He could see something unique in his eldest son. Ross Pospisil, now a senior linebacker at the U.S. Naval Academy who is preparing for the final game of an impressive four-year career, had plenty of typical boyish vigor, but there was something else. He also possessed a precocious tenderness. Ross loved to serve others.
During Ross's junior year at Temple High School in Temple, Texas, he noticed a table of kids who sat by themselves at lunch. In the often harsh world of high school pecking orders, this group of misfits had fallen through the cracks.
Crossing racial and social lines, Ross decided to eat lunch with them. At first, it took the group by surprise. Ross was a popular two-sport athlete and a member of the National Honor Society. What was he doing at their table? Ross's friends wondered the same thing. It didn't matter. He ate at their table every day for an entire semester.
One Saturday, Ross received a phone call at home. It was the outcasts. They invited Ross to join them at one of their hangouts, a local pool hall. Scott and his wife Linda looked at each other. "Yep, he's in," they said.
On the last day of the semester, Ross shared the Gospel with the entire table.
"Ross has gone far beyond what I've ever done," said Scott, a longtime pastor. "When he was in high school, he was an exceptional kid all the way through. Even as a youngster, he had a toughness but also a compassion about him. I knew he was special and that God had special plans for him, but what God has done through him at the Naval Academy, it's just a testament of God's grace."
Navy's defensive team captain, Pospisil is nearing the end of a fantastic football career. During his three years playing for Navy, he has led the team in tackles the last two seasons and helped the Midshipmen (9-4) extend their school-record stretch of Commander-in-Chief Trophies (awarded to the team with the best record between the service academies) and bowl berths to seven apiece. He also has enjoyed two wins over Notre Dame, both in South Bend. On New Year's Eve, Navy faces Missouri (8-4) in the Texas Bowl in Houston.
But Pospisil's legacy at the venerable service academy in Annapolis, Md., goes far beyond wins, losses and defensive statistics. He is a servant-leader poster child not only for the Brigade of Midshipmen but also for his deep Christian faith.
"He leads by example," said Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo. "Not that he's a quiet leader, but he's not yelling at players. He's leading by encouragement. It's hard not to do it because he's the first guy doing it. Guys look at one of best players on the team and the team captain and see that he works harder than anyone on the team, so it's hard not to follow. He's a man of great spiritual strength. Off the field, he does charitable work without any coercion. It's the whole person."
For the last two years, Pospisil has organized a toy drive for needy families in Annapolis. And despite his grueling academy schedule, he also has found time for other community outreach events like cleaning at the Baltimore Zoo for a day, helping families with yard work, assisting a local church's clothing drive, working at a food kitchen, sharing his faith at a boy's camp and serving as a Special Olympics escort. Last summer, he earned one of 106 nominations nationwide for the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team.
"Service is one of the greatest joys in life when you get a group together to serve others and fulfill a need," said Pospisil, who placed his faith in Christ at age 6 and currently attends the non-denominational Mariner's Church in Annapolis. "Community service and outreach has always been a focal point of my family. I've seen that that's what really life is all about. We're expressing our love for Christ through our love for others."
Indeed, Pospisil has a powerful serving paradigm in his parents. Scott, an assistant pastor at First Baptist Church in Boerne, Texas, trains leaders for adult ministries, while Linda is the church's women's coordinator. The Pospisils raised Ross and his two younger siblings to actively display their faith.
At Temple Bible Church, the family's former place of worship, the Pospisils participated in a large-scale community outreach called ShareFest, where 200 people from several local churches teamed to paint seven homes in a poor neighborhood. Ross was right in the thick of it -- up on a ladder all day with a paint brush and a can.
One summer, the Pospisils went door-to-door at a low income housing complex, bringing kids out to a playground to play with them and sharing a Bible story. Scott vividly recalls the sight of Ross holding the hand of a special needs boy.
"That's just Ross," Scott said. "He's a tender warrior -- tough when he needs to be, but tender, too."
Pospisil has poured himself into football in similar ways. After not receiving any college scholarship offers despite a strong prep career, he decided to follow the pull in his heart toward the military. For years, he had been affected by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and his family's rich military pedigree.
His maternal grandfather was a 1957 graduate of the academy, while his paternal grandfather served on the U.S.S. Ticonderoga aircraft carrier in the mid-1950s. And one of Pospisil's great-grandfathers was an Army colonel who fought at Guadalcanal in World War II.
Despite his average size (6 feet, 227 pounds) and a soul-searching period during his sophomore year when he questioned whether to play football, Pospisil has become one of the faces of the most dominant stretch in program history. He leads Navy with 98 tackles and is tied for the team lead in tackles for a loss with seven. He also has registered 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
On Jan. 23, he will play in the East-West Shrine Game in Orlando, after becoming only the 22nd Navy player to be selected to the 85-year-old college all-star game.
"It's a great honor for Ross," Niumatalolo said. "It's well-deserved. I couldn't think of a better person to represent our team and the school. He's a model midshipman."
Soon, a new chapter of life will begin for Pospisil. For the first time since he was 11, he will stop strapping on a helmet each fall. But that doesn't mean he won't be busy. This spring, while trying to maintain a 3.3 grade-point average in his ocean engineering major, he will act as commander of the 28th Company at the academy, a highly demanding yet prestigious honor.
"It's a huge challenge," he said. "I'll have an XO and a staff. It's a great honor and challenge to participate in that. I was humbled to be selected."
After graduation in May, Pospisil likely will return to the football team as an assistant coach for the 2010 season before heading to the U.S. Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va., to be trained as a helicopter pilot. His desire in a one-year coaching stint, according to his father, is to fulfill the mandate of 2 Timothy 2:2 to reproduce future leaders. Currently, he helps lead a Bible study on Thursday nights and wants to leave it in good hands when he departs.
"He has started to have an influence on some younger guys and wants to be with them another year to disciple and encourage them," Scott Pospisil said. "It's a God thing once again. He really wants to see the guys he has discipled to become reproducers themselves."
This week is bittersweet for Pospisil. He has played football for half his life, and now it's about to end. True to form, he isn't processing any of this without Scripture. As he talked about his future, he quoted 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul talks about life as a race, and James 1, which talks about the benefits of trials.
"These times are preparing me for something different in the future," Pospisil said. "I feel called to finish this race well and look to the future with hope."
Joshua Cooley writes for BP Sports, online at bpsports.net.
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