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Life off the field

Kevin Washington (Anna Heyward/Legacy Disciple)

Sports

Life off the field

UT’s Kevin Washington tries to be salt and light to Longhorn players

Kevin Washington, 31, gets just a few feet into the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) when he spots someone he wants to talk to. “Yodes!” he calls out, giving senior football player Tim Yoder a handshake and slap-on-the-back hug. Yoder, at 5 foot 9, just reaches Washington’s shoulder. They exchange a few words and continue on.

As director of player development, Washington talks with players about everything from girlfriends to the gospel to life after football. The team has 88 players from diverse backgrounds and religious beliefs. There’s never enough time.

Washington became a Christian while playing college football, first at Notre Dame and then at Abilene Christian University. He then worked for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and became chaplain for the University of Houston football team, where he met coach Tom Herman. When Herman became head coach at UT in 2016, he asked Washington to come with him.

Herman appreciates the relationships Washington develops with students. Washington says about others at UT: “They know that what I believe is Christianity. I believe in the Bible. I believe in Christ.”

Washington learns about his players. One chilly Wednesday in February, he shot pool with freshman Justin Mader in the football players’ lounge before teaching a Bible study with the Longhorn Christian Fellowship. It’s one of three Bible studies Washington leads. Dressed in a white Longhorn polo, slightly baggy jeans, and sneakers, he straddled a short stool and faced a group of 31 students.

After praying, he led a study on God’s omniscience. Freshman Luke Brockermeyer explained: “Christian or not, everyone has a respect for Kevin, because he’s not someone who will force Christianity on you, but if you have questions, you can talk to him.”

Washington knows he has limited time with players: “That’s the hard part because you don’t want to sacrifice intentionality, but you also want to get in touch with everybody.” He knows that once guys graduate, his window of opportunity closes. He wants to minimize the what-ifs: “Man, I should have prepped him more for interviews, or man, I should have pushed him more to decide what he wants to do when he graduates. Or I should have asked him the hard questions about his girlfriend to see how they were doing. Or even if we have a guy who has a kid, I should have said, ‘Hey, how are you doing in fatherhood?’”

Lots of such conversations take place on the leather couch and chair in Washington’s office. Junior Collin Johnson explains: “You go in there and sit down and mention what you’re going through, and he will pull up a book, a passage in the Bible, an experience from his life or somebody else’s life. … Tie it in and change your perspective on your situation.”

For senior Tim Yoder, who played in only one game and wants to become a coach, conversations have focused on planning for life after football. He says Washington texted contacts at various schools “and set up phone calls and all this stuff. Some people say they’re willing to help, but he’s really willing to go and serve and do whatever it takes for those around him.”

With junior D’Andre Christmas-Giles, a Muslim, conversations have focused on religion. He says Washington has helped him open up about his Islamic beliefs, and he admires how Washington carries himself faithfully: “Like Jesus Christ.”

Sometimes the bonding takes place during team workouts every morning at 6. “He’s one of us,” Collin Johnson said. “When he gets in the weight room and works through those hard workouts at however old he is, it’s hard not to respect him.”

—Alyssa Jackson is a former WORLD intern