BETHANY, Okla. (BP)–Sounding more like a preacher than an All-America quarterback, University of Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel told members and guests at Council Road Baptist Church Dec. 3 to keep their eyes “fixed on the cross.”
“The main reason I’m here today is to help strengthen those who already walk with the Lord, and encourage those who don’t to take the first step toward him,” Heupel told the Sunday morning worshipers.
After leading the Sooners to a 27-24 win in a rematch with the Kansas State Wildcats in Kansas City, Dec. 2 — which gave this year’s Cinderella football team a perfect 12-0 record and the Big 12 championship — Heupel insisted on keeping his commitment to speak at the 9:15 and 10:45 a.m. services even though the team got back to Norman at 2:45 a.m.
He was joined on the program by three teammates: running back Quentin Griffin, center Bubba Burcham and defensive lineman Bary Holleyman, a member of Council Road.
Griffin, Burcham and Holleyman were introduced in both worship services, then moved to various Sunday school classes to give their testimonies.
Heupel was named the Heisman trophy’s runner-up Dec. 9 in New York City.
At Council Road Baptist Church, Heupel stepped to the pulpit and unleashed a message from Deuteronomy 8 that left pastor Mark Hartman with nothing to do but give an invitation.
Hartman introduced Heupel as a man of character and integrity, and one who has a power in him that is not of him.
The multiple-award-winning quarterback, who broke OU’s career record for touchdown passes in the second game of the season, told the packed house he has always loved football.
Raised in the northeastern South Dakota city of Aberdeen with a population of 25,000-30,000, Heupel grew up around football, as his father is a football coach at Aberdeen Central and his mother is a high school principal.
Heupel’s mother was quoted as saying when she handed 2-year-old Josh over the fence to his father during football practice, she knew she would never get him back.
“I was at my dad’s practices, wanting to be the best athlete I could,” Heupel said. “And I had some success in high school.”
After graduation, Heupel went to Weber State College, which was a 14-hour drive from Aberdeen. He was redshirted his freshman year and was not happy there.
“There was a weight on my shoulders, and I was not happy with who I was,” Heupel said. “I wasn’t strong enough to handle things in the right way. I was living for Josh Heupel, I placed football before God and I didn’t like who I saw in the mirror.”
Heupel said he decided to go to a junior college, thinking a new place and new challenges would make him happy.
“I enrolled at Snow Junior College, in a town with a population of 3,000, half of whom were college people,” he said. “But I still wasn’t happy, and I couldn’t understand why I felt I was crumbling under the weight on my shoulders.”
Heupel, who attends Riverside Church, a nondenominational congregation in Norman, said he knew the Lord but didn’t love him — and “there is a key difference.”
“Once you know the Lord, you will go back to him,” Heupel declared. “I decided I was going to bow down before the Lord and let him take control of my life.”
Immediately, he said, the weight was lifted from his shoulders, and when he looked in the mirror, he was happy with who he is because I know “I have the victory that counts.”
Heupel, who volunteers with second-grade transitional kids in reading and writing in a Norman school, said there was a change in him as a person and as a football player.
“It wasn’t that I was working harder,” he noted. “I’ve always been a hard worker, but it was because God took charge.”
Opportunities began to open up, he said, one of those being the chance to come to the University of Oklahoma.
“It wasn’t until I gave him the authority to let him use me to reach others that he gave me the blessings in life I so desired.”
The 6-2, 214-pound senior quarterback, who head coach Bob Stoops says is the reason the Oklahoma football team is where it is today, playing for a national championship Jan. 2, said it is amazing what God has done in the team as a whole.
“It’s nothing I have done,” Heupel emphasized. “It’s God.”
Now that he’s living for the Lord, Heupel said he is being showered with blessings.
Recognized as one of the top college football players in America, Heupel is reaping the rewards of an excellent season. While finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting Dec. 9, he earlier pocketed the Sporting News, Associated Press and Walter Camp awards as the best football player in the nation, claimed the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Award and was named to several first-team All America squads. In a football program largely noted for its running game, Heupel has set OU’s single-season records for total offense and established single-game records for passing attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and total offense.
In his two-year career at Oklahoma, he has completed 590 passes for 6,852 yards and 50 touchdowns, at a 64.2 percent pass completion rate. He is first nationally in pass completion percentage, fifth in yards per attempt, completions per game and total offense, and sixth in pass efficiency. He has at least one touchdown pass in all 24 of his career games at OU, passing for more than 300 yards in 14 of those games.
Opposing coaches said Heupel has played as well or better than any other quarterback in the country.
“I haven’t seen everybody in the country, but up until this time, I haven’t seen anybody better,” said Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder, following the first meeting of his Wildcats and the Sooners. “I told our team before the game, ‘You can’t complete passes off your back,’ but Josh proved me wrong.”
But, Heupel said, living with blessings can be hard to do.
“You need to have a fear of God,” he said. “A motivating factor is fear of failure and defeat. You don’t want to lose what he’s done in your life. A fear of God incorporates God in all you do.”
When blessings start to become burdens, lean on God, Heupel said.
He recounted that when he was a youngster he was a huge Minnesota Vikings fan.
“I idolized those guys,” he admitted. “One of the most crushing days of my life came when I met one of the Vikings and asked him for an autograph.”
Heupel said he didn’t get the kind of response he wanted, and was asked why he wanted an autograph anyway. “It’s just a piece of paper and you’ll lose it,” the player said.
“He wouldn’t give it to me, and I was crushed,” Heupel said.
Now when people want Heupel’s autograph, he said he is humbled by that experience.
“And if I ever forget it, and my dad’s around, he’ll remind me of it,” Heupel said with a smile.
“There are times I don’t want to sign an autograph,” he said. “I just want to go and be with my family. But then I remember that at Weber State I would have paid somebody to take my autograph.”
Heupel said the story in Deuteronomy of God leading his people through the desert chronicles his testimony. “I guess it’s a lot like two-a-days,” he joked, referring to practice sessions before the season begins.
“But you’ve got to keep pressing on,” he continued. “If I had not kept on, I would not be at the University of Oklahoma and would not know the blessings I have today.”
Heupel emphasized the need for Christians to keep their eyes focused on Christ and the cross.
“When blessings are being thrown at your feet, don’t look down to pick them up,” he said. “If for one second, you enjoy the blessings a little too much, there’s a quick turn off in that road, and you’ll be heading in the wrong direction.”
Heupel closed his message with an invitation.
“God’s promise is if you will accept Jesus, he will accept you,” the star quarterback said. “It is amazing the turnaround he’ll make in you and in those whose lives you impact. You don’t have to speak to people for them to see the Lord in you.”
This story first appeared on the BPSports site at www.bpsports.net. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JOSH HEUPEL.