C-N football program sees 10 players make professions
By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
JEFFERSON CITY — Big decisions are often made at football camp. Who is going to be the starting tailback? What scheme is the new defensive coordinator going to install? Is the kick returner going to be used at wide receiver?
Important choices, for sure. Choices that can ultimately determine a team’s success.
And yet, those types of decisions aren’t nearly as significant as the decisions that were made at Carson-Newman’s football camp this summer. These were life-changing — and eternity-altering — decisions.
In the latest example of the Christ-first culture that permeates throughout the Carson-Newman football program, 10 players on the C-N football team made professions of faith during the Eagles’ preseason camp. More than a dozen other players also made commitments, including rededications and other decisions, during camp.
“It’s bigger than football — for all of us,” said Marty Blakely, a former C-N player who is now the team’s chaplain and the area director for Lakeway FCA. “It’s been enormous to see God at work. And then to see the response, it’s just been awesome.”
Following camp, the 10 players were baptized in Mossy Creek. The professions of faith were the continuation of a well-established tradition at Carson-Newman, where winning and soul-winning go hand-in-hand.
On the field, the Eagles have established themselves as one of the premiere football programs in the NCAA Division II ranks. They’ve won five national championships and 23 South Atlantic Conference titles in the program’s history. They’ve also sent 44 players to the NFL and had 125 players named All-Americans.
Off the field, the Eagles’ legacy is even richer. It is filled with stories similar to the one that happened this summer, when the presence of the Lord was so clearly felt.
Ken Sparks, who coached at Carson-Newman from 1980-2016, played a pivotal role in shaping the C-N program into a team that won plenty of football games, but always honored God while doing so. Sparks, who passed away in 2017, has more wins than any coach in Division-II history.
When he retired, Sparks passed the reins to current head coach Mike Turner, who has continued the Eagles’ standards — both on and off the field.
“When Mike Turner became the head coach, it was a seamless transition,” said C-N volunteer kickers and punters coach Alan Duncan. “I mean, he has a heart to reach these young men for Christ just the same way Coach Sparks did. It’s literally the culture of the program.
“It’s almost unbelievable how focused the coaching staff is on building young men and seeing them develop a relationship with Christ. It’s more important to them than winning football games, although they do a good job of that, too,” added Duncan, who played at the University of Tennessee and went on to kick in the USFL with the Memphis Showboats. He then served as an International Mission Board missionary in South Africa for 16 years and is now on staff at Manley Baptist Church in Morristown.
Duncan and Blakely said that many of the 18-22-year-olds who play football at Carson-Newman come to campus with hopes of finding something that’s more powerful than the fleeting high of on-field victories. And once they find it, the results outlast anything that they achieved between the lines.
“There are just so many young men that I could tell you about who have gone into ministry or maybe gone into coaching with the philosophy of ‘God has called me to reach as many as I can with the gifts and the talents that He’s given me,’ ” said Duncan. “And many times, they have developed that purpose because of the influence of these coaches, and the FCA, here at Carson-Newman.”
And those are the victories that last.