The Heart of a Champion

by Jamie Prince

In the story of the anointing of David to become King of Israel, Samuel carries out the orders of the Lord, although it is clear that David is a most unusual choice to be king. The Bible describes him as the eighth and youngest son of Jesse, a sheep farmer in the town of Bethlehem. “He was ruddy” (1 Samuel 16:12) and, when Samuel arrived at Jesse’s home, was not with the rest of the family but in the field tending the sheep. He was a poet and a musician. He was underestimated by his family:

“Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, ‘The Lord has not chosen these.’ So he asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ ’There is still the youngest,’ Jesse answered, ‘but he is tending the sheep.’” (1 Samuel 16:10-11)

But the Lord guided Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Samuel summoned David from the field, and upon seeing him, the Lord spoke to Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” (1 Samuel 16: 12)

And so, on that historic day, a young David became Israel’s next king and established the ancentral lineage from which Jesus came. Through the years of his training under the Lord, David would rise as the nation of Israel’s greatest king. God described David as “a man after my own heart.” (Acts 13:22).

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College football is not so different from ancient Israel; the head coach, not so different from royalty. The head coach takes up a hefty mantle and is charged with a litany of responsibilities, the least of which is managing the fandom – the legions of those loyal to the school and its athletics program. The coach also must train up the team, and lead the executive staff. Most of all, the coach must lead the team to victory, with the ultimate victory being an undefeated season capped off by claiming the title National Champion.

When William Christopher Swinney was coming up in Birmingham, Alabama in the ‘70s, it’s probably fair to say that many would never have chosen him from a line-up to be Clemson University’s greatest coach of all time. When his baby brother couldn’t say “the boy” when referring to him, but rather “da bo”, Dabo Swinney he became. Though today’s Dabo Swinney is a man of history, then, the young Swinney was much like the young David — a diamond in the rough. Dabo gave his life to Jesus Christ at age 16, and it changed the focus of his heart and, consequently, the trajectory of his life.

God had plans for Dabo, as we all have witnessed, but what is remarkable and refreshing is that we are able to see, in our own time, a man with the heart of God. In December 2015, a couple weeks ahead of leading the Tigers to the first of their two National Championship titles in his tenure-to-date, Swinney gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he said, “I hope that I live my life in a way that is pleasing to my Maker.” He went on to acknowledge that not all of his players were Christian or played like Christians, but that, “regardless of what someone’s faith is… I hope I can be a good example to them in life.”

Dabo revealed in a press conference, just ahead of the 2018 football season, that his life verse is Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Most recently, only days before Clemson eclipsed the University of Alabama 44-16 to win the National Championship, Dabo chose the word “JOY” as his word of intention for 2019. The meme that traveled across Tiger nation and beyond carried this message behind his choice:

Upon winning the Championship, Dabo’s first words to TV news cameras were praise and honor to the Lord. The national TV journalist asked him to comment on the “joy of the moment.” Swinney’s response mirrored the word joy he’d chosen days before and the priority of focusing on Jesus, Others, and then Yourself.

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Whether he leads the Tigers to another win or not from here is not guaranteed. The security of public approval around him is certainly a fickle, delicate and finite honor to own. His job, though it be in the brightest spotlight, will not get easier with time. And yet, the Bible says, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

above: design by Jenny Mahon, ’04 Clemson graduate

May we all give thanks that the “inside job” of accessing that joy is available to every single one of us. Let us use it for good, so that we, too, may be the people God wants us to be for His glory. Amen.

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