Jonathan Efird is accustomed to the role of being a backup. After all, he did it for three seasons as the No. 2 quarterback for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team.
So when teammate Te’Vell Williams was forced to choose between speaking Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church’s breakfast on Sunday or attending an event that could get him some NFL exposure … well, the choice was easy, and Efird stepped in.
But standing before a nice crowd that included East Bladen coaches Patty Evers, Robby Priest and Russell Priest — as well as players from the Eagles football team, Lady Eagles basketball team and former West Bladen quarterback Zach Wilcox (now a UNCP quarterback) — Efird, who said he’s not much for speaking in front of a crowd, hinted that he’d rather be facing a blitz from some very large linebackers.
“I’ve been the kind of guy who doesn’t say anything in church when asked if anyone has a testimony to give,” Efird said, “even when I can feel God nudging me.”
But when Williams had to cancel and Efird was faced with the opportunity to speak, he knew God had him right where He wanted him.
Efird directed much of his talk toward the younger folks in the crowd, emphasizing the need to listen well “to anyone older than you” and not miss an opportunity to embrace a source of higher power.
“We all make an average of 612 decisions a day, but how many of those have Jesus at the center of them?” Efird asked. He added that most people need to learn to let go of small, unimportant things and focus more on God’s plan for them.
Efird, who is the only player to win the Brave Award twice — an award given by former UNCP head coach Pete Shinnick and voted by the players; given to the player who embodies what it means to be a good teammate and all-around UNCP player — was a record-setting high-school quarterback out of Kannapolis.
Efird, now a teacher and coach at Purnell Swett High, was the warmup for Shinnick, who was slated to be the day’s guest preacher during services at Elizabethtown Presbyterian. For Shinnick, Sunday was his last official day in North Carolina, since he was set to head for Florida the next morning to begin his duties as head football coach at the University of West Florida.
Following an awesome rendition of “Follow the Eyes of My Heart” by the choir — led by Sylvia Campbell and including such familiar faces as Jean Gooden, Kathy Page, Russell Priest, Greg Martin and Mark Edge — Shinnick told the congregation that it’s fitting he was spending his last day in the state “at the church of my friends Mac and Sylvia Campbell.”
Mac Campbell was on the UNCP search committee to hire a football coach in 2004. Shinnick rewarded that committee with eight years that included a 50-24 record, two playoff appearances and numerous players who have gone on to bigger and better things in life.
“I wanted to set up my program not only to produce a winning team, but to make our players better husbands, fathers, employers and employees,” Shinnick said.
He went on to tell the congregation what it was like growing up.
“The best thing about growing up in the Shinnick family is that Jesus was at the center,” said Shinnick, whose father Don played 13 years in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts.
Shinnick said the Bible story of Peter walking on water is a lot like what his life has been.
“I realized after a while that, if my eyes are on Jesus, I will not sink,” Shinnick said.
He then related a story about a time when he was a senior starting lineman for his high-school football team. Just five games into the season, his team was 2-3, and the head coach decided to sit the seniors in order to give the younger players a chance to prepare for the next season.
“I knew that, if I wasn’t playing, I wouldn’t have a chance at getting a scholarship,” Shinnick said. “And that scholarship was what I wanted more than anything.”
So he went home to tell his father what had happened, just knowing that his father would see things his way and do something to get the coach to give him his starting position back.
“My father listened to my story and thought for a moment,” Shinnick said. “And then he offered me advice that changed my life.
“He said, ‘Son, isn’t it great that we don’t live our lives to please man, but to please the Lord? Who have you been pleasing lately? Your focus needs to be on how you can honor and please God.’”
Shinnick said he went to practice the next day and “right away became a better teammate, player and leader.” That got him another starting spot and, even though he got hurt two games later, he earned a college scholarship at the University of Colorado.
“I’ve been very blessed, and it goes back to what my dad said to me when I was 18,” Shinnick said.
In a lot of ways, Sunday morning’s talk by Efird and Shinnick mirrored each other and, for the most part, the two were “preaching to the choir.” But if there was just one soul they managed to touch that morning with their talks — and I’m sure there was — then their walk with God took another positive step.
— W. Curt Vincent is the general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at email@example.com.