10/16/2012 2:52:00 PM Small town Catholic, NFL player, reflects on football, faith
NFL/St. Louis Rams photo
After learning football from his father on their cattle ranch, Kellen Clemens went on to set high-school records for the state of Oregon in passing yards and touchdowns. At the University of Oregon, he set single-season passing records and ended his collegiate career as the school’s No. 3 man in both passing yards and touchdowns.
After being chosen in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft, Clemens has served as a backup quarterback for the New York Jets, Washington Redskins and Houston Texans. He is entered the 2012 season in that same position with the St. Louis Rams.
Despite his long connection with football, Clemens explained that the sport is something he does, while being Catholic is who he is.
Q: How did you start playing football?
A: My dad played in high school as a quarterback, and then as a defensive back at Portland State. I learned all about football from him on our cattle ranch in southeastern Oregon. However, we didn’t have a Pop Warner League where I’m from, so instead of playing on organized teams, I’d play at recess with my friends on the playground. Then, in seventh grade, we jumped right into playing with pads — playing for real, you could say.
Q: What are some of your top football memories?
A: Playing football in high school was a lot of fun because I was at a small school. That made it possible to play with the same group of guys for four consecutive years. Each year a class would graduate, and a new one would come in; but as far as my own class, we got to play together the whole way through. That’s far less likely to occur at a larger school, where a class can be divided up among different-level teams, and then one year someone might get cut. At a small school such as the one I attended, it’s more like a family of brothers. We would practice, play games and even do off-season workouts together. We just enjoyed being around each other.
Q: What is most difficult about playing professional football?
A: The fact that it’s a business. It’s not the same as playing in high school, where you have a family type of atmosphere and cohesion that endures for a long period of time. While it still is possible to form lasting relationships, it’s more of a challenge. You can get cut or traded very quickly, so there’s less time to bond.
You have to mentally separate the game from the business aspect. On the one hand, you enjoy the game, but on the other hand, you realize there’s the constant pressure to perform with perfection. So many eyes are on you, and everything you do is analyzed.
Q: Did you grow up in a devout family?
I’m a cradle Catholic, with four sisters, and the faith was always an integral part of our lives. I went to confession, received holy Communion and was confirmed. We were taught the difference between right and wrong and enjoyed the stability that brings.
Then I left my small southeastern Oregon town of Burns to attend the University of Oregon in Eugene, which is the second-largest city in the state. That was a big transition period. There was a void that needed to be filled, and it became very clear that I had a decision to make: I could either drop the faith and pursue other things, or I could lay claim to it and become the man God wants me to be.
I knew that my relationship with Jesus Christ was more important than anything else in college. I made a conscious effort to deepen that relationship, in part by attending daily Mass. I really started to take the faith as my own, rather than simply relying on others to keep it going. That was a key time in my life, and I look back with gratitude for the grace God gave me to make the right decision. Everything else flows from that decision of how you respond to God’s call.
The article first appeared in the National Catholic Register.