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Athletes credit faith in their pursuits

FARGO -- George Michael crooned about it, and Tim Tebow lives his life by it.

You've got to have faith.

Tebow, the young quarterback who leads the Denver Broncos against the New England Patriots on Saturday in the AFC Divisional round of the NFL playoffs, has been a lightning rod all season almost as much for his upfront approach to his faith in God as he has been for his unconventional play on the field.

Many local athletes say faith plays a crucial role in their athletic pursuits as well as their daily lives. They say their belief in God gives them an inner calm and a confidence to succeed in anything.

"It's huge," said North Dakota State sophomore quarterback Brock Jensen, who recently led the Bison to the Football Championship Subdivision championship. "(My faith in God) is the reason why I play this game. It's a great opportunity that God gives me to be able to play this game. And I play as hard as I can, and the best that I can for Him."

Standout NDSU golfer Amy Anderson, who grew up in Oxbow, and appears well on her way to a career in the professional ranks, said she has leaned on her faith in God throughout her time as an athlete. Anderson said it has taken time, but she's learned to let her faith guide her throughout her life.

And her belief in God has helped steer her through demanding, heart-pounding moments, like playing in the U.S. Open last July at barely 19 years old. She said she was completely at peace when she walked to the first tee in front of throngs of people in the gallery. Then she went out and torched the course, leaving with a share of the lead after the rain-shortened first day.

"When you trust the Lord completely, with everything that you are doing, you have a peace that transcends all understanding," Anderson said.

A.J. Jacobson -- a junior guard on the Fargo Shanley boys basketball team who also plays soccer -- has turned to a favorite Bible verse when on the court.

Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

"The last game of the state soccer tournament we were tied 2-2 and I was dog tired at the end of the game," Jacobson said. "We didn't have much strength, and I was running out of fuel. I kept thinking about that verse. I found new energy in that. (Faith) has always been there for me."

Father James Meyer of Holy Cross Catholic Church in West Fargo has led prayer circles with several NDSU football players. He is the former longtime chaplain for the Shanley football team.

Father Meyer said faith is a good thing at all levels in a person's life.

"The Bison men, coaches and students who have joined us, pray not to win but to ready their hearts to enter the battle in life," Meyer said. "It just so happens they also will be tested on the battle field with football as their venue that day. I am very blessed to have the occasion to share these times with them in forming the total person and not just one aspect."

West Fargo High School freshman wrestler Jordan Shearer became a born-again Christian in 2008.

Before each match, the two-time North Dakota Class A state champion finds a quiet place in the gym to pray for wisdom, boldness and God's will.

"With that, I can trust him with the outcome of anything I do in wrestling," he said. "I just go to God for anything in my life I need help with and he will guide me though it."

Tebow has become a target of people who believe his squeaky-clean image and numerous mentions of his faith in God are too good to be true or not genuine. He was also recently named America's favorite athlete for the month of December by an ESPN poll.

Tebow has never wavered throughout all of the scrutiny or praise.

Jensen applauds Tebow's convictions.

"I think Tim is an extremely, extremely good role model," Jensen said. "He doesn't conform to what anybody wants him to do. He's going to keep doing what he does. He's going to glorify God on the biggest stage of them all. That's one thing I respect. I look up to him a lot."

Jacobson added: "I would like to handle myself in the same way he handles himself. It's pretty incredible to see after a game that he always finds a way to be humble."

Anderson said her faith in God gives her a better perspective on her golf game, on life and on the world.

"I like to put things in an eternal perspective," she said. "What is actually going to matter in 100 years. I won't be here. And, in all honesty, nobody is going to remember my name or what I shot in any tournament. For me, it comes down to the lives you've affected and your faith in Jesus Christ."

Hotzler is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.