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The prayer circle has established a special bond between players who deeply value their faith.

Credit: Ilana Wurman , Ilana Wurman, Ilana Wurman

At the end of every football practice, after the whistle is blown and the team disperses from the huddle, there exists at the center of the field a quiet spirituality.

Some coaches strategize with players off to the side. Most players have already jogged off to the locker room. A few chat or toss footballs back and forth in the end zone. But for a group of about 20 players, the practice is not yet over. For some, the most important part of the session is just starting.

Gathered in a circle holding hands, the group stands with their heads bowed in prayer, listening to the words of team chaplain Mark Pass.

Although sometimes Pass’ prayers and devotional readings relate to football, for most players the daily prayer circle transcends the game and reminds them that what they do on the field is not the most important thing in life.

“Football has a ton of ups and downs,” said sophomore defensive end and prayer-circle participant Louis Vecchio. “It definitely becomes a lot more bearable knowing that there is a higher power, knowing that God is with you no matter what goes on.”

As the prayer wraps up, the players huddle together in a tight cluster, their hands raised in the air. Soon, the cheer “Live for Him” echoes throughout Franklin Field.

The prayer circle is only a small component of the practice, yet it often provides respite from everything the players deal with on and off the field. For players who juggle rigorous academic schedules, Division I athletics and faith, the prayer circle makes balancing these things a little bit easier — especially considering this balancing act most likely wasn’t necessary during their youth playing days.

“When I was young, I never had to balance anything because my mom was like ‘church on Sunday,’” sophomore defensive lineman Chibuzor Ugwu said. “Then, when I got here, where no one was making me do anything, and we have practice on Sundays, it was rough at first.

“It’s harder to balance, but when you are firm in your faith, it makes it okay.”

Vecchio echoed these sentiments, noting that, in college, it takes a conscious effort to maintain strong faith with such a demanding schedule.

“As a kid, practices end early, so there is always time at night,” he said. “But when you get to college, it’s pretty tough, especially practicing on Sundays.

“I mean we are here almost all day Sunday, so its pretty hard to find a church that is doing something later in the day, so [the prayer circle] definitely helps after every practice.”

The post-practice prayer circle isn’t the only way the players balance faith and football. In fact, in some cases, practicing faith is a way to prepare for football.

“Before the game, we have chapel, and it really helps us focus and get geared for the game,” Ugwu said.

Although they have a good crowd for the prayer circle after every practice, both players said the turnout was even bigger before Saturday’s game against Lehigh, perhaps as part of mental preparation. The religious activities continue after the game as well, and sometimes include members from rival teams, especially those from Catholic schools like Villanova, the Quakers’ opponent on Thursday.

“After games, our chaplain will get a huge circle going,” Vecchio said. “We come together in the middle of the field and get an open prayer with both teams. We are enemies on the field but when that clock stops, we all play for God, so we are brothers and sisters in the light.”

Off the field, Vecchio and Ugwu both attend Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings on Tuesday nights, and they said that, along with the prayer circle, has established a special bond between players who deeply value their faith.

And just as the City of Brotherly Love has been planning for the Pope’s arrival, the two players have been thinking about his visit as well. Both said that they would love to see Pope Francis, but they aren’t sure yet if their practice schedule will permit them to, as the Red and Blue gear up for their first Ivy game next Saturday against Dartmouth.

If one things is certain, it’s that, in the long run, faith is always more important than football for Vecchio, Ugwu and many other members of the Quakers squad.

“Things don’t always go your way in football,” Ugwu said. “It’s nice to have faith that you can fall back on because it lets you know that everything is going to be ok.”

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