NORMAN, Okla. (BP) — He was a member of Bob Stoops’ first recruiting class at the University of Oklahoma. He played in two national championship games, three Big XII championship games and four bowl games while at OU.
What he did as a Sooner football player he continues to do today — not on the field, but in the locker room, dorm room, throughout the campus and even on road trips. Having an influence in people’s lives is what Smokey Hurst is still doing.
While honing his athletic skills at OU, Hurst honed his spiritual strength through the Paradigm campus ministry (formerly Baptist Student Union, or BSU). And now he’s back to help others do the same.
A Class 2A defensive player of the year as a high school junior at Beggs High School in Beggs, Okla., Hurst received multiple letters from college football programs. However, there was no doubt in his mind where he wanted to play.
“Living in Oklahoma and being the [OU linebacker Brian] Bosworth fan that I was, I was really interested in playing for the University of Oklahoma,” Hurst said.
During the week after he graduated high school, Hurst headed to Norman to start spring training. He moved in with a guy named Pete whom he knew from Beggs.
“Pete introduced me to a college ministry at OU called BSU and a man named Max Barnett,” Hurst said. “When a person meets Max, he walks away a changed person, and this is what happened to me.”
Hurst had become a Christian during his high school junior year. The timing was perfect for this young “Timothy” to be discipled by Barnett, the longtime director of OU’s BSU.
“I studied under Max the four-and-a-half years I was at OU, and it was during this time that my relationship with Christ began to blossom and grow,” Hurst said. “I was challenged to live by a higher standard, follow hard after Christ and make disciples who could make disciples.”
Hurst was determined to live the Christian life while playing football at OU. He experienced many challenges from his teammates, who often questioned him on the standards he chose to follow.
“I built upon my own convictions of why I didn’t drink,” Hurst said. “Some of them would say to me, ‘You have the freedom to do what you want.'”
The conversations were frequent. His teammates continued to debate with Hurst about why he refrained from alcohol. Finally, Hurst took the opportunity to engage them about their constant prodding.
“I asked them, ‘Why are you asking me these questions?’ One of them responded, ‘Because you don’t drink.’ So then I asked, ‘If I drank, would we ever have these conversations?'”
His teammates realized they were confiding in Hurst. They had an appreciation for how Hurst lived his life, and soon they came to him for advice and for his perspective on challenging issues.
“I was able to share the Gospel over and over and over again without ever once having to say, ‘Let me share the Gospel with you,'” Hurst recounted.
Teammates were not the only ones Hurst impacted. One day, a coach noticed Hurst carrying a small packet of Bible verses he used for Scripture memorization. The coach took the packet, pulled out a card and asked Hurst to quote the verse on the card, which he did word for word.
The coach asked if he could borrow the packet and make copies of the verse cards. Years later, when Hurst was visiting this coach in his office, he noticed the memory verse cards sitting on his desk.
Something that challenged Hurst as a player was how the team was constantly reciting the Lord’s Prayer at various occasions. As a senior he decided to write an eight-page paper on the Lord’s Prayer, and he gave it to Coach Stoops.
He told the coach he did not think the team realized the importance of the Lord’s Prayer and wanted Stoops to read his paper. After that visit, instead of the team reciting the Lord’s Prayer, Stoops always would call on Hurst to pray.
The team continues to follow this pattern. With the exception of game days when they still voice Jesus’ model prayer, a player is now asked to say a prayer for the team.
Hurst married his longtime girlfriend Meagan in the spring before he graduated from OU. After graduation, he started a landscaping company that was thriving, and eventually he was able to hire 25 employees. Smokey and Meagan were living a very blessed life.
Then in 2008 he sold the business and moved his family to Fort Worth, Texas, to start seminary. After years of putting off the Lord’s calling, Hurst surrendered his life to fulltime ministry.
“We have made a commitment to follow the Lord in obedience and faith wherever He leads us, regardless of what plans we may already have,” he said.
The Hursts are back in Norman and serving at the Baptist collegiate ministry. Smokey, who raises his own support, is once again engaging student athletes and other college students in his way of doing relational ministry.
The Sooners have produced many popular and successful football players. Hurst may not be a player who comes to mind when recalling those who were a part of OU’s national championship in 2000, but from an eternal perspective he definitely could be considered successful.
Instead of winning trophies, he is helping change lives, just like he was trained to do in college.
Chris Doyle is development specialist for Baptist Village Communities in Oklahoma. This article appeared in The Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.