Auburn’s Dylan Cardwell says ‘God is clearly moving’ in basketball career, life


College students often keep lists to keep them on track, but lists have taken on a new significance for Auburn University basketball player Dylan Cardwell. He’s seen God’s hand at work through them.

“Twice I’ve put things on a list, and both times God used those things to spread His kingdom,” said the junior center. 

Cardwell made the first list as a high school student during the 2019–20 basketball season, writing down 10 goals for his senior year and thinking he had a sure-fire way to guarantee success.

“My first goal was to pray every day and get closer to God,” Cardwell recalled. “And I thought that putting God at No. 1, He would bless 2 through 10.”

But what happened next didn’t seem like a blessing. 

Change of plans

Cardwell, an Augusta, Ga., native, played his first two years of high school ball in Evans, Ga., before his junior season at Oak Hill Academy in Wilson, Va., which prides itself as a training ground for future NCAA basketball players.

He returned to Georgia for his senior year. But because of Georgia High School Association transfer rules, he was deemed ineligible to play at McEachern High School in Powder Springs. The 6’11”, highly touted college prospect suddenly was relegated to practicing with the team. He didn’t play a single game that season.

The situation taught him an important lesson.

Writing on Instagram at the time, Cardwell said, “My faith was being tested, and I’ve grown a lot while weathering this storm. … I must remember that this is God’s plan for me. And His plans are far … greater than mine.”

Spiritual realignment

Reflecting back on that time, Cardwell says now, “I had to realign my spiritual goals and truly put God first. The situation was out of my control, and it made me look to Him more and more each day.

“I got really, really close to God because He took basketball away for a whole year. I couldn’t have made it out of that situation without Him.”

A year on the sidelines only intensified Cardwell’s desire to play college basketball. But as the 2019 season progressed, coaching changes at his top two schools eliminated them from contention. In December he still didn’t have a plan, so he pushed his commitment to spring. In March, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and recruiting, like everything else, was put on pause.

During that time, Cardwell connected with a professor at Auburn who challenged him to consider the bigger picture in committing to a college.

“He said, ‘Look at your gut, and go where you feel God is pushing you,’” Cardwell recalled.

Familiar with Auburn’s history and tradition through his uncle, Rodney Garner, a defensive line coach for the university’s football team, Cardwell knew the university’s sense of family and Christian community. 

“I realized this is the place I want to be,” he said. 


Cardwell saw action in all 27 games his freshman season, averaging 3.8 points per game and 3.6 rebounds. He was the only player in the country that season to shoot better than 70% from the floor, and led the team with 49 offensive rebounds. The business major also was named to the First-Year SEC Academic Honor Roll.

During his sophomore season, Cardwell played in all 34 games, averaging 3 points and 3 rebounds per game and contributed to the Tigers’ success on the court. The team won the regular season SEC championship, and Cardwell was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll and the SEC Community Service Team.

Last spring, Cardwell fully committed his life to Christ and was baptized. Despite his busy schedule, he makes time to participate in small group Bible study and attends Church of the Highlands in Auburn. 

And that’s where his second list comes in. After hearing a sermon on the prayer of Jabez last fall, Cardwell felt moved to write his own list of blessings to bring to God in prayer.

“I wrote down ‘more opportunities, more success,’ those kinds of things, but then I wrote down ‘more influence’ just to have five things,” he recalled. “But the last thing I cared about was influence. I don’t care how many ‘followers’ on social media I have, but I put it there. And I began to pray it every day.”

Fast forward to Sept. 25’s Auburn vs. Georgia State football game. 

Sitting among a mass of discouraged students early in the game, Cardwell had an impulse to take off his shirt and wave it like a rally flag. It didn’t work.

“Nobody cared,” Cardwell said with a laugh.

But in the third quarter, he decided to try again, and as he waved his shirt in the air and started dancing, he saw himself on the jumbotron.

Cardwell kept dancing, cheered on by the energized crowd, and when Auburn rallied to win the game, Cardwell became known as “the jumbotron guy.”

“Most people didn’t even know I played basketball,” he said. “But it had a domino effect for the rest of the year.”


His social media following grew by 10,000 almost instantly, and since he shares Bible verses and stories of his faith journey there, his influence grew as well. He now has more than 26,000 followers on Instagram and shares a weekly devotional in addition to other thoughts and reflections.

Team chaplain Jeremy Napier said it has been fun to watch Cardwell’s influence grow.

“I love watching him use his platform to bring God glory,” Napier said. “He has a genuine love for the Lord. My prayer for him, and for all these guys, is that they continue to do so while walking humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8).”

Cardwell used his Instagram account to chronicle his team’s recent 10-day trip to Israel, which included a baptism service in the Jordan River.

“It felt like seeing the Bible come to life,” he recalled.

The Israel trip is just one more affirmation that God is guiding him and will continue to guide, Cardwell said.

“Two years ago I was lost, and now to be part of something so special is crazy,” he said. “Being able to be baptized where Jesus Himself was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River was an amazing opportunity and experience, and I was so blessed to be part of it.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but God is clearly moving.”