How hard is it for you to stay grounded in your faith? It seems that when things are at their worst, we seem to seek God the most. As the saying goes, “There aren’t any atheists in fox holes.” But how about when things are going well? Let me put you in a situation. You’re blessed financially by doing something you love. I mean if you wanted you could buy any car you wanted, and house you wanted, and still be able to bless charities without seeing your account in the red. That kind of money… You have a beautiful family. You’re in good shape. And not just good shape, I mean 6’3” run the 40 yard dash in 4.87 seconds and bench press 225 lbs. 31 times kind of shape. You’re set financially and blessed with family. And what’s the icing on the cake? Oh yeah, there’s more. You get to play for your favorite childhood football team in the NFL! Life’s pretty good and by the world’s standards you really don’t NEED anybody. How strong would your faith be then? For Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Mike DeVito, he knows that without God as his foundation all the other areas in his life could come crashing down… But he didn’t always feel that way.
Mike DeVito was born in New York to a traditional Italian family. “My dad’s name is Vinnie from Brooklyn and he owns a construction company. I don’t know if there’s a law against that many stereotypes in one family but he fits all of them.” Mike said. But faith was not a huge part growing up. “My parents raised me well. They worked hard and taught me that. I was raised in Cape Cod Massachusetts and I learned a lot from them but faith just wasn’t a huge part of our family.” Mike’s father and Grandfather played a huge roll in his development as an athlete. “My father was a professional bodybuilder and my grandfather, who also lived Cape Cod, coached high school football for 30 years. I had the best of both worlds growing up. My father helped with all the lifting and training aspects while my grandfather brought the football element. I have pictures of me at the age of 3 wearing Jets jerseys and caps dreaming about playing for them. So I knew at a young age that I wanted to play in the NFL.” As Mike grew up he would push himself to get better. “My father ran a tight ship. He pushed for excellence and he was not someone I wanted to let down. He was such a major influence in my developing as an athlete and he motivated me.” As Mike and his game matured he got noticed and was able to go to college on a football scholarship at the University of Maine. “It was a great experience. I knew right away that I was going to love it there. And that’s God’s providence right there. He knew the big plan. I didn’t at the time but He did.” Starting off in college, Mike had some challenges to face. “I bought into the stereotypical football player mind set. I’m going to be a Wildman, I’m going to live the ‘college life’, I’m going to ‘do what football players do’, and it just wasn’t productive. It didn’t necessarily show up on the field or classroom but I was just living life for myself. Now I wasn’t ‘off the wall’, but when I look back and think about how things could have been… If I was more future minded back then the situation could have been so much better. But God uses moments like that. At the time I didn’t know these were low points because at the time I thought things were going great, so why did I need God? It wasn’t until after I came to Christ that I realized they were. But, He takes low points to help us learn and reflect. That’s what He did with me.”
Junior year is when Mike’s life would start to gain a different sense of purpose. “It was my junior year and more and more people would start to talk to me about church and God. God was using these people to get His message across to me, and I thought it was all well and good. I had a sense of God and sort of believed but I wasn’t ready to give up control yet. I wanted to live my life on my terms. I was living with my ex-girlfriend at the time and I didn’t want to give up drinking… you know, that stereotype of a college football player. Then there was this guy I looked up to on the team. He played defensive line with me. Big guy, he was like 6’5” 300+ pounds Mohawk and tatted up. Just a bad looking dude! I looked up to him.”
In a very unexpected way, the man Mike looked up to would impact him forever. “ I remember like it was yesterday. I was coming home from class and my ex-girlfriend had told me that he had been killed. He had gotten into an argument and was shot and killed. I remember going to the funeral and walking up to the casket. I looked down into the casket at this 24 year old man that was now dead in the casket. Life for him was done! And that’s when I really felt that ‘Holy Spirit talk to the heart’. God was really moving on me and showing me bluntly that life is so short. All the people that were approaching me earlier about Jesus now made sense. He was going to be the foundation. That changed my mind from a worldly mindset to a more eternal mindset. Life is so fragile and in an instant it can be taken, so I began to search myself. If life were taken from me, am I ready for that?” As Mike learned and asked questions he found the answers that he was searching for. “Jesus was going to offer a new birth and a new way to do this life correctly with a proper focus. I started to gain the knowledge and the faith. But the trust came when I started to go to church. I went to this old school charismatic Pentecostal church. They were VERY interactive where they do an alter call at the beginning and the end of every service. NOBODY stayed in their pew, you were coming up to the front. I remember they had done the alter call and I was sitting in the back and said to myself, ‘There is no way I am going up there!’. They kept calling me so I finally go up there and put my head down. The only praying I was doing is, ‘God get me out of here and PLEASE let this end!’ Then the head Pastor and the assistant Pastor came over and laid their hands on me. It was the first time I actually felt the Holy Spirit… The actual Baptism of the Holy Ghost moved through me. It was electricity running through my whole body, it was incredible! That’s when the light switch turned on, that’s when the colors in the room got brighter and that was the defining turning point. It went from something I was mocking, to something I was teetering on, to ‘this is something that is REAL’ and it was real in an instant. I love all the apologetics and the study and the discussions, but when you FEEL God’s presence! There is nothing like it. That was my new birth, my repentance, and my turn to the right direction happened.”
Now that the foundation was laid, Mike was ready to go to the NFL. In 2007 Mike was signed as an undrafted free agent with his childhood team the Jets. “With all the temptations and pressures in the NFL and playing in a big city, there is no way I could have made it without Christ. As a result of my rebirth, God has shown me how important it is to surround myself with other men of faith. People like Adam (Adam Burt is the Jets pastor and ex-NHL player) and other brothers in Christ on the team that are used to the hard working competitive nature of being an athlete, they would challenge you not just on the field, but in how you live your life and in your faith. Because of them I was not just growing as a player, but as a Christian even more.” Because of this “new focus” Mike has a new set of standards he makes himself live by. “Now that I’m married and have a son I think one of the biggest challenges is to keep my walk with Jesus intentional. Like with any relationship you can find yourself going through the motions, and with all the ‘stuff’ that goes on with the NFL, my wife and our son I find my devotions can start to slip, attendance at church can start to slip and so on. I need to make sure that Jesus stays the number one most important thing in my life and the foundation for everything else that I do. Reminding myself of that day in and day out has been the most challenging. However it is the most fruitful part of my life, because being the spiritual head of my household is everything. I’m accountable to God first for my relationships with my wife and my son and He holds me accountable for that. And my wife Jessie wants me to put God first in my life because if I am accountable to her first then I’m putting our relationship above God. She wants me to be accountable to God first because with Him as the foundation I will be a better husband. I will also be a better father and as a result, our son will be as well. My wife kids me because I have about 10 framed pictures of ‘As for me and my house we shall serve the Lord.’ As long as I can help everyone in this house to love Jesus, we’ll do ok!”
In 2013 Mike signed a three year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs and will be using his God given ability to take down opponents that he faces on Sunday. Lord willing Mike will be playing for many years to come, but when the cleats do get hung up for good are there any other goals? “I am actually finishing up college now so that when I’m done I can go to Bible College and become a pastor. That’s definitely the plan”. God has chosen to make Mike a part of his team both on and off the field, and if Mike is ever looking for a landing spot for ministry work… I think SportsFaith could find some room for him.