What, if any, role should religion have in college sports?
While recent attention has been on the Clemson Tigers football program, FOX Carolina found that religion plays a major role for the quarterback of the South Carolina Gamecocks too.
Dylan Thompson is an Upstate guy, born and raised in Boiling Springs.
Thompson said he plays to win, but winning football games isn't what drives him.
It's faith over football, first and foremost for Thompson.
"He loves the Lord, great son, good brother, and then plays football," Dylan's mom Tammy Thompson said.
More people probably know him from the latter. Thompson takes the reins as quarterback for one of the top programs in the country for the Gamecock. The South Carolina signal caller said his true calling is to share his religion.
"I'm not trying to tell you that I've got it all figured out, that I'm living this perfect Christian life," Thompson said. "I just want people to know that I love Jesus."
Thompson's father Danny Thompson said Dylan fell in love with football while watching the game early on.
"We couldn't get him out of the game," Danny Thompson said. "He was getting sweatbands, chin straps, socks. Coming back from a game one day I saw him smelling a chin strap when he's like in 3rd or 4th grade. He was just always one of those guys."
While coaching middle school football, Danny Thompson didn't let his son play quarterback. Not because he wasn't good enough, but to expand young Dylan's horizons.
"What if you put all your eggs in one basket?" Danny Thompson said. "And you're gonna play quarterback and then somebody's better than you? You gotta know how to play another position or another sport."
Thompson went on to play four sports at Boiling Springs High School. He ended up finding his niche on the gridiron, but he still sought spiritual solid ground.
"In high school, I put on a show," Thompson said. "There were moments I'm sure that I was honoring God, but for the most part I didn't really care."
In 2009, he committed to the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. But as the stage got bigger, Thompson struggled off the field.
"I was just caught up in everything the world throws at us," Thompson said.
"That's a lot of different things. But as a man, it's pretty easy to figure out. I was just in the middle of running from God. And over time it caught up to me," he said.
Fast forward to April, 2011. Thompson had a moment of clarity, he confessed to his Pastor Dr. Hank Williams back home.
"He's exposed to this whole new university world that's a completely different place," Williams said. "And he kind of lost sight of his spiritual moorings and foundations, and kind of got caught up in some of the crazy stuff that a lot of students do when they're in college."
Thompson said he found God.
He decided to dedicate himself to faith over football.
"It might sound silly. I'm the starting quarterback here, but I talk to my mom every single morning, every single night," Thompson said. "I talk to my dad every single day. That's important to me because I know how weak I am. I'm not too big to fall."
That fall, Thompson came back to the Upstate and arrived on the national stage.
In the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry game, the biggest in the Palmetto State, the Boiling Springs product went off for 310 yards and three scores. Williams warned Thompson that with the fortune is everything that comes with the fame.
"People are gonna watch you," Williams said. "You're gonna be living in a glass house, because you're a leader and you're gifted. And the bible says to whom much is given, much is required. And he seems to really have taken to that."
After the season, Thompson began spreading "the word," talking at churches, and sharing his beliefs.
"The cool thing about church that people don't want to admit, is that we don't have it all together," Thompson said. "For me, out here as a quarterback, everyone thinks you have it together all the time, but that's part of practice. You don't."
He even released a Christian-themed DVD with his church to more than 20,000 homes in the Boiling Springs area.
Thompson's spirit became as famous as his arm.
He now takes over a top-tier team as the starting quarterback, with a bigger platform to preach than ever before.
"I truly believe if he wants me to be part of a team that goes undefeated, goes to the national championship, then we'll go do that," Thompson said. "I just want to honor him if that's the case or if that's not the case."
Danny Thompson encourages his son to share his faith.
"You don't want to shove it down everybody's throat," Danny Thompson said. "But if you live it, and people see you live it, then they get it."
Thompson knows many want football forced up the priority list. But his mom leads a support system that keeps faith on the front burner.
"We all thrive on college sports especially football, I do too," Tammy Thompson said. "But I think if he ever puts Carolina football first, then he won't be Dylan. He won't be able to do what he's done."
With an entire fan base behind him, and thousands of followers, Thompson's future in football is likely decided this season.
But with more eyes on him than ever before, he says he doesn't fear failure.
"At the end of the day, we're human," Thompson said. "I'm gonna fall at some point in some way. But I do want to be someone that people look up to, like that guy doesn't have it all together but he's following Christ and obeying God with all he's got."
For Dylan Thompson, regardless of what the score says, he's already won.
He said he prays before every football game. Not for wins, but that regardless of the outcome, he honors his faith.
Copyright 2014 FOX Carolina (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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