By RJ Walters / Daily News Sports Editor
As published in the Hillsdale Daily News on March 18, 2009
According to Joel Penton a BCS National Championship ring is big, shiny and exciting, but not something that is a trustworthy object of his faith.
For him, that object is Jesus Christ, and he is not afraid to share that news with anyone who is willing to listen.
The former Ohio State Buckeyes defensive tackle, part of the 2002 national championship team, spoke a message of “standing your ground” via an unshakeable faith in God to more than 200 area middle school and high school students at Reading High School Tuesday night.
Coupled with the tunes of young musician Ryan Holiday, prize giveaways and a Nerf gun battle used as an example of what shields can do in fighting life’s biggest battles, Penton grabbed the young audiences’ attention, asking them questions far beyond the realm of academics and athletics.
“We all need to be ready when that day of evil comes. And that day of evil could come tomorrow for you — it’s a day of trial, of temptation, of tragedy, and we have to be ready,” he said in his speech. “And sure, yeah wearing this national championship ring is fun, but it’s not going to provide me with purpose and meaning. Where I found a trustworthy object of my faith is with Jesus.”
The 25-year-old Penton related his journey of faith time and again with his journey as a Division I football player.
He said that when he was a freshman in 2002, it was the faith of seniors, like cornerback Chris Cornwell that made the difference between being a good team and the nation’s best.
Despite beginning the season not even ranked in the Top 10 Cornwell was always talking to the younger players about how they were going to be national champs come January because of the faith they all had in the coaches, game plans and their own abilities.
Penton said initially he laughed at the idea of being so sure of something so big in the world of college sports, but after the Buckeyes defeated the Miami Hurricanes 31-24 in double overtime at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, all he could do was think of what Cornwell had been saying all along.
“Standing there in confetti, with Coach Tressel accepting the national title trophy all I could think about was how Chris Cornwell talked all year about how I’d have a national championship this year,” Penton said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about how he and all the seniors held up their shield of faith all season and never doubted.”
Penton also recalled a huge fourth-and-one conversion from a late-season contest with Purdue when explaining how football taught him many lessons about the idea of faith.
Trailing 6-3 with two minutes to go in a pivotal road game, Tressel decided to go deep and senior quarterback Craig Krenzel found receiver Michael Jenkins wide open for a 37-yard game-winning score. Penton said what he remembers even more than the play itself is what Krenzel said to a reporter after the game.
“I was blown away when he told the reporter, ‘I knew it was a touchdown when I let go of the ball’. His faith was amazing,” he said.
Penton said that while most teenagers try to identify with and fulfill themselves with activities, relationships and substances, through personal experiences he has learned that only a personal savior will suffice.
“I know it makes people uncomfortable, but I truly believe one day we will all face judgment. On that day under our own power none of us will stand our ground,” he said. “However, the only way we will be able to stand our ground is if we’re covered in the blood of Jesus Christ.”
Camden-Frontier sophomore Morgan Warfield said she really liked what Penton had to say at her school assembly and came to Tuesday night’s event with a group of friends to hear even more.
“I think it is really cool that he (is a former college football player) and he shares his message with younger people and it shows a lot about him and what he went through,” she said. “I just got the message (of keeping) faith in yourself and just believe in yourself and keep trying to do what’s right.”
Crossroad Ministries executive director Doug Routledge said he was encouraged by the turnout and excitement.
“What Joel has done is excellent, what Ryan does is excellent and I think anytime you have excellence projected to your high school or junior high kids, especially excellence related to a relationship with Jesus Christ, it has an impact, it’s extremely positive,” he said.
Penton has been a professional speaker for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes since early 2007 and Crossroads Ministries welcomed him to the Rangers home gym on the same day he spoke at Camden-Frontier and Reading at school assemblies.
In 2006, Penton received the prestigious Danny Wuerffel Trophy, also known as the “Humanitarian Heisman.” The trophy recognizes the college football player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.