Faith and football: Fellowship of Christian Athletes honors current and former Georgia stars at 'Night of Champions'


WOODSTOCK, Ga. — It was during time of crisis that Mark Richt committed his life to Christ.

While an assistant coach at Florida State University, one of his players had been tragically killed, and legendary coach Bobby Bowden, the always unapologetic Christian, pulled the entire team together and shared the hope that can be found in Christ.

Richt, who went on to lead the University of Georgia football team as head coach, walked into Bowden’s office the next morning and said the words that changed his life: “I need Jesus.”

Richt told a gathering at the University of Georgia Night of Champions on Friday that his life and career have had ups and downs since that day in 1986 but that his focus has remained steadfastly on Jesus.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes hosted the Night of Champions at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, bringing together current and former players and coaches to share their Christian faith.

Current University of Georgia center Sedrick Van Pran talked about the importance of living a life that’s pleasing to Christ.

“I want to always try to stay humble,” the 311-pound team captain said, “because I never want to be humbled by the Lord. When you get out of line, get back in the Word, get back to church.”

Bulldog safety Malaki Starks, a finalist for Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award in 2022, told the gathering it’s important to always make time for what’s most important – a relationship with God.

Ben Watson, a former University of Georgia player and NFL tight end, challenged people at the gathering to reflect integrity and influence.

Watson said people are always watching how athletes and Christians live their lives. Living lives of integrity, he said, generates the influence needed to point others to Christ.

“In everything you do, bring Christ with you,” he said.

Watson won the NFL’s 2018 Bart Starr Award, which is given to the player who "best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community."

Watson encouraged listeners to constantly “check themselves” to make sure they’re living with integrity. He described a process by NFL teams called “self-scouting” in which teams evaluate themselves weekly to assess their current strengths and weaknesses.

“It isn’t about perfection,” Watson said, “but it is about a standard, and being honest with yourself when you don’t maintain it.”

Watson said the apostle Paul exhorted his young protege Timothy to live a life of integrity so that he could influence others for Jesus.

“If you don’t know Jesus Christ, you have no power to live a life of integrity, no power to live a life of influence,” he said.

For those who do know Jesus, Watson said, “We all have influence. What are you doing with yours?”