TU football program embraces culture of Christianity
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Sunday, December 30, 2012
12/30/12 at 10:31 AM
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The University of Tulsa is a private institution, "so we're not shackled by some of the political correctness that public institutions deal with," Golden Hurricane assistant coach Denver Johnson says. "... Our kids enjoy the freedom to express who and what they are."
A culture of Christianity is fostered by head coach Bill Blankenship and embraced by many of the more than 100 players on the roster.
"I never hear anyone question it or complain about it," defensive end Cory Dorris said. "Not once."
Prayer is an everyday staple of the TU football routine.
"It all starts with coach Blankenship and the way he goes about things," wide receiver Jordan James said. "If certain standards are emphasized every day, then it's not hard to be good when nobody is looking. Coach Blankenship coaches the three-dimensional person - the physical, the mental and the spiritual.
"We want to leave a place better than we found it. When we're at a hotel or we're traveling or whatever, we want people to say, 'Those guys are first-class guys.' That's the standard we want to uphold."
On Friday, Liberty Bowl players were invited to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast. Attendance was not mandatory. Hurricane players had the option, James explained, of setting an alarm for 6:30 a.m. or skipping the breakfast and sleeping until 9.
"Nearly 100 percent" of the Tulsa players attended the FCA event, James reported.
In his hometown of Lafayette, La., James played football at a Catholic high school - St. Thomas More.
"I have some Catholic teammates, like Buff (TU defensive tackle Daeshon Bufford)," James said. "I'll go to church with him and his girlfriend."
Derrick Alexander, a Hurricane redshirt freshman defensive end who attended Booker T. Washington High School, is a lifelong member of Tulsa's Antioch Baptist Church. He says he was baptized at the age of "8 or 10 - after I could understand what it really means."
Acknowledging the prevalence of Christianity within the Hurricane program, Alexander said, "It's something that draws a lot of recruits here. It's encouraged."
On Sept. 8, after Tulane defensive back Devon Walker sustained a spinal injury and was taken by ambulance to Tulsa's St. Francis Hospital, TU chaplain Jeff Francis walked to midfield at H.A. Chapman Stadium, took the public-address microphone and said a prayer for Walker.
At the end of each Hurricane practice, a player will volunteer to lead the team in prayer. On Thursday, as coaches and players huddled and joined hands, Alexander recited a prayer.
"I knew that some of my teammates were going to St. Jude's (the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital), so I said a prayer for the kids there," he said. "And at the end of every prayer, I ask that we can be a blessing to somebody else every day. That's really what it's all about."
Every Thursday during the regular season, the Tulsa practice session is followed by a Fellowship of Christian Athletes service conducted on the west sideline at H.A. Chapman Stadium. Blankenship's brother Rex, the president of the One Hope Tulsa program, presides over the services. Attendance is optional, and yet a majority of the players stay to hear Rex Blankenship's message. In 2007-10, the Todd Graham-coached Hurricane had similar FCA events.
On Sunday morning, Tulsa players were scheduled to visit Memphis' Bellevue Baptist Church. On game days, there are chapel services for team members.
"It starts with the university. TU was founded as a Presbyterian university," said Johnson, who coaches Hurricane offensive linemen. "Bill Blankenship is a devout believer, and we have a staff of believers. It's not a pushy thing. You don't compel anyone to participate.
"The spiritual side of life is important, and our kids embrace that. It's just a healthy, wholesome atmosphere. It's the culture of our program."
Bill Blankenship says he does not preach to his players. Instead, he says he attempts to reflect Christian values in the way he lives his life and manages the Tulsa program.
"It's more important for our guys to see certain things than to hear me talking about it," he said.
At some universities, it is fairly common for football players to get into trouble with alcohol or drugs, or to punch someone at a frat party or assault a girlfriend. Johnson says Hurricane players aren't perfect, and there are occasional suspensions for various violations of team rules. But actual criminal transgressions are rare, Johnson says, because "none of our kids want to disappoint Bill Blankenship."
"We all make foolish decisions, and young people are susceptible to that," Johnson continued. "When I was a head coach, I was in charge of roughly 120 college-age males. The potential there is amazing. The last thought I had every night was, 'Am I going to get to sleep until morning?' You just hoped that you wouldn't get one of those phone calls.
"We've got great kids here at Tulsa. There is always the potential for problems, but I think the culture of our program is a positive influence on decision-making."
Guidance is provided not only by coaches, Alexander said, but by teammates: "You have an accountability in this program. If someone is about to make a bad decision, at least one voice will speak up and say, 'OK, let's not do that.'"
Original Print Headline: Christian values embraced at TU
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
Bryan Burnham, Keyarris Garrett, Willie Carter, Jordan James pray after a practice at Memphis University School in Memphis, Tenn on Dec 28, 2012. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World