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Anthony Finzo, Evangel University, Football

by carmine on October 13, 2014

Anthony Finzo

Senior, DB, Evangel University, 2014

I grew up in a Christian home with loving and supportive parents. At a very young age, I was encouraged to pursue Christ first and my dreams second. I loved sports, anything with a ball, and I was playing it. I was a good baseball player, but all I really wanted to do was play football. Once I strapped my first helmet on in the 6th grade, I never looked back, for I had found my passion. I was good at it, too! I was a starter every year that I played, mostly on both sides of the ball. Then in my junior year of high school, playing for the Lighthouse Christian Academy Chargers in Springfield, MO, my life would change forever, and my faith would be tested.

It was the first game of the season, a wet and rainy Friday night in Quapaw, OK. I was cocky and self-absorbed. I had just been named to the National Association of Christian Athletes All-American Team the year before as a sophomore. I knew God was real, but I felt as if my achievements in sports were mostly my doing, my efforts. My prayer life was nearly non-existent, and I was basically faking my life, because football was all I dreamed about and wanted to do. God got my attention that September night. I tore my ACL in the first half, ending my junior campaign. After seeing the doctor the following week and receiving an MRI, the news was crushing. But all I wanted to do was get back on the field. I tried to pray, but it seemed that God was so distant. I guess I had gotten so good at faking things, I just put on a strong face and began my rehabilitation, which turned into the six longest months of my life. I struggled with God almost as much as I struggled with my knee.

1936591_1260667232449_1497304_n[1]At the end of those six months, I was healthy, determined, and positive that my recovery was because of how hard I pushed myself. God was just a crutch to lean on when things got hard, Someone to pray to when there was nobody to talk to. I attended some football camps that summer before my senior year to try to get my name out there to college coaches again. But it seemed hard to impress anyone as a DB/WR with a brace on a scarred up knee. God had a plan, but I was blinded by my own passion and determination to do this on my own.

My senior season at LCA began, and I was back in all phases of the game. As one of the leading receivers on the team, I was doing this on my own. I was going to earn a college scholarship. On gameday, God was just someone we prayed to, but as we said “Amen,” it was on my shoulders alone to do my job.

Looking back, God just wanted to get my attention and my whole focus, but I refused to give him my entire life, specifically my dreams of collegiate sports. Midway through the season, playing in Tulsa, OK in a Friday night in October, I blew the same knee out even worse than the year before in the second half of a game where I was having one of my best games. I knew what had happened as soon as I felt it. I got up and walked to the sideline. The whole way, I was just thinking, “This is my last walk off the field ever…” I was crushed. I sat on the bench and cried like I had never cried before, thinking “Why? Why me??”

The next Monday, I visited my surgeon and received another MRI, only revealing what I already knew. My doctor gave me two options: Get another ACL reconstruction surgery on my knee or play on it and finish my senior season. I decided to play. I had to wait two weeks before I could play due to the swelling, and God took advantage of this time in me.

I hardly ever read the Bible and never really studied it in depth to understand it. I just knew what I had learned in church or from my family. One day during those two weeks off, I literally just happened upon 1 Timothy 4:12-16:

12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an   example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

I had heard verse 12 before, just as every youth group attender has, but the rest of it hit me like a brick. Devote yourself? Don’t neglect? Be diligent? Persevere? These were words athletes always heard in practice, training, and games! But they were in the context of Christianity and living a life devoted to Christ! I soon felt that I had not devoted my life to Christ and not given Him full control of me. Just as the Word also says, we must chase after God, and only then can He give us the desires of our heart, because at that point, our desires will be for whatever His Will is for us. I got it. It clicked. God first. My life changed.

312702_2435420120537_1478876606_n[1]I finished the season after the swelling in my knee went down. I caught two touchdown passes in the National Homeschool Football Association championship game in Panama City Beach, FL, helping us win the NHFA title that year. I was named to the NHFA All-American Team, and for the first time, I was truly humbled by the opportunities God had given to me, and I was clearly focused on the next steps: Surgery, Rehab again, and College Football.

I received a couple offers from NAIA schools in the Midwest, but ended up accepting an academic scholarship from Knox College in Galesburg, IL. A few weeks after accepting and communicating the Knox coaching staff that I was doing well in rehab and looking forward to joining their team in the fall, I was working at my job in Springfield, just making some parttime money. I guess I planted or turned wrong, but I tore my meniscus in the SAME KNEE. Needing another surgery, I felt that it was finally over, but I was accepting that. It was May, and football camp at Knox started in four months. I was going to be on crutches for six weeks after this surgery and did not know if I could be able to play. My surgeon and trainer convinced me that I would be ready in August for 2-a-days. The coaching staff at Knox stayed with me, and I am extremely thankful for that. I trained hard and prayed harder. If college football was God’s Will, then He would have to keep the door open.

I made it to August. Two weeks into camp at Knox, my knee swelled up and got so sore that I could not run or cut. With the coaches’ help, I decided to sit the season out. I trained and fought back hard. With God’s help, I CAN do anything. The following season, I earned a spot on some special teams and played my role there, but after the season, I felt God pulling me out of Knox. I just felt that I was done there as I walked off the field after the final game. I quit football and looked to transfer.

I toured two schools that spring: Missouri Southern State and Evangel University. Evangel was the last place I thought I would end up. But I just prayed for God’s Will, and I devoted myself to Him. I just happened to eat lunch with the DB’s coach at my EU tour, gave him a DVD of some high school film, told him of my injuries, and left that afternoon. God always has a plan. That coach called me the next day, asking me to walk on as a DB. I was thrilled! No scholarship but still playing the sport I loved while getting my education. I transferred here to EU and started that fall camp with high hopes.

God had other plans for me as I soon learned of my ineligibility with the NAIA due to a lack of transferrable credits from my former institution. I got angry for a little while, but due to the kindness of the coaching staff and God working in me, I was able to play my role on the scout teams and love it. After that November, I hit the off-season hard. I went into the spring ready to play and earn a scholarship and a spot. Then, in back-to-back weeks, I broke my thumb and injured my foot. I felt horrible, but I was determined to not leave the sport until I had exhausted everything in me. After the Spring Game, the head coach informed that I had not earned a scholarship but was welcome to try again in the fall. Later that week, I learned of a financial situation, and with a sad heart, decided to retire from football. I had no funding, and I knew I would have to work a lot in order to pay for school, so I opted for my education first.

That summer and fall, I worked two jobs, sometimes 50-60 hours a week, including going to school here full time. I had accepted being done with football, but I missed it terribly. I prayed about it, and felt God saying that maybe I wasn’t done just yet. I worked hard and trained on my own in between classes and two jobs. I told my parents that if I could save up enough money, I would try in the spring to earn a scholarship one final time. Well, I saved up the money and went into the head coach’s office to ask him if he had any openings for a DB. He welcomed me back with open arms, and I was so thankful and determined. I gave the winter training program everything I had and went into the spring practices with one goal: To play every play like it was my last, because every play could be.

God had a plan, just like always. I played well enough in the spring game to earn a scholarship. When Coach Illum (the head coach) laid that scholarship offer on his desk in front of me, I almost lost it. The amount was the EXACT amount of money I was having to come up with every year in order to attend here at EU. I was so thankful that I almost cried in his office. God had a plan.

That was last spring. Here I am, a senior Defensive Back at Evangel University enjoying my final season before graduation. This is my unashamed testimony: God always has a plan, God will always provide when we chase after Him first, and God is the reason I live.

Praise God.

Amen.

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