FLORENCE, Ala. -- The little boy’s name was Carlos, and he lived in a village deep in the Haitian mountains. It had been an odyssey of sorts just to get to the youngster. Motorcycles with a driver and two passengers each took Trevor Adams and the rest of his party from Northwest Missouri State up a rocky and treacherous path. When the bikes went as far as they could possibly go, the group walked another 30 minutes to reach the settlement.
There was the boy, maybe 12 years old. He took hold of Adams’ hand and didn’t let go for the rest of the afternoon. They did not speak the same language, but they didn’t need to. Not that day.
Chances are Carlos had never heard of football, at least not the American kind. The important thing to know about the youngster is that he had no father. For that one day, though, he had Adams.
“It was crazy just seeing how happy those people are over there with the limited amount of things that they do have,” said Adams, who’ll face Lenoir-Rhyne on Saturday for the Division II national championship. “So many times, we’re kind of blinded to the things that we take for granted.
“We have so much over here. It’s not to say that’s it bad that we have so much, but we kind of find our identity in stuff that we don’t need to. God calls us to depend on Him. That was something I really learned a lot being over there that week.”
The same trip, Adams was helping deliver clean water to Carlos’ village. Standing on the back of a flatbed truck, cramped with several other people plus the huge water containers, the young man could see the ocean on his left and the mountain on his right when it started to rain.
Then and there, the reality of it all hit.
“I felt this peace come over me, that this is what God called men to do, to completely get out of their comfort zone to grow,” Adams continued. “It was one of those experiences I’ll always remember, where God was calling me to grow up and be a man, to really die to myself, to stop thinking of myself and to look to the needs of others.”
On the field, Adams is a gifted athlete who has thrown for a career-best 2,788 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. He also leads all DII quarterbacks with a 73.7 percent completion rate. He’s no slouch in the classroom, either, having been named the 2013 Capital One Academic All-America Athlete of the Year.
There’s more. He’s also a three-time Academic All-American and less than two weeks ago was honored in New York City by the National Football Foundation as a Scholar-Athlete.
For those few precious days in Haiti, however, nothing else mattered. He didn’t have to worry about academics, football or even a run at a potential national championship. At the ripe old age of 22, Trevor Adams was able to get away from it all.
He checked his e-mail once.
“Being able to not have to worry about looking at your phone every 10 seconds to see if I got something on Twitter, or a Facebook update, a missed call, meant just focusing in on where you were at right then and not being distracted by stuff like that,” Adams said. “It really was a cool experience. I was able to take away from that, that I seriously spend too much time on my cell phone, probably. It was a cool thing to just kind of be away from that for a little while.”
Standing across from Adams on the Lenoir-Rhyne sideline will be at least three other young men with very similar experiences on the mission field. Last summer, center Parker Murray, defensive back Ryan Sanford and offensive lineman Zach Howell headed to different parts of the world to work and share their faith.
Murray went to the Middle East to work on the Jesus Film Project and teach English to a small class of college-aged students; Sanford was with Athletes in Action on the campus of a large sports university in East Asia; and Howell spent two months in Juneau, Alaska, feeding the homeless and building low-income housing with the Campus Crusade for Christ and Summer Project.
“There’s more to those guys than just football,” said Mike Houston, Lenoir-Rhyne’s third-year head coach. “They all three have a deep faith, and all three have their heads screwed on the correct way over their shoulders, where they know the things that are important in life and the things that aren’t. I think that giving heart and that willingness to go out and do the mission work this summer is a great reflection of our program.”
When Houston first joined the Lenoir-Rhyne coaching staff in 2007 as its defensive coordinator, the program had been in a prolonged state of decline. Its most recent winning season was all the way back in 1994, followed not long after by 1-9 and 0-10 seasons.
It didn’t get much better from there on out, at least not until substantial changes were made both on and off the field.
“The program was in really bad shape,” Houston admitted. “We had a character problem, to be honest with you. There were a lot of things going on in the program that you don’t want on college campuses and you don’t want in your locker room. We just had the wrong kinds of people.”
The decision was made to basically gut the team’s roster and start over. Players like Murray, Sanford and Howell started showing up on campus, and while they might be Sunday School teachers come Sunday, they make for one heck of a smash-mouth football squad the day before.
“We’ve taken the philosophy that we’re going to recruit those players at our university that fit the character we have,” Houston added. “It’s been a slow, gradual process, but at the same time, it’s been one that has resulted in a continued improvement. We’re building a roster where the kids stay.
“They’re able to handle themselves academically in the classroom. They perform well, so you don’t have heavy turnover. You’re not playing with young kids. You’re playing with redshirt-juniors and redshirt-seniors, guys that are experienced. The success of the program over the last three or four years comes from having a plan and sticking to it.”