MACON — Ryan Knapp was on a championship football team as a student at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon. In fact, he earned All-Region honors and was named the team captain. Knapp helped lead the Trojans to four region championships, one state runner-up, and one state championship.
His athletic prowess also propelled him to letter in tennis and track, finishing sixth in the state in the high jump and fourth in the triple jump. Academically, the Macon native finished ninth in his graduating class at TSA.
Regarding his experience at Tattnall Square Academy, Knapp says, “Tattnall has a very strong sense of family and a wonderful Christian environment, which greatly benefited my own Christian walk. While in high school I had the privilege of playing for Barney Hester for four years. Coach Hester is a Christian man, who has been attending Northway Church (formerly Vineville Baptist Church) where my family and I are members.
“Coach Hester and his staff instilled in me certain knowledge and values that have helped me at the collegiate level. My high school coaches and teammates will always have a special place in my heart.”
Today Knapp is a wide receiver for the Mercer Bears football program. He selected Mercer because of its prestigious academics and because coach Bobby Lamb gave him the chance to play football.
Through the process
Mercer played it first football game in January 1892. It was not only the first football game for Mercer, it was the first to be played in Georgia as well as the Deep South. In 1941 the decision was made to disband the Mercer football program following the season.
In 2007 Mercer’s president, Bill Underwood, began to hold a series of campus forums to discuss the prospect of resuming competition in intercollegiate football. In November of 2010 Mercer announced it would reinstate football as an NCAA Division I non-scholarship sport beginning with the 2013 season. Lamb, who had coached at Furman University, was hired as coach in 2011.
On Aug. 27, 2012 Mercer held its first official practice for the first time in over 70 years as 104 players took the field. Among those first players was Ryan Knapp.
Knapp recalls, “What many people do not know is my class came to Mercer and had a practice year that first year before we had our first actual season. This practice year was really long and difficult. We had 5:45 a.m. meetings, weight lifting, then practices which lasted about four hours Monday through Friday, all year long. We did all of this hard work with no hopes for a game until the next year.”
However, Knapp’s recollection of the first win still tastes sweet in his heart and mind. He reminisced, “The most memorable moment for me as a Mercer Bears football player was that first win over Reinhardt that first season. To get a hard fought victory in the last seconds with a game winning field goal was an amazing experience. It was good to see all our hard work come to fruition for that game.”
Out of love, rather than fear
Ryan’s parents, Michael and Karmen, provided a stable Christian home for him and his sister, Morgan. Ryan testified, “My parents always had us in church any time the doors were open: and they were always teaching us spiritual truths as we grew up.
“Growing up, I didn’t get in very much trouble, but I wasn’t perfect. I probably followed the rules mostly because of a fear of getting in trouble rather than out of a love for Jesus. I made my decision to put my faith in Christ at a young age, as a second grader. I know that it was from that point on Christ began to transform my life. At that point I began to try to follow His commands out of a love for Christ rather than a fear of punishment.”
In the seventh grade Ryan attended a Student Life Camp, heard David Platt, president of the International Mission Board, preach and he and his friend, Adam Tarver, sensed that God was calling both of them into the ministry.
“The call to ministry stayed in the back of my mind, but as I got older the calling got stronger and stronger. I now know that I want to do ministry for the rest of my life; and its great to be able to point back to that moment in seventh grade with one of my best friends,” stated Knapp.
“The closely knit youth group at Northway, under the leadership of Scott Sanders and now, Clint Harrison, has contributed significantly to my growth as a Christian. I had a small group I was a part of from middle school all the way through my senior year. We did everything together; and being able to go through life with those friendships and accountability really helped me grow. Having a consistent quiet time has also contributed greatly to my growth as a Christian.”
Ryan has continued to remain involved at Northway as a student at Mercer, but he has also impressed Chris Fuller, director of Mercer’s Baptist Collegiate Ministry, with his commitment to Christ. In fact, Fuller commented, “Ryan Knapp is a dynamic Christian who puts his faith in practice on the college campus, in his relationship with his girlfriend, at church, and on the football field.
“Ryan takes the Great Commission seriously and actively disciples fellow students and teammates every week. His faith is leading him to serve Christ for the rest of his life in ministry, and that dedication inspires me as a campus minister, as well as the youth at church where he serves, and his fellow football players. When you meet Ryan, his smile immediately tells you he loves you with the love of Jesus.”
“Ryan Knapp is a dynamic Christian who puts his faith in practice on the college campus, in his relationship with his girlfriend, at church, and on the football field.”
Ryan has become intentional about discipling other guys, including Mercer’s starting quarterback, John Russ. He explained, “John is an amazing guy who is still young in his Christian faith, so I wanted to begin meeting with him to help him along in his journey. In doing this, I have also grown in my own faith.
“I am also a small group leader for the ninth grade guys at Northway. I love these guys and greatly enjoy getting to spend time with them.
“This semester I have started a Bible study for all college students called Catalyst. I am challenging the group to be an agent of change in our culture for God’s glory. In Catalyst our objective is to present the Gospel message in clear, explicit ways to nonbelievers and challenge believers to deepen their relationship to Christ.”
Ryan is dating a fellow Northway church member, Sarah Oxford, who shares his passion for missions and ministry. Ryan exclaimed, “We were best friends before we started dating. Sarah is truly an example of a godly woman; and she inspires me to grow in my faith every day. She is a small group leader in our church and served the Lord in Romania for ten days last summer. She definitely has a heart for the Lord and it is really fun to have a relationship with her and do ministry with my best friend.”
The right mentality
Ryan is not one of the stars on the Mercer football team, but his attitude toward his role on the scout team is incredible. He clarified, “Before I got to Mercer I knew that whether I played every single down on the field or never got the chance to step between the white lines, God has brought me here for a reason.
“Knowing that I am on this team for a far greater reason than playing football has really helped me these past four years. I knew from the beginning that I am supposed to be light on this team. I haven’t been perfect and I definitely do not always shine God’s light like I am called to do, but I do my best to keep God first no matter the circumstances.
“This mindset has helped me embrace my role as a scout team player. Scout team players are the guys whose job is to prepare the starters for the upcoming game. Scout team players typically only have a chance at playing in games that are out of hand, and even then they will not get in except for the closing minutes of the game. These players are typically non-scholarship as well.
“Playing this role on the team has helped me keep a servant leader mentality. It has helped me stay humble because the role of scout team is typically an unsung job. For me, I can come out and practice hard and have fun knowing that my identity is not in this game. My identity comes from Christ alone.
“My goal is that whenever my teammates see me, they will see Christ, and I will be a light to them. Not that it will be my light shining, but Jesus’ light shining through me.”
After college Ryan plans to follow God’s call into ministry by dedicating his life to seeing students grow in their relationship to Christ, declaring, “I am excited about what God has in store for me in the next chapter of my life.”
Ryan Knapp may not be a star on Mercer’s football team, but he is a star in God’s economy, because the Bible says, “And those who are wise will shine as the brightness of the firmament: and they that turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).