Love for football has kept Will Mahone III in the game despite never being on the field.
A University of Kentucky running back, Mahone is in his fifth season and has been on the practice squad four. He missed the 2015 season because of injury. He has dressed out for each home game and three road games but has never played a down.
“I love football because it’s a game that has brought me a lot of joy. It’s a thrill nothing else can give me other than my faith. It has brought me close to a lot of people over the years. I have made so many friends. Obviously, not playing for any athlete is frustrating but what keeps me going is God,” said Mahone, a senior from Cincinnati.
“I always talk to my dad (William Mahone). He says a lot of people would love to be in my position. It is not a right to play. It’s a gift to play this game.
“When I knew that I wasn’t going to be put on scholarship, I came to the decision, ‘Do I really want to keep playing football?’
“I knew the only way I could get through it is by keeping my faith. It helps me stay positive and helps me understand why things are the way they are. You have to be humble. You have to know how important something is to you and understand that it is not for everybody.”
Although he was recruited by NCAA Division 2 schools, he wanted to attend Kentucky because it was “an opportunity of a lifetime” to play in the Southeastern Conference. “Playing in the SEC to me is the top football conference in America,” said Mahone.
Alex Montgomery, a former Kentucky wide receiver and now a student coach, said it takes “a lot” to play in the SEC. “It’s really tough. Only the ones who really want to be there survive.”
Kentucky assistant head coach and running backs coach Eddie Gran said that Mahone’s determination to stick with it inspires others.
“Will exemplifies great faith and a great work ethic as he goes about his life. You see a humility of spirit in Will, and he comes out every day and does everything he can for Kentucky football. He works hard, has never had any off-the-field issues and handles his academics properly.”
Quarterback Stephen Johnson called Mahone’s attitude one of the best he has seen.
“Will is a soft-spoken guy but isn’t afraid of hard work. His faith is what stands out the most. He is a strong believer and isn’t afraid to say it. He brings a calm and leadership presence to the team that is needed dearly,” said Johnson, adding that his own faith is “extremely important to me. Without it I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today.”
Mahone, 22, wants to be a positive influence who is known as a “great teammate” and known for being supportive, encouraging and “the man who loved Christ.”
“God’s purpose for me is to spread His word, to seek others who want to seek God. Jesus is my salvation, my teacher, my role model. He is the person who gives me peace.”
When Mahone was 17 he decided that he wanted Jesus to “be a big part” of his life.
“I was in the growing up stage when I was being independent. I got that freedom. I wanted to make those choices in Jesus. It was time for me to accept Christ in m life.”
On his 18th birthday on May 5, 2013, he was baptized at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Cincinnati. He was given a Bible with his name engraved on it.
“That meant something to me, a Bible I can call my own,” he said. He attends Main Street Baptist Church in Lexington.
He is active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes where he has given his testimony of what Christ means to him and how Christ keeps him going.
Mahone encourages his friends to read the Bible whenever they may have trouble and use God as “that perfect mentor.”
Mahone, who prays before every game, reads a chapter of the Bible daily and talks with others about what scripture means.
“I always go back to my favorite verse,” he said. “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies and seek him with the whole heart” Psalm 119:1-2 (KJV).
Montgomery said, “He lives out his faith by always speaking positively to others. He does it daily like it’s effortless. People know he is a Christian by the way he carries himself and the way he talks about his faith. He talks about his faith so often you know he’s a Christian.”
Montgomery’s faith is “my life. It is a part of who I am,” he said.
Being on the sidelines has taught Mahone patience.
“A lot of athletes want the spotlight now,” he said. “Sometimes being patient can be difficult. At the same time I have a lot more mental toughness. I always tell myself if I smile more, I will feel better, things will go better and they do.
“I have no reason to be mad. I know people deal with things much worse that I am dealing with now. I always try to stay humble.”
After Mahone tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee during the last fall scrimmage before the 2015 season started, he began to question God’s plan.
“I was doing good in football, moving ahead when I got injured. I had to ask, ‘What does God want for me?’ Instead of trying to do things on my own, I live my life according to Him. Everything I do is for God the Father. There is nothing I can do without Him.” (WR)