User ID: Password:

December 16, 2011

November off week affords small group of players another opportunity to share their faith

By: Jimmy Robertson

In early November, the Virginia Tech football team enjoyed a bye week in which head coach Frank Beamer gave his team several days off to heal, relax and catch up on some schoolwork.

Collin Carrol

But a small group of players decided to give some of their precious free time to a group of high school and middle school students in Roanoke.

Six Tech players attended an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) Valley Wide Breakfast with more than 200 students in attendance at the First Baptist Church in downtown Roanoke. The Tech contingent included quarterback Logan Thomas, cornerback Kyle Fuller, snapper Collin Carroll, back-up fullback Martin Scales, back-up defensive end Zack McCray and kicker Justin Myer.

Tech’s team chaplain, Johnny Shelton, asked Thomas and Carroll to speak at the event, and he encouraged them to reveal how God has helped them at some point in their lives. Thomas and Carroll, both more than willing to share about their walk with Christ, instantly agreed.

“They both did a very good job, just being transparent with the kids and telling them about difficult times in which their faith brought them through that,” Shelton said. “That’s really the main emphasis. Even though the kids want to hear other things, the main thing is telling them how strong they [Thomas and Carroll] are with their faith and telling them how God has brought them through certain situations.”

Thomas told the group that things will not always go right in their lives. But in those situations, they shouldn’t give up and instead put their faith in Him.

“Sometimes you want to give up, but you can’t because there’s a greater calling in your life,” Thomas said. “Things aren’t going to be easy. Things aren’t going to fall into place like you envisioned them. You’ve got to go out there and do what you have to do to get on pace, and God will lead you in the right direction.”

Carroll spoke about the prodigal son, a parable told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. The son received an early inheritance from his father, and then left home and squandered it. He returned home empty-handed and ashamed, and he begged for forgiveness. His father immediately forgave him and passionately welcomed him back home.

“Any time I speak at something like that, my goal is to tell people about Jesus Christ,” Carroll said. “I think that’s my job here on Earth.

“With the story I told about the prodigal son, that’s totally been my relationship with God. It’s a cool story, and one I can certainly relate to and one that a lot of people can relate to, so that’s why I chose that one.”

Following the event, the players got to intermingle with those in attendance. The Roanoke Valley FCA holds a breakfast the third Thursday of every month and brings in a guest speaker or speakers. But members of the Virginia Tech football team, who have done such events during off weeks the past several years, are usually the most popular because of the attention they receive for being part of one of the nation’s best football programs.

Of course, with popularity comes responsibility. Fortunately, members of Tech’s football team are willing to accept that.

“If Logan Thomas can go up and say that God is first in my life, then that alone is going to make a world of difference, especially among kids who are exploring God,” Shelton said. “If Logan can say, ‘I’m following God,’ then it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m in.’ It does make a difference. The platform these guys have is amazing.”

The FCA event marked the latest opportunity for Tech’s football players to share their faith and the latest opportunity facilitated by Shelton, who continues to be available for the players as a friend, counselor and mentor in addition to being a chaplain. He not only coordinates with the FCA on such events, but also works with other groups and churches to put the players in a setting to use their influence as a way to share their faith.

From an in-house perspective, his “share” times each week allow players to share whatever is on their minds and gives players a chance to bond and pray for each other. He also meets players in one-on-one-settings. The door to his office in Cassell Coliseum is always open.

“He’s helped me through a lot of stuff from my freshman year to now,” Thomas said. “I love him to death. He’s a great guy. He’s done a lot of things for the other guys on the team and not just me. He’s helped turn this program around in the aspect of faith and godliness.”

For those who don’t know his story, Shelton came to Tech in April of 2008 after meeting head coach Frank Beamer on a plane flight following the coaches’ convention in San Antonio. Beamer saw a need for a team chaplain to help players spiritually and psychologically, and that led to Shelton earning a position on Tech’s campus with the FCA.

He doubles as the team chaplain, but does not get paid by the athletics department. Instead, his salary gets paid by a group of Hokie Club members who go out and raise money for him.

It’s money well spent, according to the players.

“More than anything, I’m thankful to Johnny because he gives us all those cool opportunities to go out there and interact with kids who worship Virginia Tech football players, which is kind of sad in a way because we’re just normal college kids,” Carroll said. “But what that means is that we have this awesome platform to share a message that can affect people’s eternal destination.

“It’s just been the most rewarding and fulfilling experience that I could imagine.”

“We have good kids, and he makes them better,” Beamer said. “He fulfills another part of growing up, of going to college. They like talking to him, and he talks on their level. He makes sense. I think with what we’re trying to do with our program and the product we want to put out, he’s vital to that foundation.”

Tech fans and alums can donate toward Shelton’s salary through a website ( But most of the money for Shelton comes from a fundraiser held the day of the spring game. Next April, it will be held at Custom Catering, and the event usually attracts an array of former Tech players who talk about the impact of Shelton on their lives – both during their days at Tech and afterward.

“Life beyond Lane Stadium – that’s the big emphasis,” Shelton said. “I say that phrase a lot. What is your life going to be like once you leave here? That goes back to your foundation. What is your foundation? What are you built on? What’s your identity?”

The impact of Shelton’s ministry has been profound, according to the players. They credit the Lord working through Shelton, and they continue to excel in the classroom and stay out of trouble off the field. They point to their success on the field as well as a testament to the changes taking place in their lives.

“Without Johnny Shelton’s influence on this team, truly, I don’t believe we would have bonded the way we have these past four years, and I don’t believe we’d have the character and integrity that this team has,” Carroll said. “And for both of those reasons, I don’t believe we would have won three ACC championships in the past four years.”