A valuable lesson was taught by this year’s Heisman Trophy candidates. The lesson is simple, and yet, profound.
To a man, the three invitees to this year’s 81st annual Heisman Memorial Trophy ceremony from Manhattan’s PlayStation Theater, embraced this simple lesson without wavering from it’s premise throughout their journey to New York.
Hours before the candidates headed to the PlayStation Theater, all three, Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey, and Alabama RB Derrick Henry, appeared on the Geico CBS College Football Today show at halftime of the Army-Navy game.
Former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel, now a TV analyst, asked each player what superstition, if any, did they have before taking the field.
“Of course, I pray,” Watson said. “Then I eat sour gummy worms.”
Neuheisel turned to McCaffrey, “What about you?”
“I always pray,” McCaffrey replied. “I always pray before each game. And my superstition is that I don’t have superstitions (he referenced how he swore off superstitions after a loss to Northwestern).”
Last, Henry was asked about his pregame rituals.
“I go to the bathroom and get down on my knees and I pray to God,” Henry said.
Three candidates, three men of prayer. But that’s not the lesson here.
Several hours later, Henry became the second Alabama player to win the Heisman, joining 2009 winner Mark Ingram. He also became only the second running back to win the award since Ron Dayne in 1999.
The 6-3, 242-pounder (unusually large for a feature back), set an SEC single-season-record in 2015 with 1,986 rushing yards. He also tied the conference mark for rushing touchdowns with 23. His rushing yardage total led the nation, as did his number of rushing attempts (339).
He was just the third running back in SEC history (Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson being the others) to have four 200-yard games in a single season. Henry led No. 2 Alabama (12-1) to its second-straight College Football Playoff berth. He and the Crimson Tide are set to take on No. 3 Michigan State on New Year’s Eve.
Henry delivered an emotional speech thanking God for his coaches, his teammates, his parents, school administrators, and his beloved grandmother Gladys, who couldn’t be at the award presentation because she was in the hospital from a recent illness.
“I feel you in spirit,” Henry told his grandmother from the podium. “You made me who I am today. You told me to always keep God first and pray and I’ll make it far and I love you and I’m praying for you.”
Henry ended his speech by saying, “I want to talk to the kids who are watching this TV today.”
Then he preached. But that’s not the lesson here.
“God is everything. Always keep God first. Don’t be afraid to pray. He will always hear your cry. If you have dreams, go chase them. If you can believe it, you can achieve it. And God will be there every step of the way. I get on my hands and knees every night and thank Him for everything. Keep God first, always pray, and chase your dreams.”
This year, 8 football programs of the SEC, the conference Henry and the Alabama Crimson Tide football team play in, have been under attack by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The FFRF has threatened lawsuits against the schools and the athletic departments if team chaplain’s were not fired, if bible studies did not cease, and if all team prayer was not ended.
The lesson at the 81st Annual Heisman Memorial Trophy Ceremony is simple. Watson, McCaffrey, and Henry displayed it perfectly.
Hard work and faith will never be silenced.
These 3 football players turned a national for-profit telecast seen by millions in prime time, and funded by companies who lean toward the side of the FFRF on many separation of church and state issues, into a night of preaching, prayers, blessings, and thanksgiving.