JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — Washington Redskins tight end Hale Hentges goes into every play with a prayer in his heart.
“Jesus, I trust in you. I could score a touchdown or break a leg and never play again. So whatever is supposed to happen on this play, just let it happen.”
He shared that prayer in addressing an assembly at Immaculate Conception School Jefferson City during National Catholic Schools Weeks in late January. He attended the Catholic middle school and graduated in 2011. He is a 2015 graduate of Helias Catholic High School, also in Jefferson City.
“Not too long ago, I was right where you are,” he said at the Jan. 29 school assembly. “Life is crazy and unpredictable and fun and it will all be the time of your life as long as you keep God with you.”
The football player, who prefers to go by Hale, talked to the students about the importance of forging an unbreakable relationship with God, maximizing their talents for God’s greater glory, carving out time for prayer, and paying close attention to the direction he gives.
“God has given me gifts and he has given you outstanding, phenomenal gifts and he wants you to use them to glorify him and his kingdom,” he said.
Figuring out the best way to do that requires prayer — an ongoing, open dialogue with God.
“The No. 1 thing is, God is my best friend,” said Hale. “Friends may come and friends may go, but throughout it all, God is there with you.”
In a separate gathering, he also spoke to the eighth grade boys about respecting authority, embracing difficult challenges and treating women as treasured daughters of their heavenly Father.
“What a blessing it is for you to be able to go to a Catholic school, where you can share your faith in a place that everybody shares it with you and you get to grow as disciples of God with one another,” he told the whole school.
Hale played in four college football national championship games with the University of Alabama before graduating with honors last January and marrying his wife, Shannon.
He made the final roster for the Indianapolis Colts before finishing this season with Washington, scoring his first NFL touchdown Dec. 22 against the New York Giants.
Hale said Immaculate Conception and Helias Catholic were catalysts for him becoming the person he is today.
“They can help you get wherever you want to go,” he said. “You just have to put in the hard work and let God take it from there.”
God has a plan for each person, whether it be marriage, religious life, priesthood or single life, he said.
“It’s not our job to know what God is doing in our life,” he said. “It’s our job to say ‘yes’ to whatever he asks us to do.”
Hale noted that he has gotten to play for some excellent coaches, which reinforced for him the importance of respecting authority.
“Even playing in the National Football League, I’m at the bottom of the totem pole,” he said. “I answer to so many people, most importantly to God.”
He talked about some of the difficulties and disappointments he came up against while pursuing the dream he first had when he was 3, including his own doubts about his abilities in high school and in college. He also dealt with a season-stopping injury while he was a junior.
He and his wife were just getting settled in Indianapolis when injuries to other players on the Colts resulted in him getting cut to make room for reinforcements.
“But the Redskins claimed me, so I was lucky enough to get to continue to play,” he said. “That’s what God had in store for me, and I hope to play some more next year.”
Hale pointed out the importance of maintaining a childlike dependence on God.
“We can’t control everything in life,” he said. “But we can control our relationship with God and our disposition about that reality.”
“Difficult things will happen in your life, and for a lot of you, that may have already happened,” he noted. “But as long as you have that friendship with God, there is nothing you can’t deal with.”
Hale said it took him a while “to really learn how to pray.” While structured prayers and devotions are good and helpful, “it’s more about actually having a relationship with God,” he explained.
He realized a long time ago, he said, that because his life revolves so much about football, he had to be intentional about setting aside time for God every day.
From the minute he wakes up, his day “starts with God and ends with God, and throughout the day, he wants to hear from me,” said Hale.
He encouraged the young people to spend some time greeting the Lord in the morning before even checking their phone.
“If you start your day like that, your day is gonna be great,” he said. “You’re gonna be happier and have more energy. You’re gonna realize that this day is a gift and that God is in control every aspect of it. He won’t let you down.”
He sets the alarm on his cellphone to remind him several times a day to stop and commune with God.
Quick prayers — “Jesus, I trust in you,” “God, I love you,” “Jesus, please help me” — turn ordinary tasks into acts of prayer.
When he’s on the field, he offers a silent prayer before the beginning of each play. “That alone is powerful,” he said.
He suggested the young people stop and pray every time they log onto Instagram, Ticktock or other social media. He urged them to keep going to Mass and receive the Eucharist often and make the best use of the sacraments available to them at their Catholic school.
Hales has been on a “heck of a journey,” and “God has been with us through the whole process” he said.
He told the students that whatever they want to accomplish, “with God and hard work, you can do it.”
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Nies is editor of The Catholic Missourian, newspaper of the Diocese of Jefferson City.
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