Washington Redskins Quarterbacks Putting Christ First

Three-way QB competition centers on faith, family and football

At every level, the game of football is a war of attrition. And teams whose starting quarterback stays upright the longest usually have the best chance of winning.

While Washington Redskins former starting quarterback Alex Smith learns to walk again following last season’s devastating compound fracture of his right leg, prognosticators are giving the Redskins less than a 1% chance of winning Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2, 2020, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

But don’t be too quick to punt on this historic NFL franchise. 

This season, Washington has three more record-setting quarterbacks—veterans Colt McCoy and Case Keenum, and rookie Dwayne Haskins—competing for the starting job.

Whoever leads the huddle for the Sept. 8 season opener against the NFC East Division rival Philadelphia Eagles, one thing is almost certain—win or lose, God will be glorified.

In late July, the three quarterbacks vying for the starting spot during training camp at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Virginia, showcased an unrivaled commitment and desire to win. They are likely the only three quarterbacks who are bold about their love for Jesus Christ while at the same time competing tirelessly through blood and sweat for the same starting spot. 

Their work ethic and quest for excellence on the gridiron, in the weight room and breaking down offensive and defensive schemes on video have made their coaches rave.

Multi-million-dollar contracts aside, it’s who they are in Christ that counts the most.

“Football is what God has gifted me to do, but it’s not my anchor, it’s not my source, it’s not who I am,” says McCoy, 32, a 10-year NFL veteran who has been with the Redskins since 2014 when he first quarterbacked a victory over the Dallas Cowboys, his favorite childhood team.

“I am proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish and hopefully there will be more success in the future from a football standpoint, but my life is hidden in Christ, and to me that’s the most important thing,” adds McCoy, a former Heisman Trophy runner-up and BCS Championship contender with the University of Texas.

For journeyman quarterback Case Keenum, the Redskins make his fourth team in four years. Since entering the NFL in 2012 undrafted out of the University of Houston, Keenum climbed the depth chart from scout team quarterback for the Houston Texans, to start 54 games for the Texans, then the Rams in St. Louis and then Los Angeles, then the Minnesota Vikings, and last season for the Denver Broncos.

“I’ve always said I’m playing for more,” says Keenum, 31, who remains the NCAA Division-I college passing leader for yards (19,217), completions (1,546) and touchdowns (155). “It is playing for God’s glory, for an audience of One, that’s been my mission statement.”

Rookie Dwayne Haskins, 22, was the 15th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The former Ohio State University quarterback threw 50 touchdown passes and was named MVP of the 2018 Big Ten Championship Game and 2019 Rose Bowl in his sophomore season.

In the sports world, God-talk is not unusual among athletes, but substance is often lacking. For Haskins, Keenum and McCoy, on the other hand, the Bible is the foundation for daily life. Haskins likes to quote Jeremiah 29:11; Joshua 1:9; Philippians 4:13, and closest to his heart, he says, is Isaiah 12:2: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation” (NIV).

“I want to use my platform, use my place in this world right now as a way to benefit and inspire others, and give back to the community, and be someone that they look up to,” Haskins says. “That is something I feel like God would want for me to do.”

Redskins sixth-year Head Coach Jay Gruden says selecting the starting quarterback won’t be easy. “I feel confident in every one of our quarterbacks,” he says. “They have a skill set that is beneficial to help this team win games. It comes down to which one will give us the best chance to win week one against a divisional rival.”

Despite all their collegiate and professional accolades, waiting to be named the starting quarterback is not an unfamiliar position for these men.

Haskins waited two years at Ohio State before setting single-season conference and team records for passing yardage (4,831) and touchdowns (50) in his only season as a starter while becoming a 2018 Heisman Trophy finalist.

McCoy’s waiting started when, as a senior with the Texas Longhorns, he was injured during the first offensive series of the 2010 BCS Championship game against Alabama. Since then, McCoy’s professional career has been riddled with injuries, including a broken leg in a game he started last December against the Philadelphia Eagles.

McCoy required three surgeries on his leg and intensive rehabilitation to get ready for training camp. “It’s been a seven-day-a-week job to get back here, and just being on the field, I count it a blessing for sure,” says McCoy, who was drafted as the 85th overall pick in the third round by the Cleveland Browns in 2010. “I’ve dealt with some injuries, but I don’t think it’s been my play on the field that has taken me off the field, so I have to remind myself of that.”

Keenum grew up in Texas, just 15 minutes away and one season behind McCoy. Both are sons of football coaches and attended some of the same youth football camps. Last season, Keenum started all 16 games for the six-win Denver Broncos. He distinguished himself as the only undrafted quarterback to be a season-long starter in the NFL.

Keenum also etched his name in NFL lore in 2017 by leading the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship Game following a 61-yard touchdown pass as time expired—dubbed the “Minneapolis Miracle”—to defeat the New Orleans Saints.

“You throw a game-winning touchdown in the playoffs and walk off, and then you think you’re going to stay, and you don’t, you go somewhere else,” Keenum says.

“For us, all those changes, all those different places, all those different people, our mission has been the same and that is to make disciples. The Great Commission, that is what Jesus has called us all to do. He calls us to go out into all the nations, but He also calls us as we are going. So as I am playing football, I’m making disciples.”

In 2018, Keenum co-authored “Playing for More: Trust Beyond What You Can See.” The discipleship resource describes Keenum’s Scripture-driven faith journey throughout his football career. Keenum often quotes his life verse, “Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:31, NASB).

Since their marriage in 2011, Keenum and his childhood sweetheart, Kimberly, have struggled with infertility. Now, they are expecting their first child, a son, in mid-November.

“There’s been a lot of times in my life where I’m waiting to see what God is doing,” Keenum says. “[Yet] I’m constantly serving God … even if I don’t know the full extent of His plan or know what He is working or how He is working.” 

Meanwhile, fellow veteran McCoy, raising three children under the age of 5 with his wife, Rachel, says his mom still texts him Bible verses nearly every day to encourage him in his Christian witness as a husband, father and football player.

“The verse that I’ve lived by for a long time is Colossians 3:23, ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters’” (NIV), says McCoy. “I just really try to live consistently like that, and I’m not perfect. I struggle, I sin, I fail. But it seems like over the years, that verse has really helped me in who I think God wants me to be. Sticking to that has helped me play this position and work hard and put all things in perspective.”

And as for Haskins’ read on the upcoming season: “My parents and I always say, ‘God’s got it.’ I don’t really sweat it much because I know He will work it out. That gives me assurance and confidence because I know that I don’t have to stress about everything—there is a bigger picture for me.”  

 

The Scripture quotation marked NASB is taken from the New American Standard Bible.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version.

Photos: AP