Washington Redskins tight end Hale Hentges goes into every play with a prayer in his heart.
“Jesus, I trust in You. I could score a touchdown or break a leg and never play again. So whatever is supposed to happen on this play, just let it happen.”
Mr. Hentges, a 2015 graduate of Helias Catholic High School and a 2011 graduate of Immaculate Conception School in Jefferson City, spoke at an I.C. School assembly Jan. 29.
“Not too long ago, I was right where you are,” he said. “Life is crazy and unpredictable and fun and it will all be the time of your life as long as you keep God with you.”
He talked to the students about the importance of forging an unbreakable relationship with God, maximizing their talents for God’s greater glory, carving out time for prayer, and paying close attention to the direction He gives.
“God has given me gifts and He has given you outstanding, phenomenal gifts and He wants you to use them to glorify Him and His kingdom,” he said.
Figuring out the best way to do that requires prayer — an ongoing, open dialogue with God.
“The No. 1 thing is, God is my best friend,” said Mr. Hentges, who prefers to go by Hale. “Friends may come and friends may go, but throughout it all, God is there with you.”
In a separate gathering, he also spoke to the eighth-grade boys about respecting authority, embracing difficult challenges and treating women as treasured daughters of their Heavenly Father.
It was the Wednesday of Catholic Schools Week.
“What a blessing it is for you to be able to go to a Catholic School, where you can share your faith in a place that everybody shares it with you and you get to grow as disciples of God with one another,” he told the whole school.
Hale played in four college football national championships with the University of Alabama Crimson Tide before graduating with honors last January and entering the sacrament of marriage with his wife, Shannon.
He made the final roster for the Indianapolis Colts before finishing this season with Washington, scoring his first NFL touchdown Dec. 22 against the New York Giants.
The real reason
Hale said I.C. and Helias Catholic were catalysts for him becoming the person he is today.
“They can help you get wherever you want to go,” he said. “You just have to put in the hard work and let God take it from there.”
Having been given several options for college, he chose Alabama after engaging with God in serious prayer.
“Having a good relationship with God and asking Him for help can really make those big decisions easier,” said Hale.
He headed south to play football — and play football he certainly did.
“But I actually ended up meeting my wife down there, which was the real reason I was supposed to go down there,” said Hale. “I mean, it was awesome to get to play, but the real reason I was there was to answer my calling to marriage.”
He noted that God has a plan for each person — marriage, religious life, Priesthood or single life.
“It’s not our job to know what God is doing in our life,” he said. “It’s our job to say ‘yes’ to whatever He asks us to do.”
Ups and downs
Hale noted that he has gotten to play for some excellent coaches, which reinforced for him the importance of respecting authority.
“Even playing in the National Football League, I’m at the bottom of the totem pole,” he said. “I answer to so many people, most importantly to God.”
He talked about some of the difficulties and disappointments he came up against while pursuing the dream he first had been having since he was 3.
He fought against his own doubts about his abilities in high school in college.
He dealt with a season-stopping injury while he was a junior.
He and his wife were just getting settled in Indianapolis when injuries to other players on the Colts resulted in him getting cut to make room for reinforcements.
“But the Redskins claimed me, so I was lucky enough to get to continue to play,” he said. “That’s what God had in store for me, and I hope to play some more next year.”
Hale pointed out the importance of maintaining a childlike dependence on God.
“We can’t control everything in life,” he said. “But we can control our relationship with God and our disposition about that reality.
“Difficult things will happen in your life, and for a lot of you, that may have already happened,” he noted. “But as long as you have that friendship with God, there is nothing you can’t deal with.”
Time to pray
Hale’s cousin, Zach Rockers, who is a teacher and football coach at Helias Catholic, noted that Hale is much more than a professional football player.
“He is a man of God,” said Mr. Rockers. “He has is life in order, in terms of putting God first, then his family and friends, and then everything else.”
Mr. Hentges pointed out that it took him a while “to really learn how to pray.”
While structured prayers and devotions are good and helpful, “it’s more about actually having a relationship with God,” he said.
It boils down to spending time and making an effort to grow in that relationship.
“God wants to hear from you and be part of your life,” he said. “He loves you. He is your Heavenly Father and your best friend.”
Hale realized a long time ago that because his life revolves so much about football, he had to be intentional about setting aside time for God every day.
“My day starts with God and ends with God, and throughout the day, He wants to hear from me,” said Hale.
It begins the minute he wakes up in the morning.
“The first thing I do is get on my knees for a few minutes and just thank God for letting me wake up and for this new day and for giving me another breath of life,” he said.
He encouraged the young people to spend some time greeting the Lord in the morning before even checking their phone.
“If you start your day like that, your day is gonna’ be great,” he said. “You’re gonna’ be happier and have more energy. You’re gonna’ realize that this day is a gift and that God is in control every aspect of it. He won’t let you down.”
Hale spends his 15- to 20-minute commute to work in silent prayer and reflection or listening to a Catholic podcast.
He sets the alarm on his cell phone to remind him several times a day to stop and commune with God.
Quick prayers — “Jesus, I trust in You,” “God, I love You,” “Jesus, please help me” — turn ordinary tasks into acts of prayer.
When he’s on the field, he offers a silent prayer before the beginning of each play.
“That alone is powerful,” he said. “That’s probably 40 to 50 times in a three-hour period. I would encourage you to stop and offer a quick prayer like that throughout your day.”
He suggested that the young people stop and pray every time they log onto Instagram, Ticktock or other social media.
Before bed, he and his wife talk about their day and then offer a prayer of thanks together.
“Instead of it being just us two, it’s us three,” he said.
Be men of God
Hale pointed out that God might be calling one, two, three or more young men in the I.C. School’s eighth-grade class to be priests.
Most of the rest will be called to marriage.
Hale said the interactions they have with women today will set the tone for the kind of husbands and fathers they may become.
He urged them to be thoughtful and respectful and to start praying for their future wives if marriage is what God has in mind for them.
“If you’re being called to marriage, that means your wife is out there somewhere,” he said. “When you date someone, know that she is probably someone else’s future wife, so treat her the way you hope guys are treating the woman you will marry some day.”
He stated flatly that online pornography is a tremendous temptation for young men, especially since it is so readily available.
“It is the No. 1 way the devil tries to take young men from God,” said Hale. “It’s something you’re all going to be tempted with.
“If you are caught up in watching pornography, it’s not too late,” he said. “You can stop. God wants to call you back to respecting women.”
“You can do it”
Hale said he’s already been on a heck of a journey, “and God has been with us through the whole process.”
He’s hopefully just getting started, and so are the young people he was speaking to.
“Whatever you guys want to accomplish, with God and hard work, you can do it,” he said.
He urged them to keep going to to Mass and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ often and making the best use of the sacraments that are readily available to them in a Catholic school.
He reminded them that how they treat the other people in their lives makes a big difference.
“We’re all members of God’s Divine Body. How you treat the least is how you treat the greatest,” he said.