UT athlete makes plays for Christ
Tuesday, Oct 17, 2000
By Todd Starnes
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The day he set foot on the green grass of Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee, Will Bartholomew had a simple prayer request -- he wanted to see his teammates accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Nearly two years later, Bartholomew's prayer was answered.
In February, Bartholomew, UT kicker David Leaverton and several other teammates attended a retreat sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. By the end of the weekend, Cedric Wilson, Eric Westmoreland and Charles Small had accepted Christ and three other teammates recommitted their lives to the Lord.
For Bartholomew, it was a moment he won't forget. "I had been praying for everyone on my team ever since I got to campus," he said. "That's why I believe God brought me to UT, to tell people about Jesus."
"Some folks think that sports is about getting out there and hitting somebody, but it's not. It's about using your gifts to honor God, being salt in the world," he said.
And Bartholomew isn't the only member of the UT football team who sports a desire to tell others about Jesus Christ. From the coaching staff to the players, some observers have noted that revival has broken out on one of the nation's most prestigious football programs.
Bartholomew's spiritual roots are about as strong as his family's heritage at UT. The hard-nosed fullback's grandfather played for the team during the legendary 1938 and 1939 seasons. Like his grandson, Sam Bartholomew Sr. played on the only other UT team to go undefeated.
On the field, Bartholomew is known for his tough, determined spirit. Off the field, Bartholomew carries those same qualities into his walk with Christ.
"Every morning I wake up and surrender to a higher authority," Bartholomew said. "Nothing matters in this world but Christ."
He's quick to say he doesn't do anything without consulting with the Lord -- even in football. "I remember when I was trying to decide where to go and I asked God to reveal the answer to me. I prayed real hard," he said. At the time, he was considering attending another school and the decision weighed heavily.
In the end, Bartholomew listened to God and went to UT, winning two SEC championships and one national championship. And he also met his wife.
"She is such a godly woman," Bartholomew said of his wife, Shelley. "God has truly blessed me."
And if his plate wasn't full enough, Bartholomew has served as president of UT's FCA the past two years.
On Sundays, the Bartholomews worship at Sevier Heights Baptist Church in nearby Sevierville. As for the future, he said it's in God's hands. "My first thoughts are playing in the NFL or going into the business world, but I haven't ruled out the ministry either," Bartholomew said. "I'm just going to try to live like God would have me to live."
Leaverton came to the hills of Tennessee from the plains of Texas, having grown up and accepted Christ at First Baptist Church, Midland, Texas. And it was at First Baptist where Leaverton learned to be a committed follower of the Lord.
For the team's ace kicker, that means being at church every Sunday morning, even during football season.
"My relationship to Jesus is even more important than sleep," Leaverton said. "It's difficult on some weekends, but I try to stay faithful." One way Leaverton stays focused is through discipleship provided by his pastor in Knoxville.
Leaverton also finds the time to help with the youth ministry at Christ Covenant Church, a small congregation in Knoxville. "I've enjoyed the smaller church," Leaverton said. "I've enjoyed the family atmosphere."
Back on campus, Leaverton has been busy helping Bartholomew disciple their fellow teammates. "Will and I are starting Bible study groups and we are helping some of the guys who just got saved," he said. "It's a humbling responsibility, but it's been such a blessing."
As for his own daily walk with the Lord, Leaverton said it's important to remember that Satan is always lurking. "We're under spiritual attack. And the best way to combat that is to spend time daily with the Lord. The Bible is our spiritual bread."
Bud Ford, the university's sports information director, said it is a blessing to be around a group of athletes and coaches who are not only committed to athletics, but to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
"Coach Fulmer speaks out very well about how he feels about our athletes," Ford said. "He definitely takes a Christian stand and he is involved in programs that promote Christianity."
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