By Cleveland Tinker, Staff writer
The University of Florida football team sandwiched a morning walk-through and afternoon practice with a visit to a church in southeast Gainesville to be showered with blessings.
The Gator coaching staff, led by head coach Dan Mullen, and players attended the morning worship service at Showers of Blessings Harvest Center at 2615 SE 15th St., as part of a commitment by Mullen to make sure his players and coaches get a chance to bond away from the football field during training camp.
“We love for them to experience different ways people in the community worship, and this is one of three churches we will be visiting during training camp,” Mullen said after the service as his players boarded two chartered buses to head back to the UF campus. “These are great opportunities for us to interact with different parts of the community.”
Having a foundation built on faith is something that can’t be seen with the naked eye and is important to the development of any person, and is something the Gator football program takes very seriously, Mullen told the packed church during his brief comments at the service.
“We thank you all for having us here today,” Mullen said. “Faith is such an important part of growth.”
Mullen said he and his staff encourage their players to have faith in the process to become better players and young men, and he said it is their faith in the process that is going to give them the intestinal fortitude to become people they didn’t know they could become.
Mullen said “a lot of our players are going to be the first in their families to graduate from college” and it is going to be their faith in believing that they can do so that is going to help them get their degrees and go on to become productive citizens in society.
It was Youth Sunday at the church, and the service included powerful and inspirational performances by the youth choir, praise and worship team and liturgical dancers. Players stood up and swayed back and forth as youth praise and worship team sang several songs, including “Hang On,” which in the first verse features the lyrics “What you gonna do when your back’s against the wall?”
Some of the players made a special request to have a popular gospel song sang during the service, and the church honored their request when Lee Pringle led the Men of Blessings Choir in the singing of “I Got to Clean up What I Messed Up, I’m Starting My Life over Again.”
Players stood and clapped their hands and sang along with the choir.
“We gone take two steps to the right, then two steps to the left, and bring it back up,” Pringle said, as the players and parishioners followed his instructions.
Apostle Willie “The World Shaker” King Jr., pastor of the church, delivered a sermon encouraging the players, coaches and parishioners to hold on to their faith in the midst of the storms that are sure to come during their lifetimes. He preached from Luke 15:11-17 on the subject of “I Almost Lost it All.”
He said there are a lot of people in the world who have almost wasted their good educations, careers, jobs and positions because of the choices they made in life. However, he said it is never too late to get things right.
“This is the season to make wise choices,” King said. “Never make choices when you are frustrated.”
He encouraged those in attendance to stay humble and keep the faith, and ended the sermon by praying for the players and coaches.
“Lord, we pray they have a banner year this year,” King said.