Joe Podelco / Photo editor
Earning millions of dollars and national recognition as professional football players might make some forget where they came from and how they got to where they are, but Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurinaitis don’t fall under that category.
Jenkins and Laurinaitis were invited by RealLife, a Christian student organization at Ohio State, to speak Thursday night at its weekly meeting in Independence Hall. The two discussed some football but also their relationships with God and the lessons He has taught them during their journeys to become NFL stars.
“I got to Ohio State as a 17-year-old freshman, so you can only imagine where that went from there,” said Jenkins, current defensive back for the New Orleans Saints. “I kind of forgot about God, really.”
Jenkins said he wasn’t living a Christian lifestyle when he first arrived, but it all changed one night when former OSU teammate Antonio Smith read a Bible story to some of his teammates.
“What really changed my life around was when one of my teammates did a chapel the night before one of our games,” Jenkins said. “I began really living for (God) and seeking Him.”
Jenkins and Laurinaitis, who now plays for the St. Louis Rams, talked about how their religious beliefs helped lead them to the right places in their professional careers, though they admitted they weren’t excited when they were drafted by their current teams.
Laurinaitis was considered a top prospect for the NFL after his junior season. He was all but a lock to be a top 10 pick in the annual NFL draft, which would have earned him a multimillion-dollar contract.
Laurinaitis said he pondered the matter and left much of his decision on whether to go pro or stay at OSU to prayer.
“I felt that God was telling me, ‘You have more to do at Ohio State,'” he said.
And so Laurinaitis returned for another season of donning scarlet and gray on Saturday afternoons.
But after another impressive season, Laurinaitis wasn’t quite as big of a prospect after his senior year, though he said he felt like it was just as good as his previous year. The draft came around, and he didn’t go in the top 10. He didn’t even go in the first round. He fell to the second round, where St. Louis took him with the 35th overall pick, a spot he wasn’t satisfied with.
“I had a lot of prayers and conversations with God, where I was just like ‘Why? What did I do to deserve this?'” Laurinaitis said of how his draft stock fell.
But as Laurinaitis arrived and began to settle in St. Louis, he said, he came to the realization that this was the way God meant for it to be.
“Now that I look back, it was such a blessing that I went 35th,” he said. “Just have faith that God is going to take care of you. He used something that I looked at, at the time, as something terrible that was happening in my life and turned it into an unbelievable lesson.”
Jenkins said he also had to remember that, regardless of his stature as an athlete, his purpose in life was to serve God.
“When I was going to the league, people were saying: ‘You don’t want to be a Chad Johnson or a T.O. Are you going to change your last name to dos and … whatever else?'” Jenkins said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
“You are no more important than me, and I am no more important than you. We all have our own responsibilities and purposes.”
During their time at OSU, Jenkins and Laurinaitis were affiliated with Athletes in Action, a sector of RealLife. When RealLife reached out to the two NFL stars, they were happy to speak to at the organization’s weekly meeting.
“They’re superstars in the world’s eyes, but at the same time, they’re still humble,” said Jacob Beach, vice president of RealLife. “You ask either of them, and the most important thing in their lives is their relationship with Jesus Christ.”
And that was the message the former Buckeye football stars wanted to push across Thursday night.
“If you leave here tonight knowing about Jesus Christ and want to go back and crack open your Bible and just kind of learn about him, then that’s great,” Laurinaitis said. “That’s why we do this.”