulate what it is like to strive towards a life of having a cause.

All work and no play?

Collegiate athletics are intense. This is a well-known fact that only intensifies the higher the level of play. As the division increases (from Division III to Division II to Division I), so, too, do the expectations and pressure. As with any field, the higher the stakes, the more people are willing to cut corners. In all honesty, the potential rewards of keeping a roster spot or coaching position are too good not to.

 

In the world of competition, more seems to always be better. One more sprint. One more lift. One more of whatever will get that team or player an advantage over the opponent. But when does this mentality go too far?

 

A little over a week ago, at Oregon University three football players were hospitalized after going through an offseason workout conducted by the team’s strength and conditioning coach. All were suffering similar symptoms and one of the players was officially diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which a person’s muscles break down alarmingly fast. Some of the byproducts of the muscle breakdown include a protein called myoglobin, which is devastating for the body’s kidneys and can lead to kidney failure.

 

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the players were part of a group instructed to perform “push-ups and up-downs for nearly an hour.” If it seems excessive for a workout seven months away from the official start of college football, that’s because it is. Further validation for this insanity is the fact that a few days later, according to an ESPN report, Oregon suspended their strength and conditioning coach for one month without pay.

 

Oregon certainly did the right thing as the school has now changed its system of reporting going forward to involve the Ducks’ director of performance and sports science. All three players are now listed as “good condition” in the hospital, according to ESPN. But still, this is an issue and a risk to players’ safety and health that should not have occurred in the first place.

 

Overall, this is not to highlight the mistakes of a Division I football program. This is to call attention to the ones who are doing right by the offseason, and using the time for what it’s truly for — time off football. In this instance, the team in the spotlight is Wheaton’s own football team.

 

The Thunder coaching staff understand that their players are student athletes with an emphasis on “student” first. The staff, starting at the top with head coach Mike Swider, desires for Thunder players to use the extra time in the offseason to grow in four areas of their lives: spiritual, physical, relational and academics.

 

For Swider, this growth in the players’ walks with Christ comes before all else. This growth includes 20 football small groups of five to six players within each group. These groups give players a smaller group with which to be transparent with each other and hold each other accountable in a way in which is nearly impossible within the context of the team as a whole. Mission trips and the encouragement to attend a church each Sunday also add to the team’s potential spiritual growth.

 

“The offseason also provides an opportunity for us to increase what we do intentionally to help inspire these kids spiritually,” Swider explained.

 

Of course, the Thunder are also hoping to increase their strength, speed and stamina in the offseason with multiple voluntary workouts per week: four lifting ones and two speed workouts. In a stark contrast from what was witnessed at Oregon, attendance is not taken at these workouts.

 

Relationally, players are expected to spend time not only with their own team, but also with friends outside the team. Upperclassmen also set up different opportunities for team bonding like simply throwing the football around, playing intramural basketball, going dress-up bowling, playing indoor mini golf, three-on-three basketball tournaments and local scavenger hunts.

 

“That’s the first reason they [players] came here,” Swider said, “because they want to immerse themselves into a social community of men that would encourage them to love God.”

 

Many players also study together, and the ones who are doing well help the ones within their same major who are struggling, according to Swider. This teamwork further promotes team bonding.

 

“Our offseason allows them to spend even more social time together,” explained Swider. “It provides our kids an even greater time socially and allows them to do other things, as well as train.”

 

And herein lies what the offseason for college athletics should really be about: “other things.” Of course, it’s important to keep up fitness and strength levels, but the offseason should undoubtedly center around time away from football and the stress — both mentally and physically — that ridiculously difficult offseason workouts can cause. Oregon’s football program is certainly evidence of that.

 

“We’re trying to promote balance and we’re trying to build a culture in which these kids love each other,” said Swider.

 

Hear that? The magical word that should define all offseason sports programs, whether football or otherwise?

 

“Balance.” That is truly the focus of this Thunder football team and something that other programs can learn from as well. By allowing players to step back and enjoy other aspects of campus life, they will undoubtedly come back hungrier than before to compete come spring workouts and the beginning of the season in the fall.

 

“The greatest warriors fight not because they hate what’s in front of them, but because they love what’s behind them,” said Swider.
For the Thunder, much of the team’s success originates in the fact that players’ love for one another is forged in the offseason away from the gridiron. In the fall, Thunder fans are sure to see the fruits of this balance play out in major ways both on and off the field.

Back on the right track

The Wheaton Thunder football team suffered its first loss against North Central College two weeks ago after 27 straight regular season wins, so the team came out with fire this past weekend against the North Park Vikings. With the offense contributing 60 points throughout the entirety of the game, the defense had a wide margin to work with.

However, that margin was never tested as the defense controlled the Viking offense with ease.

By allowing only one touchdown, which took place in the first quarter, it was easy to see that adaptation was a large part of the Thunder game plan.

“It was great coming out of the gate hot,” said senior linebacker Luke Sahlyz. “Using our frustration from last game was important knowing we have to win out in order to make playoffs.”

However, a hopeful splash in the playoffs may require help from some unlikely contributors. One of those players who came in clutch for the Thunder this past weekend was junior kicker Stefan Knoerr. He was named CCIW Special Teams Player of the Week. Knoerr kicked three field goals and converted all six of his extra point opportunities in the contest.

Playmakers like Knoerr will need to step up their game when the Thunder face better competition come national tournament time.

For now, though, focusing on one day at a time is most important. With a much needed bye week this coming weekend, the team will be able to rest and relax ahead of their final two conference games against Augustana College and Carroll University.

However, what this “rest” might entail is different for each member of the team. Some, like Sahly, are more focused for what will be taking place on the baseball diamond rather than the football field, at least for this upcoming week.

“I was excited to beat North Park, but what got me really pumped was to see the Cubs making the World Series,” Sahly explained. “Having this bye week is great because I get to rest and enjoy my team on the big stage for the first time in my life.”

Happy homecoming indeed

Over the weekend, people of all ages, races and denominations gathered on campus. Their connection? They all graduated from Wheaton College and returned for homecoming to share stories of the past, catch up on campus events and see old friends and their beloved alma mater.

On Saturday, many of these same alumni packed McCully Stadium to cheer on the Thunder as they faced off against the Big Blue of Millikin University. The Thunder built a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but Millikin answered with two second quarter touchdowns of their own. The Big Blue botched an extra point attempt, though, leaving the score at 14-13. The Thunder then responded with a touchdown of their own, bringing the score to 21-13 heading into halftime.

This score held until the fourth quarter, when Millikin scored their third touchdown and went for two in hopes of tying the game, only to have the pass from quarterback Nicco Stepina broken up by senior defensive back J Moore. Wheaton pushed the lead to nine points with a 23 yard strike from senior quarterback Andrew Bowers to junior wide receiver Trey Hanley with 3:14 left on the clock. On the first play of Millikin’s ensuing possession, Stepina threw a pass into the arms of Wheaton’s sophomore linebacker Eric Stevenson who returned it for a touchdown, sealing a school-record 27th straight win for the Thunder.

The defense played well for the Thunder, as they sacked Stepina seven times on the day and picked him off twice. Wheaton also stopped Millikin on fourth down twice and prevented both Millikin attempts at two-point conversions, the first coming after the aforementioned botched extra point.

Senior linebacker Luke Sahly led the Thunder defense with nine total tackles and was named CCIW Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts. Sophomore punter Zach Feddeler also earned CCIW Special Teams Player of the Week as he landed three punts inside the 20 yard mark and one inside the five, forcing Millikin to start from their own 25 on average.

Alumnus Aaron Messner fondly remembered his time at Wheaton, where he played both football and basketball. He was impressed with how far the team has come since his graduation.

“I was on the ’95 conference championship [football] team, which was the first time we’d won the conference in almost 40 years,” Messner explained. “It’s just been amazing to see how the program has grown since then … to the point where now if they don’t win the conference, it’s disappointing, if they lose a game, it’s disappointing.”

Messner also reflected fondly on his time at the college.

“I was on a conference championship basketball team, and a conference championship football team,” he continued. “I met my wife here, I grew immensely in my faith, so it’s wonderful … It’s very special to be able to come back and remember a very significant and enjoyable season in our lives.”

Head coach Mike Swider was thrilled to see alumni like Messner return.

“To see them come back, and to see how they come back in droves, and to see their loyalty,” he explained, “it makes it all worthwhile.”

The Thunder head to North Central College this Saturday to take on the Cardinals in the annual Battle for the Little Brass Bell.

Football recap

Winning is important, but it isn’t everything, as we all know. If you talk to good coaches who genuinely care for their players, they will acknowledge that people are what really matter.

This was evident at the football game on Saturday afternoon as the Thunder gave former offensive coordinator Josiah Seers a rough time when he returned to Wheaton as an opposing head coach, beating his Benedictine Eagles 26-7. After the game however, both coaches shook hands and congratulated each other, not as rival coaches, but as old friends and partners.

The two teams combined for seven turnovers, two missed PAT attempts and 13 penalties. However, the Thunder defense was fairly solid all around, forcing three turnovers, allowing 298 total yards and seven total points. The Thunder offense struggled early on to find any sort of rhythm as turnovers and poor protection cut short many of their drives, which limited them to 12 points in the first half.

Senior quarterback Andrew Bowers had an impressive game and completed 19 of 29 passing attempts for 261 yards and three touchdowns — two to junior receiver Chase White — and was very effective at avoiding the rush, taking only one sack despite being under pressure most of the day. Bowers entered the season in a competition with fellow senior Johnny Peltz for the starting quarterback position, with the two alternating starts, until head coach Mike Swider deems one has won the job. Peltz has a tough act to follow.

After the game, both head coaches commented on Seers’ return to Wheaton. In his postgame address to his players, Swider recognized that Seers’ return had a “huge potential for distraction,” but he praised his team for handling it well and ultimately coming away victorious. Swider acknowledged it was difficult playing against the Thunder, “It’s never easy and it’s a difficult thing.”

Seers had nothing but good things to say about his return to Wheaton, and what this place had meant to him. But when he was offered to be Benedictine’s new head coach, the opportunity proved too good to decline.

“I love Wheaton, it’s a great place,” he said, “but the opportunity to lead a program was a special one and I’m glad I have it.”

It is evident that despite taking a position at a different school, he still has a special relationship with the people of Wheaton College. During my interview with him, at least two people came up to him, as if they were seeing an old friend again at a high school reunion, picking up right where they left off.

“Wheaton is a tremendous school,” Seers said. “I’m fortunate and grateful to have been a part of it.”

Although Seers and Swider are now rivals on the field, it is clear that they still value each other’s friendship and reflect fondly on the time they spent together. The Thunder return to the field with Peltz at the helm on Saturday as they host Kalamazoo College at 1 p.m.

“Let’s roll.”

If a fan or outside observer is around one of Wheaton’s many sports teams long enough, these words are sure to be repeated countless times. For the Thunder football team, though, this phrase has become more than just eight letters. It has become a game plan. It has become a mentality. And, most importantly, it has become a lifestyle.

For those unaware, these words stem from one of the worst tragedies the United States has suffered in recent memory. Amidst the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, aboard one of the flights hijacked by terrorists was a man by the name of Todd Beamer.

A ‘93 Wheaton graduate and multi-sport athlete of baseball and basketball, Beamer was on a business trip for IBM on that fateful September morning. After the hijackers took over the plane, Beamer contacted the GTE airphone supervisor and explained the situation.

After this conversation, Beamer led a mini-revolt with a few other passengers to crash land the plane in a Pennsylvania field, 25 minutes from the presumed destination of the White House or Pentagon. The crash landing had no survivors. Yet before the passengers rushed the cockpit, the last words the airphone supervisor heard were Beamer’s as he boldly proclaimed, “Let’s roll.”

This past weekend, on the 15th anniversary of the tragedy, CBS Sports created a two-and-a-half minute mini-documentary video about Todd Beamer’s heroism and the legacy his actions left behind at his alma mater. The feature aired on national television during the Autotrader College Football Today show before the kickoff of the SEC Game of the Week featuring Kentucky and Florida.

In the clip, CBS Sports interviewed the Thunder’s captains, including seniors Caleb Ashby, Johnny Peltz, Peter Gibson and Daniel Gray. Each player explained what “Let’s Roll” means to him and how it has impacted his time as both a member of the Thunder football team and as a part of the Wheaton community.

“‘Let’s Roll’ gets more meaningful every year as you grow within the program, but this year especially, people don’t take it for granted,” Gray explained. “This year, having Dave on the team, it really makes you think about it more every time you say it.”

Dave? Even though the name might not mean much to a casual Thunder football fan, the freshman quarterback has already made quite an impact on the team in his first month in the program. His last name explains why: Beamer. As in, the son of Todd Beamer.

“It’s more personal now,” said Gray, Dave’s small group leader. “It means a lot more now when Coach Swider gives his big speech during the beginning of the year about what ‘Let’s Roll’ means.”

Only three years old in 2001, Dave Beamer is now a member of the Thunder, following in his father’s footsteps as a gifted athlete. A high school multisport athlete, Dave wrestled in high school, too.

Simply stepping onto campus, the presence of Dave’s father can be felt. This is especially true of one of the school’s most popular buildings, used by students to congregate or work on homework: the Beamer Student Center. In fact, in the lower level of the center, one of the children portrayed in the sculpture in Wheaton’s Lower Beamer depicts Dave as a young boy.

With Wheaton’s connection to 9/11, it’s easy to see how challenging it is to cover this topic in a less-than-three-minute video. Even though Gray mentioned it might have been beneficial for the clip to have a bit longer to capture the full breadth of the story, the piece did receive the approval of perhaps its most important critic.

“It was a great depiction of what it means for everybody on our team,” Dave explained. “It was very accurate, which was nice to see.”

Thunder football head coach Mike Swider and assistant coach Josh Aldrin were also featured in the video. Swider actually narrated the entire video. In Swider’s own words, “Todd’s son, David, will play football for us at Wheaton, proof that faith, family and character, conquer.”

For Dave, the chance to become a part of the culture surrounding his father’s famous phrase has been an emotional experience.

“Coach Swider’s been doing this for a long time,” he explained, “so it’s been really cool to step into this culture [surrounding ‘Let’s Roll’] and be a part of it.”

Even today, 15 years later, these words are no less powerful than the day they left the mouth of Todd Beamer. Although the phrase is most commonly uttered by Wheaton’s football team, the syllables are far-reaching from coast to coast in the United States.

“Having Dave on the team has helped us see what ‘Let’s Roll’ means,” Gray said. “To us as a team and to us as a school and to us as a nation.”

Find the clip on the Wheaton Athletics page or by searching “Let’s Roll Wheaton” on YouTube.

Football recap

The Thunder football team put its full firepower on display Saturday afternoon as they crushed Kalamazoo College 60-6. The Thunder rushed out of the gates to take a 28-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back, going into halftime up 41-0. Kalamazoo did not even get on the board until the final few minutes of the third quarter, by which point the Thunder were up 50-0 and had already pulled the majority of their starters.

Senior quarterback Johnny Peltz started and went 16 for 21 passing, with 265 yards and four touchdowns — each to a different receiver — and one interception. Peltz is currently locked in a competition for the starting quarterback spot with fellow senior Andrew Bowers. The two will continue alternating starts until coach Swider determines who will clinch the job.

Swider still has yet to make the call.

“We got [Peltz] a start, and he played well, and we expected him to,” Swider explained. “We expected Andrew [Bowers] to play well last week, and now both of them are playing well, so you just gotta keep playing them both.”

Peltz accepted the decision. “Whatever the coaches decide is the best for the team, and that’s the way we’re gonna go,” said Peltz. “We’ll support one another either way.”

Sophomore quarterback Jaelin Goldsmith had the opportunity to be on the receiving end Saturday. He scored three total touchdowns, one rushing and two receiving. All in all, seven different players found the endzone for the Thunder. The win pushed the team’s record to 2-0. Overall, during their first two games, they have outscored opponents 86-13 and outgained their opponents 1089-494 yards.

The Thunder will take the field again this Saturday as they travel to Wisconsin to take on Carthage College at 1 p.m. Their next home game is Saturday, Sept. 24 against Elmhurst College.

A statement victory

Nov. 9, 2013. 1,060 days ago. This was the last time Wheaton’s football team lost a regular season game. Current seniors were entering their second quad of college, and current juniors were busy working on their college applications. This 26-game streak matches a record set between 2002 and 2004.

“That’s a hard thing to do, at any level,” said senior quarterback Andrew Bowers of the streak. He said it was “definitely fun to be a part of that.” Both streaks have come under head coach Mike Swider.

“Honestly, I think it starts at the top with Coach Swider,” Bowers explained. “He’s done a great job getting us prepared, but just doing our job individually, and knowing that each guy out here’s going to do what they’re supposed to do.”

Winning 26 football games straight is hard. For comparison, the longest regular season NFL winning streak belongs to the Indianapolis Colts from 2008 to 2009 at 23 games. The NFL record for longest win streak — regular and postseason combined — belongs to the New England Patriots from 2003 to 2004 at 21 games. Though the win streak is remarkable, Swider prefers to focus on this season rather than reflect on past success.

“We don’t count our win streaks,” he explained. “it’s fun, it’s nice, our team should be commended, but we’re just worried about the next one. Our 5-0 record this season is more important.”

The Thunder’s 26th win came on Saturday in Bloomington against the rival Illinois Wesleyan Titans. The Thunder struggled early in the first half, as the Titans grabbed a 14-7 lead by the end of the first quarter and a 24-17 lead at the half. The Thunder dominated the second half, scoring 34 points and holding the Titans to none en route to a 48-24 win. Bowers passed for 351 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Thunder offense, which put up an astounding 542 yards of total offense. The performance was good enough to earn Bowers his second career CCIW Player of the Week honor, his first this year.

The two rival teams have played very evenly over the past decade or so, with the home team winning 10 of the 12 matchups from 2005 to 2014 — the second being Wheaton’s Saturday win.

The Thunder will attempt to establish a new school record — and win their 27th straight regular season game — on Saturday as they host Millikin University for their homecoming game at 1 p.m.

Thunder squeak by

The Wheaton Thunder football team had their talents tested this past weekend when they took on the Carthage College Redmen. After starting off strong, capitalizing on their first drive of the afternoon with a touchdown, the Thunder could not breach the Red Men defense as the score remained tied at 7-7 by halftime. However, the Thunder were able to stretch their lead to 12 points in the third quarter. After holding Carthage to a lone touchdown throughout the second half, the team secured their first CCIW victory by a score of 19-14.

Sophomore linebacker Eric Stevenson had a coming-out party of sorts as he tallied 15 tackles during the afternoon contest after tallying only seven total tackles in the team’s first two games. Stevenson’s performance granted him CCIW Defensive Player of the Week as well as being honored with a spot on the D3football.com Team of the Week.

Stevenson was not alone, however, when it came to being recognized, as freshman wide receiver Phillip Nichols was also placed on the D3football.com Team of the Week.

During the game, Nichols returned a 70-yard punt for a touchdown and a crucial 26-yard return that put Wheaton in position to score the first touchdown of the game. He averaged 24 return yards per punt on six punts in the game, balancing out his season average to 21.7 yards per return.

With the continued confusion on the identity of the team’s full-time starting quarterback, it was at least momentarily solidified as senior quarterback Andrew Bowers played the majority of Saturday’s game. Bowers completed 13-24 passes, totaling 209 yards and two touchdowns.

In terms that all fantasy football players will understand, Bowers would be a great starter for fantasy teams this weekend as the Thunder take on the Elmhurst Bluejays. He is expected to play the majority of the game, again. However, senior quarterback Johnny Peltz would theoretically be labeled as an effective “late waiver wire pick-up” at the wide receiver slot heading into this weekend. The Thunder play Elmhurst at 1 p.m. at McCully Stadium on Saturday.

Pre-season with Wheaton All-Americans

As a wide-eyed freshman, guard Peter Gibson stepped onto Wheaton’s campus for preseason football camp and tried to keep pace with his fellow freshmen. At the same time, he attempted to glean all he could from the upperclassmen players.

Three years later, Gibson steps on the newly renovated McCully Stadium turf again, but this time, his nerves have taken a backseat. Gone is the inexperienced freshman player of 2013. In his place stands a confident and powerful guard ready to take the CCIW by storm.

“Freshman year you’re so nervous and everything flies by, but now senior year you’re just soaking it in and trying to get every ounce of memories out of it,” Gibson explained.

Already, Gibson has received multiple preseason honors including being named a preseason First Team All-American by d3football.com, “Sporting News College Football” and “Lindys Sports.” Joining him as a Second Team All-American on d3football.com and “Lindys Sports” is fellow senior tight end Zach Lindquist.

Lindquist is focused on improving from an impressive junior campaign in which he caught 37 passes for 548 yards and four touchdowns. Due to the graduation of 2015 star wide receiver Luke Thorson and other offensive weapons, Lindquist will play an even larger role in this year’s offense. The coaching staff is putting numerous opportunities for motion and variety within the Thunder offense to help the tight end gain separation from defenses.

“It’s a bigger load and bigger responsibility,” Lindquist said, “but we just need to do what we’ve always done and play within ourselves.”

The two agreed that another undefeated regular season, a third straight conference championship and a deep run into the playoffs are the clear expectations for this season. Anything less will be disappointing. Even with these high expectations, Gibson and Lindquist still feel a sense of freedom — something absent in years past.

“It’s awesome being at a Christian school because your identity’s not in football,” explained Gibson. “That’s something I really struggled with my freshman and sophomore years, but what I’ve found is that if I put Christ at the center of my life, then everything else will fall into place.”