By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY — The same week Class 2A state champion Regina defeated Class 3A state champion Solon in a much-anticipated football game, former NFL player Mike McCoy reminded students that life’s most important victories happen off the field.
In motivational talks at Regina Junior/Senior High School Aug. 31, the Catholic urged youths to nurture their faith; avoid sex, drugs and alcohol; and seek healthy friendships.
The University of Notre Dame encourages athletes to “play like a champion,” he said, quoting his alma mater. “But how are you going to be a champion?”
By making good decisions, said McCoy, the president of Mike McCoy Ministries. His Georgia-based organization works to prevent suicides, fight drug addiction, curtail promiscuity and help students make better choices.
God has a plan for each person. But he gave humans free will to either follow his path or reject it, said McCoy, who also spoke at Assumption High School in Davenport on Aug. 31. “Decisions determine our destiny.”
He cited the example of Liz Murray, who was born in the Bronx to poor, drug-addicted parents. Her mother and father eventually died after contracting HIV, and Murray ended up homeless at age 15. Determined to create a better life, she graduated from high school while living on the streets and won a full scholarship to Harvard University. Now, she’s an author and speaker who works to empower others.
She shows the power of perseverance, McCoy said.
Later, he asked for a student volunteer to try to navigate, blindfolded, around chairs he said represented the obstacles of sex, drugs and alcohol. Senior Maddy Villhauer managed to do so with the help of fellow senior Zoe Dutchik. Good friends help each other avoid life’s “landmines,” McCoy explained.
He encouraged students to take a vow of purity through True Love Waits, a program that promotes abstinence. “What God designed as good, as something to be between a husband and wife, society has distorted.”
Offering cautionary tales, McCoy spoke of promising students who ended up dropping out of school and committing crimes after getting hooked on drugs. He also discussed his battle with alcohol abuse. Though he’d hoped to avoid the path of his father, a high school dropout who began drinking at 19, “I was wearing the blinders of denial.”
McCoy’s life felt empty. His faith was weak. But after he joined the Green Bay Packers, with whom he spent seven of his 11 years in the NFL, teammate Carroll Dale invited him to the NFL Chapel program. “There, I asked Christ to come into my heart.” Afterward, McCoy said, he lost the desire to drink.
He invited students to open their hearts to Christ and then led them in prayer. Read a chapter of Proverbs daily, he suggested. “Education without wisdom is just education. But when you include God’s wisdom, it becomes very powerful.”
McCoy’s message was very motivational, said Zach Ries, a senior at Regina. “He used his experience to try to set kids on the right path.”
Junior Thomas Keating said he was inspired to help his friends avoid making poor choices. “Mike helped me think about what God wants for me: to discern right from wrong …. I wish we could have more people like him come talk.”
“His message was very important for students to hear,” Principal Dave Krummel said.