MIAMI (BP)–When the New Orleans Saints met with the media Tuesday at Sun Life Stadium wearing their home white jerseys, fullback Heath Evans fit right in.
He mingled among his teammates, answered inane questions (“Can you tell me what a fullback does?”) and had the determined look of a player getting ready for a Super Bowl showdown.
But before he ever stepped inside Sun Life Stadium, Evans knew he wouldn’t be playing a down on Sunday. A blown ACL joint in his knee ended his season in week 7 in front of his hometown friends in Miami.
But, despite the on-field setback, the nine-year NFL veteran said his faith remains as strong as ever in his first year with New Orleans.
“When you live for the Lord, He takes you to higher places every day,” Evans said. “Life is full of ups and downs, but when you take the Lord’s way He will make your path straight.”
Evans, a member of First Baptist Church, West Palm Beach, had a successful career with the New England Patriots, appearing in the Super Bowl two years ago against the New York Giants. But he was released by the Patriots after the 2008 season and signed a two-year free agent contract with the Saints in March 2009.
“My wife [Beth Ann] and I really felt called to New England and didn’t want to leave,” Evans said. “But we prayed about it and felt God was calling us to a new opportunity. It’s all about the platform [we’ve been given] and what Jesus has done for me.”
When he arrived in New Orleans, he found that unlike most NFL teams, the Saints did not have a full-time chaplain and little spiritual organization.
“Some guys were associated with one preacher, other guys someone else. I said, ‘Guys, let’s be together as one team.'”
The situation reached critical mass in August in the Saints’ first pre-season game.
“The person who was lined up to speak at chapel failed to show up. So I stepped up and led it and I guess God has a way to put His people where He wants them.”
Evans was a key part of the Saints 6-0 start before he got hurt, but more importantly has seen the team grow closer spiritually as he and Fred Luter Jr., pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, and others have guided the team’s spiritual direction.
“We’ve got a good base of guys coming together. [Starting quarterback] Drew Brees is growing in faith more every week. I found some great spiritual friends in [tight end] David Thomas and [backup quarterback] Mark Brunell.
Evans invited Luter to play a key role in the team’s Saturday night chapel services. A players Bible study is held on Thursday afternoons, and the fullback and his wife open their home on Wednesdays for a players and coaches get-together to grow closer and talk about the Lord.
“My wife Beth Ann cooks the food and we have about 20 people over for a real casual, topical Bible study.”
In a team of 80 players and coaches, Evans said he knows not everybody is going to believe the way he believes or understand God’s plan for their lives the same way.
But by being real and living out his faith through his actions and words, Evans feels even those who don’t believe will understand the sincerely of his heart.
“People always want to ask me why am I so bold about my faith. It’s because of what Jesus has done in my life. It’s not about me, it’s about Jesus.
“I like the way somebody once said it: Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.”
Art Stricklin is a sports correspondent for Baptist Press.