University of Louisville point guard Peyton Siva said the connection with Fellowship of Christian Athletes kept him grounded in his faith through college. Forward Luke Hancock described FCA as a huge support group. U of L quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said FCA has been a “phenomenal” part of his life, and football coach Charlie Strong said it is a lifeline for many athletes.
On Sunday, April 14, hundreds of U of L athletes, coaches and FCA supporters gathered at the Trager Practice Facility on the U of L campus for an FCA fundraiser.
FCA on the U of L campus has come a long way in six years since it began with six athletes. Now head coaches from 14 sports attend an FCA Bible study along with more than 250 athletes from 23 different sports. Southeast member Chris Morgan is the full-time chaplain at the school.
Morgan attends games, leads Bible studies, stays in touch with athletes and answers his cell almost 24/7. His contact list numbers in the thousands. Morgan says FCA is not a job, it’s who he is.
That night, Siva, Bridgewater and Hancock shared their stories and what FCA means to them.
When Peyton Siva is introduced at U of L basketball games, he touches his heart and points his index finger toward heaven. It is one way to communicate his faith.
“For me, I can’t praise Jesus in the gym, but I try to do everything I can to give Him glory,” Siva said. “This is my way of glorifying God on the court.”
This year, Siva joined Patrick Ewing as the only two-time winner of the Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player award. Winning a national championship was the team’s goal since their loss to Notre Dame.
“When we lost that game, it felt like the team against the world,” Siva said. “But we believed in each other and made the run to the Final Four. We thank God for that.”
Siva said seeing his dad at games meant everything.
“Growing up in Seattle, our family faced struggles,” he said. “Everybody I know was dealing with the same things. At that time, my dad wasn’t doing the best. He was going in the wrong direction. When I was 13, God put in front of me what I had to do.”
Siva got in his brother’s car and tracked down his father who had gone on a bender and was contemplating suicide. Siva coaxed the gun out of his father’s hand.
“Driving at 13 was illegal, but I’m thankful that he’s able to be here now and at games,” Siva said.
Siva said coach Rick Pitino has been a father figure on and off the court.
“He’d get on me hard for things like turning the ball over, wearing a hat in the building, learning to shake hands and looking people in the eye,” Siva said. “He always tells me I’m out of shape every practice. He’s hard on me, but he’s the greatest motivator.”
Siva said the connection with FCA kept him grounded through college.
“Chris kept in touch with me,” he said. “And whenever possible, I went to Bible study. The people in FCA love you no matter what. It’s pretty amazing because peers talk to you about the Bible.”
Siva said Morgan often texted Bible verses.
“He gave us words for what was going on in our lives,” Siva said. “That meant a lot.”
When Kevin Ware was injured in the Elite Eight game against Duke, Siva gathered teammates together on the court.
“I looked at Chane (Behanan) and Wayne (Blackshear) and saw them drop to the ground,” Siva said. “It was gruesome. Kevin’s bone was sticking out of his leg. They told us to give him room and space. It’s like Luke to break all the rules. I didn’t know what to do so I went over to Kevin and told him that we have his back. Then I gathered players in a circle, and we said a prayer for Kevin. After that, we tried to stay focused and play for Kevin.”
Siva believes God has brought him to this point.
“We put our hard work into it,” he said. “We couldn’t let the football team outdo us.”
Through college, Siva said that Chris and Tammy Morgan cared about him as a person, as much off as on the court.
“They opened their house to me,” he said. “I hear Chris talk highly of his wife. He’s a man of God and a great role model. He has the strongest handshake in the world. He texts me after every game with verses and asks how I’m doing in my spiritual walk. God is doing something big here at the University of Louisville.”
After Louisville won the championship and CBS announcer Jim Nantz asked, “How do you put into words being a champion?”
Siva answered, “First of all, I got to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for blessing us with this opportunity. I thank God and without my teammates, my parents, my girlfriend, my brothers, none of this would be possible. I am just thankful to God.”
The youngest of six children, Luke Hancock was raised with a mix of faith and sports.
His mom fashioned a makeshift basketball goal out of a dinged-up fiberglass backboard she found behind a gas station in Roanoke and bought for $20. Neighbors heard the steady rhythm of Hancock shooting long after dark and again before dawn.
Hancock came to U of L from George Mason University in 2011 after his coach took a job at another school. He worked hard to rehab his shoulder after an injury in a pickup game. He said it took him a while to regain his rhythm early in the season.
At a critical point in the season after the five-overtime loss to Notre Dame, Pitino threw out the challenge to win the next 10 games and secure the No. 1 seed.
Hancock took it seriously.
Trailing by 12 points in the first half of the NCAA championship game against the University of Michigan, Hancock made four straight three-pointers before halftime to put the Cards back in the game. He finished the game with 22 points and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
Hancock was the first player to get to Kevin Ware after his gruesome leg break in the Duke game.
“I saw Kevin’s face about the same time I saw everybody’s reaction,” Hancock said. “I wanted to let him know we were there. I said a quick prayer with Kevin, and he went into ‘Kevin mode’ and told us to win the game. He’s a strong guy.”
Hancock said having Ware on the bench in Atlanta was huge motivation to win.
“God is great to give Kevin strength,” Hancock said. “Now he’s been on 500 talk shows. Peyton used to be the most famous person I know. Now it’s Kevin Ware.”
Though Hancock received accolades for his Final Four performance, he said that he got more credit than he deserved.
“When Kevin went down, we knew we all needed to step up,” Hancock said. “The biggest step up ever was Tim Henderson making those threes.”
Hancock gave Siva credit for calling plays and getting players in the right places to score.
He also said that it made a difference that his seriously ill father was in the stands that day.
“No one knows how much that meant to me,” Hancock said. “He went to Madison Square Garden to see us play, but he couldn’t stay. Just to see him there and say he’s proud meant so much.”
Hancock is thankful for the support he receives from FCA.
“We hear there that God puts us in positions to use our platform,” he said. “FCA is a huge support group. People are there for you, and it’s a lot of fun. Chris sends us Bible verses. He knew I was struggling early in the season. He was telling me to hang on. I needed those texts.”
Teddy Bridgewater grew up the youngest of four children raised by a single mom in Miami.
“As a 9-year-old, I was running into trouble, hanging out with the wrong crowd,” Bridgewater said. “I have a single-parent background, moving often from home to home. A lot was happening with my family. One Sunday I went to the front of the church and poured my heart out to God. He gets all the praise and all the glory for what’s happened in my life.”
Bridgewater came to U of L after what he described as a complicated series of missteps by other universities, including the University of Miami and LSU. Those missteps became Louisville’s gain.
Bridgewater said, “FCA has been a phenomenal part of my life.”
‘It’s more than getting together to read the Bible and sing a song,” he said. “FCA has been phenomenal for me. We get in-depth Bible study.”
One of Bridgewater’s favorite Bible verses is Philippians 4:13: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
“My strength comes from above,” Bridgewater said. “It’s the backbone of my life. Because of my faith, I can get back up. If I get hit, I can get back up.
FCA changing lives at U of L
University of Louisville head football coach Charlie Strong said Chris and Tammy Morgan are the architects God uses to change lives on campus.
“When I came, Chris Morgan left a note on my desk,” Strong said. “To me, coach equals missionary as they change the lives of young people. Chris is instrumental in making that happen. FCA is so crowded on Monday nights, you can’t get in the room. Student athletes come from all different sports, and it gets bigger each week. A lot of time athletes don’t open up. They open up in FCA.”