Kent State football continues team prayer


Kent Sate running back Will Matthews (center right) leads a short prayer just after the national anthem to start off their game versus Buffalo on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017.

Arkayla Tenney-Howard

The Kent State football team kneeled in a circle, hands on one another’s shoulders, heads bowed, as William Matthews, junior running back, led the team prayer.

Before every game and after every practice, Matthews leads the whole team in a group prayer. Coach Haynes asked Matthews to lead prayers at the beginning of this season. Regardless of religious beliefs and backgrounds, the team unites for this moment.

“It brings people together,” said senior kicker, Shane Hynes. “I don’t know everybody’s beliefs, but I know it creates a bond.”

This bond is something is something that Frank Kurtz, a Kent State Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s staff member, said more teams should strive for.

“In this day and age, it is very hard for young people to stand up and say I believe in something,” Kurtz said. “For these young men to say ‘Hey, I’m not afraid to do this,’ that’s a great example for others to follow.”

Each prayer is different. Some include prayers for specific team members, prayers for victims of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey, and prayers for the coaching staff. He explained that the prayer is bigger than the game.

“I thank Him for everything before every single game,” Matthews said.

Head coach Paul Haynes encourages the players to have a spiritual part of their lives, regardless of denomination.

“The prayer is an option, not an obligation,” Matthews said.

During high school, many of the players participated in mandatory team prayers. Hynes recalled reciting the “I Am One” prayer with his high school team. Other players included pre-game praying at a young age.

“I was raised in a baptist home,” said Stefano Millin, a senior offensive lineman. “I’ve been praying since flag football.”

Bryce Gibbs, junior English major and offensive lineman, said that his parents prayed for him when he first started playing the game. As he got older, he joined in the prayers as well.

“My parents never forced prayer on me,” Gibbs said. “But they’re proud of me for doing it now.”

Players have other habits that they started at a young age. From putting on uniforms methodically to avoid bad luck, to calling parents pregame, each player has a way of preparing for the game. Most pre-game rituals include music.

While many players listen to rap, country, hip-hop and rock music to energize themselves before games, Matthews chooses to listen to gospel music.

“Gospel music calms me down and makes my mood better,” he said. “Sometimes it can even get me pumped up like when I listen to Kirk Franklin.”

After players complete their personal rituals, head coach Paul Haynes delivers a motivational speech for the team. Finally, before walking onto the field, Matthews leads the team prayer.

“I pray that in everything we do, we give glory to God.” Matthews said.

Arkayla Tenney-Howard is the stater religion reporter. Contact her at [email protected]