Feature Story, Online edition!

Kevin Mawae Wants a Broad Platform Not a High Pedestal

by Mark H. Hunter

Kevin Mawae. Photo by Mark H. Hunter

Kevin Mawae. Photo by Mark H. Hunter[/caption]

Kevin Mawae has won all the fame and fortune any man could ever strive for, but the most important thing in his life is being a witness for Christ and encouraging other Christians, especially men’s groups and student athletes, to follow his lead.

Mawae, 45, had a hugely successful, 16-year career as a professional football player, made millions of dollars, and at one time was the highest paid center in the entire NFL. He was a seven-time “All-Pro” player, and was inducted into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2013 for his accomplishments.

“A lot of people will take a lifestyle in the NFL or professional athletics or even at LSU to build a pedestal for themselves,” Mawae said. “I really believe that God gives us the opportunity to build a platform to reach out to others.

“God doesn’t care how high the pedestal is — he wants to know how wide the platform becomes,” he said.

Photo courtesy NFL.com
Photo courtesy NFL.com

Born in Savannah, Ga., in 1971, the second of four sons of U.S. Army, Sgt. 1st Class David Mawae, he grew up on Army bases in Kansas, then Germany, where he learned to love football, and then Ft. Polk, La. He graduated from Leesville High school as an all-state football player with excellent grades.

“I grew up in a great family. Being Hawaiian, in the Polynesian culture, family is big, that’s the way I grew up,” he said. “I never went to church. As a freshman in high school my mom forced us to go (at Christmas and Easter) but my dad never made us go. He grew up Catholic with ‘rap-your-knuckles-with-a-ruler’ nuns, so my dad and mom made the decision to let us figure out what we wanted to do as we got older —to make that decision for ourselves.”

Photo courtesy Associated Press
Photo courtesy Associated Press

He was recruited to LSU in 1989, during “the dark days,” when LSU lost more games than they won. He played at left tackle, center and left guard, finally becoming an all-star center. Christian teammates like Brian Griffith and Todd Kinchen would invite him to Bible study but, “it just wasn’t my thing; [I] didn’t care for it, [I] wasn’t interested,” he said.

He proposed to Tracy Dale Hicks over the public address system during the 1992 LSU Fan Day in front of thousands of fans. They were married by the Rev. Dino Rizzo in 1994, at what was then Trinity Christian Center – now Healing Place Church.

Mawae was drafted 36th overall in the NFL’s second round by the Seattle Seahawks in 1994. He played 14 games as a right guard and won several awards including first-team All-Rookie, given by the Football Writers Association. He started all 16 games in the 1995 season and in 1996 moved to center where he remained throughout his career.

Photo Courtesy LSUSports.net
Photo Courtesy LSUSports.net

Just like at LSU, he knew the “the religious guys” in Seattle, he said, but when they invited him to chapel or Bible study, “my response was, ‘man, I don’t need that.’”

Life was good. He was living the dream of playing NFL football, he’d married his college sweetheart and was making lots and lots of money.  Then everything changed.

“My second year in the NFL my older brother was killed in a car accident,” he said. “That changed my whole perspective on life. I realized there is more to life than just playing football and being rich and famous.

“Over the course of a year I came to understand who Jesus was and why God sent his son to this earth to die on the cross for me and my sins; so I can have eternal life,” he said.

He and Tracy joined a Bible study with Seahawks players’ families and even hosted Bible studies at their house. The “religious guys” he’d once pushed away became his accountability partners.

When their son Kirkland was born they decided their kids would grow up in church, “but I had no idea what that meant,” Mawae said with a shrug of his big shoulders. While he no longer weighs the 289 pounds listed on his NFL records roster, at 6-foot-4, he is big enough and strong enough to be respected among other grown men.

They came home to Baton Rouge and were attending Trinity Christian Center when he made an appointment on June 24, 1997, to meet with Dino Rizzo. He’d read the entire Bible but still couldn’t comprehend his brother’s death.

“Dino said, ‘What you lack is not knowledge of Christ — you lack the faith of what Christ can do in your life,’” Mawae said. “At that moment I started crying and he prayed with me and I accepted Christ that day.”

Abigail, Tracy, Kirkland and Kevin Mawae.
Abigail, Tracy, Kirkland and Kevin Mawae.

“I walked out of church with the burden off my shoulders,” he said. “I began to understand that God had a bigger purpose in my life than football and getting me to understand that purpose was the death of my brother.”

This May will be 20 years since his brother was killed and it will be 19 years that he’s been a Christian, Mawae said. Before his death, his brother was engaged to marry a Catholic woman and was enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RICA) course.

“I saw a physical and emotional and spiritual change in his life without ever talking about it,” Mawae said. “The last sentence he said to me was, ‘hey, I’ve got something to share with you – I’ll call ya tomorrow.’”

Mawae played four seasons with the Seahawks, eight seasons with the New York Jets and four seasons with the Tennessee Titans. He also served the NFL Players Association as president until his retirement in 2012, netting players millions of dollars more in benefits and salaries than they’d previously earned.

He often speaks to men’s groups, as well as high school and college groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He tells them that their talents and name recognition gives them a special platform.

“You just have to choose how you’ll use that platform,” Mawae said. “Some day He’s going to ask you what you did with what he gave you, and if all you can say is, ‘Well, I lived in a pretty big house and had a pretty good life for myself,’ then I feel sorry for you – I really do.”

Cover Story, October 2015

John David Moore: Starting with Fundamentals

by Beth Townsend

During football season in Baton Rouge, there seems to perpetually be a fight song in the air. “Hey Fighting Tigers” can be heard clearly from Tiger Stadium on game days, and buzzes in the background of just about every conversation around town. LSU fans are into football, and they love to talk Tigers.

No Saturday would be complete without tailgating: food, fun, good friends, and intense discussions about the day’s games. Students, parents, fans, and alumni plot game strategies and recap recent plays hours before each game. Armchair quarterbacks lie in waiting, ready to shout plays at the nearest television. Yep, it’s more than just a sport all right.

For the players, that kind of fan support ignites the enthusiasm that brings Tiger Stadium to the thunderous roar we’ve grown to expect.

“There is nothing better than walking down that victory hill on a Saturday or running out of the tunnel onto Tiger Field. There’s nothing like it,” says a smiling John David Moore. Currently a sophomore, this will be his first year starting at fullback and wearing #44.

J.D. was born and raised in Ruston, La., and played football at Ruston High School.

As the baby of the family, he received a lot of mentoring from his older siblings who also graduated from RHS. His tight knit family was an important part of his almost idyllic childhood.

moorejohndavid1-2“I have a great family,” J.D. says. “My mom and dad are both from Louisiana. My dad was born in Shreveport and my mom in Jonesboro. She came to LSU while my dad went to Louisiana Tech where he walked on as a football player his junior year.

“Though he loved the game, he did it mostly for ministry purposes,” J.D. explained with a broad smile. “I mean, no one really walks on that late in their college career, but he felt led to do it. He didn’t play a lot, but that wasn’t why he was there.” J.D.’s parents Byron and Melinda Moore, met after through mutual friends.

“I was raised in an amazingly godly home and became a Christian at a young age,” J.D. explained. While his faith was mostly due to his parents the earlier part of his life, it became more personal in his teenage years.

“I grew more mature during high school. It was then that I was saved and grew into beauty of the gospel,” he explained. “The full scope of our faith can be hard to understand until you become tested,” he continued. “For me, my kid life was hunky dory, and I was pretty sheltered. In high school I began to be tested. The struggles we face as the youth of America, it can be a tough time.”

J.D. is truly a student athlete in every sense of the term. During high school he was 2013 Student of the Year, recognized for both academic and athletic excellence.

“Academics was always a priority in our family. I’ve always prided myself on doing well in the classroom and on the field,” he said. “I think even from my parents perspective, they would agree with that assessment, which is a blessing. It was never ‘do well on the field so you can get in school.’ You do well on the field? Great! But, we are going to make sure you do well in school.” J.D. explained that his parents were the perfect picture of consistency.

As a long time fan of the Bayou Bengals, J.D. always considered LSU when he thought about college. Since his mother was an alumna they came to many games, and he loved the atmosphere. There was always that pull to consider LSU, but over the years he wasn’t 100 percent certain where he would end up going to school.

moorejohn2-2“My decision was based partially on academics as well as football. Since architecture is what I wanted to major in, when it came down to it, LSU provided the best opportunity in both,” he explained. “Now as an athlete it’s especially hard to make architecture and football work due to the scheduling. LSU has been amazingly accommodating, a real blessing in that area. It’s the perfect storm to be an athlete and have the schedule work out like it has.” He was quick to admit that success in both still takes hard work and discipline.

As an infectious Christian, J.D.’s faith is an obvious anchor in every facet of his life. While many college campuses are known for partying, his demanding schedule helps him keep his energy properly committed to all that is expected of him. However, he was quick to acknowledge the difficulties students face because temptations lurk around every corner on campus.

As a leader within Fellowship of Christian Athletes, J.D. found a place where he can be a leader on campus, and also be led simultaneously to grow in his personal faith.

“Through FCA, our leader Andy Stroup does a great job. The athletes from various teams are amongst the people he is trying to reach through this ministry. FCA does an effective job of using students that are in positions of influence; teaching them to become better leaders,” Moore said. “I know that during my time under Andy’s influence, I’ve developed so many more leadership qualities. Then they take that deeper by equipping us to be bold and reach out to our teammates and invite them into our FCA community.”

“I have so much fun on Tuesday nights at our gatherings. We make it an active and lively environment. It’s not church, it’s a place where you can be real; we have fun, we play games; it’s a ton of fun to me.”

Shying away from the party environment, this seemingly “gentle giant” who is trained to viciously knock down other young men on Saturday nights, said he feels like he has aligned his social life the rest of the week with options that are best for him.

“I’m not sacrificing any part of my college experience. If anything I’m adding to it. FCA does well reaching out to the student athletes, people like myself, and others, dedicated to Christ. It’s the most effective way of reaching others, because no other student would know what an athlete goes through but another student athlete.”

One ongoing temptation as an athlete at a program like LSU is the constant attention from fans and media. Remaining humble is a hurdle all on it’s own. Keeping a proper perspective takes discipline for anyone, and even more so for the young men in the limelight of Tiger football.

“Everyday we work together as a team. We are learning how to act as evangelists. To turn the tide away from a focus on ‘me”— a focus on partying or a self-centered world view—and to point people to Christ. That ultimately leads to a whole different lifestyle.”

Becoming a starting fullback at an SEC powerhouse is quite an accomplishment for a redshirt sophomore. Though confident and excited, J.D. expects stiff competition and to be challenged. Standing at a towering 6-feet-4-inches and 235 pounds, his comments about FCA often come in gentle whispers.

“One of the best things Andy stresses is our view of success. Success as a Christian is no longer defined by how well we perform or how well the outcome of the game goes. You know it’s ultimately defined by,” he paused thoughtfully, “I mean, the victory has already been won from an eternal perspective. In that way, there is no stress about competition, about starting; those are a part of the game of football. This sport is just a small piece in the bigger scheme of God’s plan to glorify himself on LSU’s campus and around the country.”

Getting the call to be a starter is exciting. His enthusiasm for his team and their season was evident when we met at a practices session. This enthusiasm was mirrored by the many teammates talking to the media about the buzz of the impending season’s home opener. His outlook is unique. Being a first time starter brings a new perspective.

“There’s going to be a lot of firsts for me this year. I’ve begun to experience more responsibilities within the running backs group, [especially] being able to mentor younger guys in the game of football.” He added, “Then hopefully [mentoring them] in the larger game of life; [I’m] looking forward to that opportunity to continue to grow as a team. We have something special this year, and I’m very excited about it!”

Football is an intense sport on many levels. His expectation of his biggest challenge was not surprising. “Physically, the games [are challenging]. We play a lot of tough opponents and want to maintain a high morale throughout the season. It’s always a challenge, but our coaches do a great job keeping us on track and focused. Mentally and spiritually, we have that same sort of challenge, to focus, especially in a top tier program like LSU.

“There is such a spotlight on us that it’s easy to fall for [the mindset of] ‘it’s all about me.’” He passionately added, “The biggest challenge is taking that spotlight and reflecting it back to where the real talent and ability comes from in the first place.”

The active social life on any college campus is part of the overall experience. Often life-long friendships are developed during this unique stage of life. Establishing authentic friendships is key to any student, especially ones that remain true to moral conviction.

IMG_3926-2“Choosing the right friends is extremely important. I’ve got a close group of friends here that don’t play football. Yet, even though I’m around my teammates all day and I’m friends with all of them, there is a deeper level of closeness with a special group of Christian relationships,” J.D. said. “That includes the FCA leadership team. We are a family. Having that is essential; they help keep me accountable, humble, and they help keep things in perspective. These are going to be people I’m interacting with the rest of my life. The rest of my life won’t be about LSU football.”

The thought of playing professional ball one day in the future has crossed Moore’s mind, but for the time being, he is happy right where he is.

“Pro ball interests me, but I’m trying to figure out if it’s for the right motives. There’s a lot of money in the NFL, but I would say if I do it, I’d want to do it for the right reasons. At this stage, I’ve got three years of eligibility left and I’m completely trusting God for that.”

While dreams of playing in the NFL remain on the back burner, J.D. has definite goals of how he hopes to reflect on his college experience a few years down the road.

“I’ve got a vision for what God is going to do through FCA; [I] look back and see the growth that’s happened through the current team and a team that will continue to grow,” he said. “It’s not really about numbers, but every number represents a person. So I’d like to see more people reached on this campus. Like I said, there is such a big spotlight, why not take that spotlight and use that platform for Christ? There is so much potential here. All we can do is be faithful ambassadors of the gospel. I’d love to look back in five years and see that impact and know I’d played a role.”

Reaching the younger population as Christians can be difficult, as many are busy with the here and now. Yet it’s a mission field in-and- of-itself, with many college campuses offering various ministries reaching out with unique opportunities to learn about Jesus. Nevertheless, J.D. is all about keeping it simple.

“I think the answer is easy. In a football game or even a whole season, or just after a hard week or a tough loss, our team goes back to practicing fundamentals. The same is true for the way I was raised, and the family in general. We are simply lacking in the fundamentals,” J.D. said. “Reading God’s word daily, praying, memorizing Scripture, just Godly practices and principles that are easy but take discipline. I’m blessed to have parents that helped discipline me as a child, [helping me] memorize Scripture and read the Bible daily, not necessarily because I felt like it, but because the Word of God will not return void.”

“Even if I don’t feel like reading it, the word was rooted in my brain. Those things are essential. Gathering around a meal, reading just a little bit of Scripture; talking about issues that are big in the news through a godly lens; sharing the Gospel. Fundamentals… I think a lot of times it can be complicated and construed into this massive issue, but if we come back to the basics, that’s hugely effective.”

The age of technology and social media has the attention of many, especially the younger generation. Each year, that spectrum grows in popularity, as the options seem endless with the virtual world here to stay. While social media may be an asset, it can also lead to disappointments when it comes to fostering real relationships.

J.D. opined, “While one may have hundreds of followers on a social site, true friends are just as important today as before social media redefined friends. Purposefully establish a base of real relationships, not just virtual ones. That definitely starts with family. Also, without a relationship with someone older and wiser in the faith, we are not going to just jump into those Godly disciplines on our own. Our sinful nature gets in the way.”

For J.D., consistency is key to faith, family and football. He summed it up nicely saying, “It’s all about the fundamentals, because the Word of God is always the same. His truth is what we depend upon in our lives in a world that is full of lies being thrown at us through social media and various other outlets. Being grounded in truth is essential because otherwise you can easily get swept away with the pride, publicity, and popularity. Don’t chase after public opinion.”