Faith on the Field
November 1, 2007 - It is a cold January morning and the sun is still beneath the horizon outside the Charlotte, N.C., airport terminal. Seated in the corner of a gate on Concourse A, his back against the far wall, is Jerry Moore, the football coach at Appalachian State University. Moore is being rewarded for his first national championship with a post-season trip to the 2006 Hula Bowl in Hawaii. Few, if any, travelers recognize him.
by Jim Dailey
Moore is oblivious to the commotion of nearby passengers standing in line, his gaze fixed downward on a worn leather-bound volume of Scripture as he reads from the Psalms and Proverbs.
It’s the prototypical Moore—unassuming and deeply sincere in his faith. Those characteristics haven’t changed despite his spectacular gridiron accomplishments in the nearly two years since that trip.
Last season, Moore’s Mountaineer football team lost only one game on its way to a second consecutive national championship in Division 1-AA. Then this September, Appalachian shocked the college football world with a stunning 34-32 victory over the University of Michigan Wolverines, a perennial powerhouse that has won more football games than any other university and started this year ranked fifth in the nation. The upset marked the first time in history that a team from Division 1-AA conquered a nationally ranked 1-A team.
Coming back to the small mountain hamlet of Boone, the Mountaineers were instant celebrities. The team held its first-ever post-game press conference at ASU’s cramped athletic office. Reporters from The New York Times and The Washington Post were eager to write about the new giant slayers. Sports Illustrated featured Appalachian State on its cover with this inscription: “Alltime Upset.”
When ESPN came to town and broadcast a special segment with Moore, millions of Americans quickly became familiar with the persona of the quiet 68-year-old Texan—and they are discovering the rock-solid biblical faith that has sustained and nurtured Moore for decades.
The day after the Mountaineers brought down the Big House in Ann Arbor, Moore started his morning just as he has every other for the past 19 years, reading five chapters in Psalms and one chapter of Proverbs.
Later that day, as Moore attended church, he purposely made his way toward a former Appalachian State player who had battled addictions but has since come to experience Christ’s saving power. “You know, the win we had at Michigan pales in comparison to the victory you’ve had in Christ,” Moore said and smiled as he shook his hand.
Team Chaplain Reggie Hunt, a local pastor who has seen Moore up close for several years, says that is exactly the kind of humble, spiritually-focused person Moore has been through good times and bad.
“Coach Moore is one of the most consistent, godly men I know,” Hunt said as the team gathered inside the locker room at a recent home game in Kidd Brewer Stadium. “His relationship to the Lord is obvious to the players, and they have great respect for him. He encourages those who are believers and reaches out to players who are seeking.”
Corey Lynch, who blocked Michigan’s try for a game-winning field goal on the last play of the game, is one of several players who helps lead a Wednesday Bible study attended by more than half of the team. He briefly considered playing at a large Christian college before deciding to come to Appalachian, where he has matured into a Division 1-AA All-American and caught the eye of numerous pro scouts.
“Coach Moore gives us leadership on the field and off the field,” Lynch said. “He encourages us to go to Bible study and creates an atmosphere of genuine respect. He’s as good as it gets, really.”
Moore is quick to credit the Lord for any success.
“I’ve prayed with our players on our knees many times in the last few years,” Moore said while taking a break from the constant media stream still seeking to replay the thrill of the Michigan victory. “I believe that if Christ is not at the center of all we are doing, then all we’ve done is a failure.
“I also know that God doesn’t care who won the ASU-Michigan game. But the one thing I do know is that He cares about every player on the Michigan team, and on our team, and the 109,000 people who witnessed that ballgame.”
That perspective has kept Moore on solid spiritual ground throughout a career that took him to Southern Methodist University in Texas, the University of Nebraska, the University of North Texas and the University of Arkansas, before bringing him to Appalachian State in 1989. Much of his strength comes from surrounding himself with mature believers who sharpen his faith.
George Tharel, who was instrumental in the life of Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, discipled Moore at Arkansas. When Moore came to Appalachian, he was concerned about finding someone in Boone who would fill that mentoring role. Only a few months into the job, he was introduced to a Christian surgeon, Richard Furman, who has helped lead an ongoing coaches’ Bible study. Furman and his brother Lowell were co-founders of World Medical Mission, which is part of the Boone-based relief organization Samaritan’s Purse.
“Jerry is the most consistent Christian I know,” Furman said. “His faith is real and he lives it out every day. For him, the victory over Michigan was not only great for the team, but it’s also a platform for him to talk about the Lord.”
Moore prefers to let his actions speak just as loud as his words, recalling the impact that former Baltimore Colts star Raymond Berry had on him when as a young coach he visited Berry at a Texas hotel room.
“Berry had left his door open, and when I walked into the room, I noticed an open Bible lying on the nightstand next to his table,” Moore said. “I’ve never forgotten that, and it made a huge impact on a young coach like me. I want to communicate the Gospel in everything I do.”
The Gospel has spread among the Appalachian players, particularly in the past year. About 30 young men attend the mid-week Bible study, which is led by players. They share from Scripture, and then members break into small groups for follow-up and prayer.
“We all deal with temptation and the normal day-to-day stuff,” linebacker Cam Speer said. “Our time studying Scripture and sharing our needs helps keep us on the same page working together with the talents and gifts God has given us. It all makes for great team chemistry.”
Deep snapper Russ Wilson says the win over Michigan and the national championships serve a much bigger purpose than simply gridiron victories. “All of this is just an opportunity to make much of Christ,” he said. “We simply get to talk to more people about the Lord.”
Lynch, a physics major soon to be wed to Cissie Graham, daughter of Franklin Graham, has seen the players grow in faith during his five years on the team. “When I first came here, there was one guy, John Chasteen, who really took the lead in sharing his faith. Now it’s spread out to a lot of the guys. I’m proud to boast in Christ as the No. 1 Person in life, whether it’s among believers or unbelievers. ”
Team Chaplain Hunt sees the young class of freshmen and sophomores on the team not only as players with lots of athletic potential but also as strong believers who have the opportunity to disciple others. He also stays in contact with players who have graduated and are still pursuing a relationship with Christ.
“I’m thrilled to see so many young players who are solid Christians,” he said. “It’s gratifying to see players who have moved on still plugged into their faith and connected with local churches where they live.”
Furman says it all goes back to Moore’s spiritual influence. “We started a coaches’ Bible study the first season Jerry came to ASU,” he said. “There were only one or two coaches who came initially, but it has grown through the years. We’ve done it for 19 years now, and that’s just a testimony to Coach Moore’s faithfulness and consistency.”