When you watch Penn football, it's easy to get lost in the crowd of more than 100 players and coaches. But there’s one person who is always there and seldom gets mentioned – Reverend Mark Pass.
Pass joined the program in 2010 as the team’s chaplain and has served in the role ever since. His path to joining the Penn community as a spiritual counselor for players, coaches, and their families was not one he ever expected.
“It all started from the business world. As things happen, there was a merger and acquisition and I was out of a job,” Pass said. “Lord took me to being an associate pastor at Church of the Savior in Wayne, Pa., which was totally out of my comfort zone because I never thought that I would be in full-time ministry. While I was there, one of my bosses encouraged us to get involved in something outside of the church, and the next day, somebody came into my office and asked if I would be interested in being the chaplain for Penn football. I said that’s not a coincidence and said I think I will.”
Ever since the Red and Blue won an Ivy League title in his first season with them, Pass has become a staple in the Penn football community. When he first started, he attended every practice and every game, even traveling with the team for their away contests. He leads weekly bible studies, offers an ear to talk to for all players regardless of religious affiliation, and leads small prayer circles after every practice and game.
“I realized that if I was going to do it right, I had to be here every day to build relationships with the players and coaches. I couldn’t just show up on game day," Pass said. “Once I started doing that, I realized that the Lord led me to doing that full time, and I quit my job with the church."
Just two years ago, Pass moved to northeast Pennsylvania. Driving from his current residence to Franklin Field takes approximately two and a half hours. This put his relationship with the team at jeopardy due to the distance between him and the stadium, but Pass managed to make his new situation work.
Since the team does not practice on Mondays, Pass drives straight to practice every Tuesday and then stays with his son in Philadelphia until practice ends on Thursday, when he drives back home. On Friday, the team typically has a walk through, which he does not attend. Then, on Saturday, Pass drives back to Franklin Field to be there for the game or to join the team on the bus to travel to their road games.
Beyond this, Reverend Pass goes to the team's postgame tailgates to get to know the players' parents and relatives, further building his relationship with his Penn football family.
“He’s always there for the team, but [he] always makes a point to remind us that if we need anything personally just to pull him to the side to talk,” senior defensive back Austin Cooper said.
Pass’ presence has allowed a smooth transition from high school to college for many athletes who have always combined religion and football.
“I’ve always [mixed religion with football],” senior defensive back Jacob Martin said. “It’s really cool that we have that option here. Coming in, I didn’t really know anybody, and he knew everybody on the team and really helped to make me feel comfortable from day one.”
Pass’ relationship with Penn does not stop with the football team either. He also has developed a similar relationship with the men’s lacrosse team, where he also serves as chaplain.
In 2017, Pass was given the Man of the Year award for Penn football, recognizing him as a member of the team that stands up for what he believes in and always looks out for what is best for the Penn family.
“The fondest memory of mine is – we had a very good wide receiver who was struggling, and after one of the practices he kind of lingered,” Pass said. “[I told him that] you know you have the talent, you have a God-given gift, you know that and stressed that it would happen. Literally, the next game I think he caught a little wideout screen and ran for a touchdown and ran off the field and found me right away and thanked me for that.”
With no signs of stopping any time soon, Pass will continue to serve as a staple of continuity and community for the Quakers for years to come.
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