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Ravens’ kicker Matt Stover aims toward heavenly goal
Tuesday, Aug 12, 2003
By Sharon Mager & Bob Simpson

COLUMBIA, Md. (BP)--Baltimore Ravens punter Matt Stover is one of the most accurate place kickers in the National Football League. In the 2000 season, he hit 81 percent of his 293 regular-season field goal attempts and had up to that time missed only three extra points in 11 NFL seasons.

During the Raven’s Super Bowl year, they went through Week Five to Week Nine when they didn’t score a touchdown for 21 quarters. During that time, Stover had a five field goal game and a four field goal game to help the Ravens to victory. The Ravens played excellent defense and held the opponents points to a minimum. Stover scored 49 straight points on 16 field goals and an extra point. He was awarded Pro Football Weekly’s “Golden Toe Trophy” for this accomplishment.

Stover points towards heaven when he scores a field goal for his team. He gives God the glory for the victory. Stover also points to heaven when he misses. He still gives God the glory.

“Through my career I have to first and foremost honor Him,” Stover said. “It’s not about me, it’s about Him. When I point up I’m giving thanks -- not only when I get a field goal but also when I miss one. It’s life’s trials that make you grow the most, not the good times.”

It’s an opportunity Stover knows he has and he uses it. Rather than worship the god of football, Stover surrendered football to God.

Stover learned about Jesus as a child but didn’t have a personal relationship with Him. He pictured Jesus behind a door. When needs arose he opened the door; otherwise it stayed shut.

He began his love affair with football while in first grade. Stover was a punt-pass and kick champion when he was 11. He played punter, kicker and wide receiver in high school but began specializing in kicking. He went to Louisiana Tech on a full football scholarship and his dream came true in 1990 when the New York Giants drafted him. In 1991 he signed with the Cleveland Browns. The Browns relocated to Baltimore and became the Ravens in 1996.

By the second year with the Browns, Stover thought he had it all.

“... the ball field, the financial success -- hey, this was it!” he said.

As a young man, Stover identified manly success with the two “B’s” -– the billfold and the ball field.

“Through those things I was trying to find happiness and fulfillment in life and they all left me empty,” Stover said.

In 1991 while playing against the Houston Oilers, Stover missed a 19-yard field goal. He went down on one knee and said, “God, help me.” The reverence he found in himself surprised him. It made him aware that he knew he was accountable to God.

Stover attended a pro-athlete conference in California in February 1992. The speaker talked about the god of football. He referenced Mark 8:35, 36: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

“I had the whole world but didn’t have my soul covered. This game of mine, which should have brought me happiness, didn’t. It dropped me on my head. God gave me an opportunity to discover my true purpose -- to be loved by Him and love Him in return and accept Him as Lord and Savior. And I did that.”

Stover said as his relationship grew. God began chiseling him -- “big chunks real fast.”

“I grew quickly,” he said, but still wasn’t willing to let go of football. In September 1992 Stover got injured. He kicked the ball and lay afterwards in severe pain. On the ground he felt God saying, “I can take this from you anytime. Are you willing to give it up?”

“I surrendered and said, ‘Lord, it’s yours,’” Stover responded.

After rehabilitation he went on to become one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history in 1994 and remains on the top 10 list of NFL kickers. Stover also held the record in 2001 for the most consecutive games with field goals.

God was also working on Stover’s relationships.

“Life was about Matt,” he said. God changed that and began restoring relationships in Stover’s life, drawing him and his wife, Debbie, closer. Stover began to reach out and love those around him like he had never done before.

God produced more miracles in Stover’s life by blessing him and Debbie with two children -- a daughter, Jenna, born April 26, 1995, and exactly one year later his son, Jacob.

Debbie Stover grew up in Dallas and attended First Baptist Church, Dallas, under the pastorate of W.A. Criswell. She came to know the Lord when she was 11.

“She is a huge influence in my life. She showed me that it doesn’t matter how good you are if you don’t have your sin taken care of.”

Stover knows he has to be a role model on and off the field. He knows people watch how he responds to others and how he walks. He wants to show by example that being a Christian isn’t a “fuddy-duddy” lifestyle, but is vibrant and fun.

“The guys will cuss around you and say ‘excuse my language.’ They’ll sit next to me ... all beat up, and say ‘Stov, this coach is killing me. I need some encouragement’. I’m a big encourager. When I’m down I encourage people the most.

“Playing football is a very insecure career. There is no guaranteed contract. You can be cut at any time. The average time for a football player is 3 years, 3 games. At 35 I’m the oldest guy. The average age is 26.”

He knows God blessed him with the gift of administration. Stover works with team ministry and outreach. Stover and other Christians on the team work together to host a large outreach each year at the Ravens’ stadium. They pay for about 3,500 people, mostly from the inner city of Baltimore, to meet and shake hands with some of the players and hear some of them give their personal testimonies.

During the football season. a group averaging anywhere from eight to 15 Christians on the Ravens team meet for Bible study on Wednesday nights. About 40 people attend Saturday night chapel. The Ravens have a chaplain, Rod Hairston, who is allowed in the locker room and travels with the team. Not all coaches allow that privilege. Hairston’s arrival, Stover said, was the result of a strong commitment of prayer in 1999 -- a year before the team won the Super Bowl.

“Brian Billick is a good coach with regard to religious freedom,” Stover said.

Stover and his family worship and are actively involved at Grace Fellowship Church in Timonium. He is still a member of his hometown church, First Baptist Church, in Georgetown, Texas.

“I can look back and say being a professional athlete has been such a blessing to me, and hopefully I have used the platform given to me to bless others. God will hold me responsible for how I’ve handled myself.”
Used by permission from Baptist Life, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware. Sharon Mager is a staff writer and Bob Simpson is the editor of Baptist Life.

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