When football players arrived this past year at Colorado State University-Pueblo anxious to take part in the school’s new football program, they didn’t expect Pastor Steve Chavez, or the effect he would have on their lives.Chavez is an associate pastor at the Praise Assembly of God and Assembly of God church located on Troy Avenue.
He played high school football at Pueblo South High School, where he graduated from in 1982. It was on the high school football field where Chavez first met ThunderWolves football coach John Wristen. But it would be years before the two would meet again.
Chavez graduated from Evangel University in Springfield, Mo., and then spent 13 years as a youth pastor in Colorado and Utah. He has been in his current position as associate pastor for five years.
“When John became the head coach, we reconnected and he asked me to become the team chaplain,” Chavez said.
The team chaplain is a volunteer position, but Chavez said he takes it very seriously.
“My primary role is to speak to the team in chapel the morning of each game. I target principles of life, building character and integrity.” Chavez said. “One of the key principles I aim to teach the guys is football is not who you are, football is what you do.”
He said he often pops in to practice, taking the opportunity to build relationships with the guys on the field. He said he focuses on players who are struggling and helps to keep them focused, reminding them why they are there.
Demetrius Gilmore is a 20-year-old exercise science student at CSU-Pueblo. He said he sees Chavez as a good role model.
“It’s hard to explain in words the impact he’s had on me,” Gilmore said. “He gives us a motivational speech before every game. He gives you the courage to go out there and play and to take advantage of the opportunity because not everyone is blessed to play college football.”
Gilmore credits Chavez with helping him reconnect with the Lord.
“He helped me to come back to Jesus Christ,” Gilmore said. “I’ve got four years to prepare myself for when I’m out of school and raising my daughter.”
Chavez has had such an impact on Gilmore’s life that Gilmore asked him to officiate his wedding in June.
“That is the level of respect I have for him, enough to ask him to marry us,” Gilmore said. “He is the most inspirational person I could imagine in that situation.”
None of the players come from an Assembly of God church background. If a player isn’t comfortable, Chavez said he tries to help. He has spent time helping students of other religions find churches where they feel at home and can grow.
“We aren’t trying to build Assembly of God churches,” Chavez said. “I hone in on Jesus. I help them with questions like how do I read my bible and how do I pray?”
Jerry McWilliams, a senior at CSU-Pueblo and a member of the football team, says Chavez has had a big influence in his life. Williams said Chavez reminds him several times a week to focus on what is most important, the Lord.
“He has made me want to influence the people I’m around, to try to encourage them to develop themselves with the Lord,” McWilliams said.
McWilliams explained Chavez offers an alternate way to look at things, keeping him grounded.
“Talking about the Lord before the game makes me remember that it’s just a game,” McWilliams said.
As a testament to Chavez’ counseling, McWilliams is working with him in a leadership program where he will meet with other players to take them through a discipleship program centered on what it means to be a Christian.
Since the chaplain of the football team is a volunteer position, Chavez could have chosen to limit his involvement, only speaking to the team before the games. Instead he has taken the opportunity to build lasting relationships with many of the players.
Chavez said he hopes to help create men with great character and strong integrity who in the future will become great husbands, fathers and employees.
Taking the ministry to the university has been time consuming, but Chavez said he doesn’t mind.
“Honestly, it has been a breath of fresh air in my ministry,” Chavez said. “I can’t wait to get up on the field with those guys.”