Where football meets faith | Tyler Vasega

The air was chilly and the sky dark in the aftermath of George Fox’s final home football game of 2017. After a storybook, record-setting season, the Bruins fell to Pacific Lutheran, dashing hopes for a historic playoff run. Rather than the anticipated excitement of clinching a spot in the NCAA Division III National Championship tournament – which would have been a first in program history – the team was forced to accept the reality that a national berth wasn’t to be.

The loss was particularly hard on zero-year players, that group of seniors who helped relaunch the program after a 45-year hiatus. They had committed a full year of practice, scrimmages and preparation in 2013, a full year before the first official game in 2014. Most of them had stayed an extra semester or year to finish out their last year of NCAA eligibility.

The players filed back into the stands long after the crowd had dispersed for a pre-planned celebration to honor graduating seniors and zero-year players. The decision had been made to move forward with the ceremony despite the loss. After honoring each of the veteran players, coach Chris Casey opened up the microphone to underclassmen players to share their thoughts for the graduating seniors.

A few moments passed in silence. Finally, Tyler Vasega, a freshman, walked to the front of the stands. Casey handed him the microphone, and he began to speak.

“The absolute value of zero is zero,” he said. “No matter how many zeros we put, there is still no value. The absolute value of two zeros is 0. The absolute value of three zeros is 0. But when we put a number in front of 0, it gives value to the whole number. How about number 1? When we put the number 1 in front of three zeroes, we get 1,000. Just one number adds value to the whole thing. That’s what these zero-year players taught me – with Christ first, we have unlimited value. It’s not from us. It’s not from our win-loss streak. The zero-year guys, they taught us to live by the words, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

For the group in the stands, especially those who found their college football careers coming to an end, it was a stirring message – one that served as a reminder to stop and remember the important lessons in sports, and in life.

For Vasega, it was another occasion his spiritual encouragement made an impact on the team in a powerful way. “I’m someone who is open about my faith,” he shared. “I truly believe faith and football go hand-in-hand. It’s important to me to be spiritually prepared. The team needs people who are spiritually strong.”

Vasega’s road to becoming a Bruin was an unconventional one. As a junior in high school, he was attracting interest from storied Division I programs. Right as scholarship offers were in process, he sustained a near career-ending injury.

“When I got injured, there was that thought of . . . I’m not going to play D1 football,” he recalled. “Then I came to the realization that the question was more of, ‘Am I ever going to get to play football again?’ It was a time of spiritual reconciliation.”

Vasega ultimately recovered from the injury but found himself at the end of his high school career without a plan for what would come next. He had earned a spot to play in a regional All-Star game called the Life Champions Bowl  – an impressive feat given the extent of his injury and relatively short recovery time – and met football coach Ken Ingram from George Fox. A few short months later, he found himself in Newberg for the first days of practice.

Vasega is a force to be reckoned with on the field, calling his favorite part of football “the contact.” He hopes to lead the Bruins to a national championship in his three remaining years of eligibility, and speaks highly of his experience as a student-athlete at George Fox: “I really like being an athlete, taking on responsibility in the way you carry yourself as a role model,” he shared. “In sports, it just takes one person to give value to the whole thing. If that’s my role sometimes, that I can get the whole team going, I’d love to be part of that difference, that spark!”

Vasega carries his Bible around campus and has already led prayer groups for athletes, following in the footsteps of zero-year players Grant Schroeder and Trent Hardin, who helped to lay the foundation for a strong emphasis on faith along with football. “Grant and Trent were trying to find spiritual leaders on the team,” Vasega shared. “They looked toward me [and Joseph Ballard] to lead and carry on the tradition.”

After Vasega’s message on the dreary evening of 2017’s final home game, it would appear the two were onto something. To close his message, Vasega thanked the seniors and shared one final remark.

“The awesome part about football is the question put before us: Are we giving our best? Everyone says that means 110 percent or 200 percent. Christ didn’t just give us 110 percent. He gave us everything. At George Fox, we’re athletes for Christ. It just takes him to give value to the whole thing.”