How a football star shined in the darkness
Jacory Benson is a natural athlete.
Underestimated from an early age because of a learning disability, it was easy for him to search for his worth, his identity, in success on the field.
He liked the attention. Actually, scratch that. He loved the attention.
The lights. The crowds. The praise.
His energy and personality burst out of every running play. Ball tucked against his chest. Legs pumping. Body bouncing, dodging, weaving through the defense. Inside, he felt like he was dancing down the yard lines.
Jacory lit up the field and every place he went. At Seneca High School, he had influence, and other students wanted to be like him.
But the athlete lifestyle — the attitude, the girls, the parties, dabbling in drugs — it was just what he had to do, who he had to be, for other people.
Deep down, Jacory knew it wasn’t who he was.
Charlie Metcalfe was an athlete, too, at a rival Upstate school.
To him, Jacory wasn’t a future all-star. Jacory was one more guy God put in Charlie’s path who needed to discover who he really was — the person God made him to be.
They met in a living room playing video games and moved the conversation to a late night meal at the Waffle House, where they talked like they’d known each other forever.
A couple of weeks later, Charlie caught Jacory’s eyes in a darkened auditorium at NewSpring Fuse. They both knew that at that moment, the game changed.
Now they were brothers, partners, missionaries.
Their schools were divided by geography, social class, culture, and race. But that wasn’t a problem — just an opportunity to bring people together to show them an uncommon unity, an uncommon life in Jesus.
Between them, they brought hundreds of people to hear the good news.
READ: The difference Charlie and Jacory played in the life of Carious Staggers
And that athletic scholarship Jacory dreamed about and sweated for? That dream to make his family proud; to provide for his mom so she didn’t have to work two jobs anymore?
They talked about it a lot.
What if it wasn’t just a way up or way out?
What if it was a way in?
So Charlie wasn’t surprised one bit by what happened on Jacory’s college signing day.
Skip and Roxane Cummings traveled 40 minutes to NewSpring Columbia and back every Sunday for years. As the saying goes, “A church alive is worth the drive.”
They got connected to the church when their son, Riley, was a Clemson student. There they felt a kind of reawakening of their lifelong faith in Jesus.
The Cummings’s lived in Cope, about 15 miles southwest of Orangeburg, home of South Carolina State University, where Jacory had chosen to play football.
So it was close enough.
Jacory’s mentor at NewSpring Clemson, Fuse Director Hykeng Paul, and Jacory’s best friend, Charlie, both reached out to the empty-nest couple hoping they could make a connection.
They knew college would be a tough transition for Jacory — new routines, new temptations, new influences.
Jacory's young faith had already withstood a big test. Just a few weeks after his epic signing day, in the spring of his senior year, Jacory learned at a track meet that his older brother, Javaris, had dropped dead on a basketball court.
To this day, no explanation. One minute Javaris was alive. The next he was gone.
Without Jesus, Charlie, and his NewSpring mentors and friends, Jacory would never have handled the tragedy the way he did. With faith. With hope. With courage.
But Jacory didn’t yet see how much he drew strength from his community — and how vulnerable and weak he was without it.
Jacory’s first semester at South Carolina State as a redshirt freshman was bruising, on and off the field.
He was struggling on the field. He was struggling in class. Within a week, his grandfather was murdered, plunging him into fresh grief before the wounds from his brother's death had even begun to heal.
Jacory felt isolated, depressed, and questioned whether there were other things worth chasing more than God.
He drifted toward bad choices and pulled away from his faith.
At home on winter break, around Charlie and the rest of his no ordinary family again, Jacory’s eyes were opened.
Charlie persuaded him to take hold of the lifeline that the Cummings were all too willing to offer ...
At the start of the second semester at State, Jacory began to ride to church with Skip and Roxane.
Week after week, he was able to reconnect with athletes he knew from the Upstate, and he brought new friends along for the ride, too.
They hung out at a restaurant after weekly gatherings at the Columbia Campus and at the Cummings' home during the week.
Young and old. Black and white. Different in every way. Cutting up, eating good, shooting questions, back and forth, about life and God and random stuff.
Skip and Roxane were blessed more than any of them. Baptizing two of Jacory’s friends who met Jesus was one of the highlights of his Christian life, Skip says.
It took this no ordinary family to pull Jacory back from the brink; to set his heart on fire again; to remind him of God’s calling on his life.
Jacory was meant to be in Orangeburg for one reason: to bring hope and change to the college campus where so many were broken and hurting.
In this world, Jacory knows adversity doesn’t stop. It just takes a breath before it comes at you again.
In the summer of 2018, just as he was preparing himself for real playing time, he tore his ACL in practice.
But Jacory knows he’s not out of the game. He’s down for now. But he’s not out.
Running through life’s blocks and tackles — God at his back, God at his side, God in front, dancing through the downs — that is the game.
In front of the signing day crowd at Seneca High School — tears flowing, voice cracking — he spoke of a future that might come when God might take football away.
It's like Jacory saw it before he knew it.
The only winning team was His no ordinary family.
The only win was glory to God.
“Everything is going to be all right,” he texted just days after the injury. “This is going to be a story to remember.”
Because deep inside, Jacory knew his life never was meant to be all about him. ...
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