KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Two fist pumps to the chest and an index finger pointed toward heaven.
For University of Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton, they are outward signs of an inward commitment. The fist-to-chest means “I’m giving”; the point-to-the-sky signifies “glory to God.” They occur after Crompton throws a touchdown pass.
After team chaplain Roger Woods led Crompton to Christ on Aug. 25, he encouraged him to adopt the sign philosophy. During this season, Crompton has had plenty of opportunities.
His 26 touchdown passes rank second in the Southeastern Conference. His 209 pass completions (out of 358 attempts) rank ninth in Tennessee history and his 2,565 yards are third in the SEC this season, ninth in UT history.
Under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin’s offense, Crompton improved his passing average by more than 100 yards per game. In 2008 he averaged 111.1 yards (889 total yards). This year he has averaged 213.8 yards. In three previous seasons he had thrown nine touchdown passes.
The Vols (7-5), who finished second in the SEC East Division, play Virginia Tech (9-3) in Thursday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“Part of his turnaround this year has been surrendering to Christ,” Woods said. “This season has been a reflection of that.”
Since Crompton gave his life to Christ, he said he hasn’t looked back.
“I’m more fulfilled,” he said. “It’s made it a lot easier for me on and off the field. I don’t have to do all the work. It’s all on Him. This season has been different in a good way. It’s more enjoyable. I’m having more fun.”
The 2008 season was anything but fun. As the Vols slipped to 5-7, Crompton was the target for some of the blame. With his quarterback rating the lowest of four seasons (98.13 compared to the best in 2009, 135.83), Crompton threw five interceptions and only four touchdown passes. He threw 12 interceptions in 2009 in twice as many attempts.
While he didn’t make it public until after the 2008 season, Crompton received death threats. Inner strength helped him deal with them.
“God has blessed me to be strong-willed. I shrugged it off and kept going. It’s part of life,” he said.
Although Woods didn’t become chaplain until 2009, he told Crompton to let the past stay in the past.
“I didn’t know him then but we’ve had several conversations dealing with that,” Woods said. “I told him to live a surrendered life, to give things to God and throw our troubles, trials and tribulations into the sea of forgetfulness.
“We can’t allow our past to hinder us from our present and future. If he had continued to worry about what happened in the previous years, what God has done through him this year would never have happened. He is a very resilient kid with all the adversity he has faced.”
Woods meets with Crompton weekly in one-on-one discipleship.
“When you sit down and talk with him you know this guy really is a Christian,” said Woods, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes director at Tennessee. “You listen to him. His heart is really turned toward God.”
Woods baptized Crompton in November during The Walk, the Wednesday night college event at Sevier Heights Baptist Church. Crompton was one of 84 students baptized by Woods and college pastor Tim Miller during a three-week period. About 1,000 students attend weekly. Crompton also attends Sevier Heights on Sundays and is active in FCA.
Crompton, who is 6-4 and weighs 228 pounds, has a goal of playing in the NFL.
“It is not about playing for us but playing for the glory of God and playing through Him,” Crompton said. “Every time we have a chance to get into the end zone or make a good play, it is because of Him.
“It’s amazing. Jesus has given His life. He was kind enough to forgive us of our sins. No one is perfect. I want to keep moving forward and to get stronger every day in my walk with Him.”
Bill Sorrell is a writer for BPSports.net