Football coaches find extra strength in Christian faith

Published: Friday, Aug. 22 2014 8:45 a.m. MDT

Utah State Aggies quarterback Darell Garretson (6) and Utah State Aggies head coach Matt Wells celebrate after winning the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013. USU won 21-14.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Editor's note: This week, the Deseret News takes an in-depth look at how football coaches balance the demands of their profession with commitments to their faith.

Monday: Justin Anderson, Nicholls State

Tuesday: Ed Lamb, Southern Utah University

Wednesday: Steve Kaufusi, BYU

Thursday: Coaches and callings — serving in the LDS Church

Friday: Coaches and Christianity

As a freshman quarterback at Utah State in 1992, Matt Wells learned a valuable lesson from his coach Jim Zorn.

“Act medium: never too high, never too low,” Zorn, the former USU offensive coordinator, used to say.

Twenty-two years later, the saying hangs on Wells’ office wall. It reminds the Aggies’ head football coach that maintaining balance among football, family and faith will result in a happy, healthy and successful life.

“Life is hard to balance, but there has to be a balance in your life," Wells said. "It brings growth and reflection. … It helps me in my job as a servant leader.”

Maintaining balance was one of the main ideas shared by Wells in a recent interview with the Deseret News regarding the topic of how college football coaches lean on their faith while dealing with the demands of the profession.

In addition to finding balance, Wells has drawn on his faith and life experiences to mentor and mold players into men. Kendrick Shaver, a USU assistant coach, found peace through faith following the death of a close family member.

“My faith keeps everything in perspective,” Shaver said. “I don’t know how some people do this job without having faith.”

‘Real talk’

Wells has no problem talking about faith and football.

“Absolutely, not if it’s who you are, man,” Wells said. “Are you going to be fake or are you going to be real? I have no problem with that.”

When he can, Wells attends the Alpine and Lighthouse Christian churches. Tojo Fairman, Utah State’s team chaplain, is pastor of the Lighthouse Christian Church.

Sometimes Wells serves as the parking-lot attendant, while his wife teaches Sunday School and helps with the children’s ministry.

“We just do it because we do it,” he said. “She does more than me.”

Like balance, helping his players maintain discipline on and off the field is a high priority for Wells. From time to time he will have what he calls “real talk” with his players, where they discuss academic and cultural issues, relationships and how to treat women, and how to face and overcome adversity, Wells said.

“I think the key to my responsibility as a head coach is to walk these kids through this life. Every kid comes in at a different stage and we want them to leave at a higher level,” said Wells, an Oklahoma native. “We have ‘real talk,’ nothing fake or sugar-coated. We deal with it … head on, direct and blunt. You try to take a kid from a young man to a grown man by the time he leaves here because you are trying to prepare them for real life.”

Wells finds it effective to relate the game of football to real-life situations.

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