FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (BP)–The 2006 Razorback football squad will include some true believers, including Mitch Mustain, arguably the most sought after high school quarterback in the nation.
Mustain and two teammates who will join him at the University of Arkansas believe in the Hogs. They believe they can win games as well as the Southeastern Conference championship.
And they believe in Jesus Christ and believe their Christian commitment can make a difference on and off the field.
Having Christians on the University of Arkansas squad is nothing new. But Houston Nutt, head football coach and a committed Christian himself, is elated to have signed Mustain and two of his teammates -– Damian Williams and Andrew Norman — who led Springdale (Ark.) High School to the Class 5A state championship and a perfect 14-0 season, including three wins over nationally ranked opponents.
The trio also have been regulars at First Baptist Church of Springdale, where Ronnie Floyd is pastor.
“All three of these young guys have been active in our student ministry for the past three years,” Floyd said. “They have been a positive example and role model to others around them and have influenced their community in a great way. We are proud of all three of them and believe God is going to use them at the University of Arkansas. It’s exciting to see student athletes who are willing to profess their faith in Christ openly before others.”
Mustain was ranked by Scout.com as the nation’s top high school quarterback, and he was the Gatorade, USA Today and Parade Magazine national player of the year.
The 6’3” senior completed 190 of 270 passes for an Arkansas Class 5A single-season record 3,817 yards with 47 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He also ran for 141 yards and seven touchdowns on 30 rushing attempts and was sacked only twice.
Mustain said he is keenly aware the eyes of “the whole state of Arkansas” will be on him during the next few years.
“I look forward to having my chance in the spotlight and to use that for the glory of God,” he said. “That’s an awesome responsibility.”
Shawn Smith, student pastor at First Baptist Church of Springdale, praised Mustain’s maturity and commitment.
“The thing I love most about Mitch is he is very humble,” Smith said. “He is way beyond his years in maturity. Most people see only the athletic side of this guy, but there are so many other great dimensions. If they could see the other sides of his life, they would be just as blown away by the way he treats others and his kindness and his gentleness toward people….
“Damian and Andrew are the same way,” Smith continued. “They just treat everyone the same. They don’t walk around saying, ‘Look at us, we just won state and we’ve got the [championship] ring.’ They are very humble. I believe God is going to use them at the University of Arkansas because of their humility.”
Although Mustain grew up in the church, he did not have a personal relationship with Christ until the summer before his junior year in high school.
“I was saved at church camp,” Mustain said, noting he had felt conviction for several years but had never acted on it. “I talked to Shawn [Smith] about it and I had some great friends who helped me with that. During that week [at camp], I decided to follow Christ and I’ve never looked back. I began to take it seriously.”
Asked how he stays humble with all the media attention, he responded, “I have people around me who help me with that. I’m no better than anyone else, no matter how good I get [as an athlete]. I understand how important it is to stay humble. Injuries have been eye-openers. I broke my arm … and that really humbled me.”
His throwing arm was broken in two places during the state semi-finals two years ago against Little Rock Central High School. Emergency surgery the night of the injury placed two plates in his arm which remain.
“This injury took him to ground zero in his training and preparation,” Smith said, “but he worked hard and was able to begin throwing again with complete motion back in his arm. This type of injury does not normally heal this well or cleanly. It’s a miracle he got all the feeling back in that arm to throw as well as he does.”
Mustain believes God allowed the injury to get his attention.
Smith agreed. “God allowed him to get those injuries. The Lord did some neat things in his heart,” Smith recounted. “The Lord worked in his life. We saw him grow a lot in his faith before the injuries, but after the injuries, his faith took on a whole different dimension.”
In the hospital, Smith told Mustain, “God has done all this so when your high school career is over, and you play college ball and hopefully someday play pro ball, you’re going to be able to say, ‘There was a time in my life when I faced great adversity and with Christ I made it through for God’s glory and not my own.’”
Mustain acknowledged that the Razorback coaching staff played a key role in his decision to sign with Arkansas.
“You look at who is in the program and whether you want to spend four years with them,” Mustain reflected. “If the head coach is not the kind of guy you want to play for, you’re just wasting your time. Houston Nutt is a believer and lets people know that he is. That’s a big deal. I want to play for a guy who is going to help me on and off the field, someone who will help me personally in my life after football.”
In his commitment to improve the Razorback offense, Nutt also recruited the Springdale players’ coach, Gus Malzahn, as the new Arkansas offensive coordinator. Malzahn, also a committed Christian and a member of First Baptist in Springdale, was instrumental in the players’ development.
Nutt said he hopes Malzahn will bring new ideas and additional scoring to the offense.
“I totally believe that God has blessed me with a unique ability to know offense, to call offense,” Malzahn said. “I’m truly excited to be here. I can’t wait to get started.”
After the Hogs finished 4-7 last season and failed to make a bowl game for the second consecutive year, Nutt and his coaching staff recruited enough wide receivers to fit Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense.
Mustain said some players will have to adjust to the high-powered system, but he, Williams and Norman have it down.
“We’ve pretty much eliminated that part of it, and now we can focus on adjusting to the game speed,” Mustain said. “… Stick around for a few … years. We’ll bring home the SEC title.”
Mustain knows he will have to compete for the job as starting quarterback with sophomore Casey Dick.
“He’s got a leg up,” Mustain said. “He’s used to the speed of the game. He’s been there. He’s played in SEC games.
“Then I’ve got an advantage in knowing the system in and out. I know every bit of it.”
Nutt welcomes the quarterback controversy.
“You bet. Bring it on,” Nutt said.
“He’s the national player of the year,” said Nutt after Mustain signed. “When he decided to come back with us, we were sitting at 10 commitments. Then all of the sudden, a lot of these wide receivers wanted to come and play with Mitch. What a leader! I’m real proud of him because there is a lot that has been put on his shoulders.”
One such “domino effect” wide receiver was Williams, who earlier had planned to sign with the University of Florida.
Williams, a 6’1 1/2” 188-pound wide receiver, edged out Mustain to win the 2005 Landers Award, which recognizes the most outstanding Arkansas high school football student-athlete of the year. As a senior, he caught 63 passes for 1,495 yards and 24 touchdowns, averaging 23.7 yards per reception. He also rushed for 463 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 14.7 yards per carry. He returned eight kickoffs for 254 yards and two touchdowns. He totaled 2,253 all-purpose yards and made 25 tackles and three interceptions, including one return for a touchdown. Scout.com ranked him as the country’s number eight wide receiver.
Williams came to know Christ at a young age. In the student ministry at Springdale, he has been instrumental in leading others to Christ and has been a positive witness to fellow athletes, Smith noted.
“What a class act,” Nutt said. “He had a lot of chances to go a lot of places, and committed to Florida early, but we hung in there until the very end.”
The first of the Springdale threesome to commit to the Razorbacks was Andrew Norman, a 6’2” 180-pound wide receiver, who earned all-state honors after catching 63 passes for 1,189 yards and 11 touchdowns during his senior year. He finished his career as Springdale High School’s all-time leading receiver, averaging 18.9 yards per reception. He also played basketball and baseball for Springdale.
Norman came to know Christ through the student ministry at First Baptist Springdale. He and Mustain were baptized on the same day.
“After his sophomore year, he really got turned on to the Lord,” Smith said.
“I want to be a special player and be a positive example on and off the field,” Norman said. “I’m just hoping to gain weight and hopefully compete for a job and get faster.”
Norman has been a lifelong Razorbacks fan. His father, Robert Norman, has been a season-ticket holder since Norman can remember. He recalls sitting in the rain with his dad, watching Arkansas play LSU. He also played basketball with Nutt’s son, Houston Nutt III.
“He joined us very early,” Nutt said. “Andrew is so loyal to Arkansas, and we’re very glad he is a Razorback.”
Nutt figures the Springdale threesome will make true believers out of fans on and off the field.
Charlie Warren is editor of the Arkansas Baptist News, online at www.arkansasbaptist.org.