Jan/Feb 2012 Men of the Mat Jill Ewert
It could go down as one of the great debates in Illinois wrestling history. Who is better: Eric Terrazas or B.J. Futrell? The senior or the redshirt-junior? The 149-pounder from Wheaton, Ill., or the 133-pounder from Park Forest? How does one even decide such a question? Both have posted incredible numbers, and both seem to be evenly matched, with high scores in the mid-200s and the consistent ability to roll strikes. Yes, the question of who is the better bowler may never be clearly decided. The men themselves, however, have their own opinions.
“I’m totally the better bowler,” Futrell laughed.
Terrazas agreed, but with a disclaimer.
“If we’re going by high score, he’d beat me,” said Terrazas, the senior from Wheaton. “As far as our average score, though, we’re pretty much equal. That’s my easy way out of that question.”
For two standouts on the nationally ranked University of Illinois wrestling team there are riskier things than bowling that they could be doing on Friday nights, but both Terrazas and Futrell have a desire to set an example of purity and faith. They want to model what it means to be men of God, and, if that means spending weekends on the lanes instead of at parties, then that’s what they’re going to do.
“It didn’t take us long to realize that those were nights we didn’t need to be on campus,” said Terrazas, who, along with Futrell, qualified for the NCAA Championships in 2011. “We’re always there for our teammates, but there are just some times when you need to seclude yourself somewhat, and bowling became one of our outlets.”
It’s a hobby that has caught on with other Christian athletes at the U of I who follow their example as members of the campus FCA leadership team. Sometimes others will join them at the lanes, where they will always be treated to the simple joy of watching the boys interact as brothers in Christ.
“It’s like it says in Proverbs that iron sharpens iron,” said Futrell, referencing verse 27:17. “It’s great having Eric here and being able to grow with him in the Lord. He really is like my brother.”
Height/Weight: 5-9/149 lbs.
Hometown: Wheaton, Ill.
Birthdate: June 18, 1990
• 2011 NCAA Championships qualifier
• 2011 Big Ten All-Academic selection
• Ascended as high as No. 11 in national rankings in 2011
Apparently, in Christ, there are just some bonds that even strikes and spares can’t break.
o o o
Their paths seemed destined to intersect. Both were born and raised in Chicago suburbs, and both displayed a Division-I caliber talent on the mat.
Futrell, who earned his first All-American honors last year after placing eighth at the NCAA Championships, was raised in a Christian home as the son of a pastor. Terrazas was also surrounded by Christian influence in the community of Wheaton, Ill.—home of Wheaton College—and eventually surrendered his life to Christ in high school after joining FCA and attending a local Christian sports camp.
The two wrestlers met at a national high school tournament, but the brotherhood wasn’t automatic. According to Futrell, he was less-than-stellar company when Terrazas asked him to grab lunch after a match.
“I’d just lost in the semifinals, and I was at a stage where I took losses really hard,” he said. “When I lost, it was like the end of the world to me, and I didn’t want to talk to anybody.”
Despite his attitude, Futrell accepted the invitation and joined Terrazas at Taco Bell. Though, according to Terrazas, he could just as well have eaten alone. Futrell was completely silent.
“I don’t remember it that way, but he says it was one of the most awkward experiences he’s ever had,” Futrell laughed. “But even after that, we still got to be close friends and stayed in touch until we got here to Illinois.”
According to Terrazas, Futrell’s signing on to compete for the Illini was confirmation that he’d made the right choice in selecting the school for himself. He already had a friend on the team, and he was further excited about the additional Christian men who would be helping guide him during the pivotal life transition from high school to college.
“As soon as I got on campus, I knew it was exactly where God wanted me to be,” Terrazas said. “He surrounded me with guys like [FCA’s] Marcellus Casey and Carl Perry, and of course there were guys on the team who were already grounded in Christ. It just didn’t get much better than that. It didn’t take long for me to realize that God had such a bigger plan for me here than just wrestling.”
Neither Terrazas nor Futrell said they were as far along in their faith as they could have been at the time, but, through the influence of Casey, the former Illinois chaplain who recently relocated to Kansas City, Mo., to take over as FCA area director, and Perry, a then-assistant coach who assumed the role of national director for FCA Wrestling in 2010, it was at U of I that their faith began to flourish.
Casey immediately recognized potential in the young men, and initially asked Terrazas to step into a leadership role within the Huddle. He also served as their mentor, spending regular time with them studying Scripture and encouraging them to be in accountability relationships—something that was easily established between the two men who were already good friends and in virtually identical life situations.
“Being accountable to each other really pulled us to rely on God,” Terrazas said. “We still meet once a week and allow each other to have access to our lives. It’s been a huge blessing.”
o o o
A major turning point of faith for the two athletes came in the winter of 2010. While Futrell had been growing as a believer, he had, to that point, retained wrestling as the top priority in his life. But that came to an abrupt halt when the promising sophomore experienced a season-ending shoulder injury during a match and was forced to discover life without wrestling.
To his surprise, what he found was a source of life more fulfilling than the athletic-centered one he’d been leading.
Class: RS Junior
Height/Weight: 5-6/133 lbs.
Hometown: Park Forest, Ill.
Birthdate: July 11, 1990
• Earned his first All-American honors in 2011 after placing 8th at the NCAA Championships.
• 2011 Academic All-American
• 2-time NCAA Championships qualifier (2009, 2011)
“That was the first time wrestling wasn’t the center of my life,” he said. “It was probably one of the toughest things I’d ever been through because I’d been finding my identity completely in the success I had on the wrestling mat. God really used that time to work in my heart and open my eyes to see that I’d been called to something greater.”
Through the injury, Futrell realized that his identity was, above all, as a child of God and that he could define himself as a Christian first and last. It was a complete surrender that led Futrell to take new steps in his faith, including joining Terrazas on the FCA leadership team.
“To that point I’d been hesitant to take on a leadership role because I didn’t want to be a hypocrite,” he said. “I was scared of what would happen if I messed up. But now I’m all-in. I know that Christianity isn’t about perfection, but about progression—progressively taking the next right step with Christ. I knew then that God had given me wrestling as a platform, not as an identity, and that He wanted me to use it to build His Kingdom.”
The injury also affected Terrazas, who stood by his teammate during the difficult moments and encouraged him toward Christ and the truth.
“I just tried to be there and let him know that God had bigger plans for him,” Terrazas said, citing James 1:2-4 as a verse he often spoke to his teammate. “It’s strange how God works through trials. While you’re in the middle of them, you don’t really understand it, but, after it’s all said and done, you realize that He had the best thing in mind. That’s what happened with B.J. God really worked in that situation in ways that we can’t even explain.”
o o o
After overcoming the injury and embracing the fullness of faith, Futrell was equipped to challenge Terrazas in ways he hadn’t been before. Now, the passion of both men was aimed at growing as believers and discovering the depths of freedom and true identity in Christ. And, for two competitors, nothing seemed more exciting in developing their faith than more competition.
“We started playing this quiz game in which we’d ask each other hard questions,” Terrazas said, referencing topics that ranged from how to explain the downfall of man to what it means to be saved. “We really help each other out by doing this, and it’s actually been a lot of fun. But that’s what it’s all about when you have a relationship with Christ and you know others who share that. You get to have that fellowship and build your faith together knowing that Christ is with you the whole time.”
Their trivia game is just one example of the faith-building tools employed by the two wrestlers. Along with the questions and accountability, Futrell and Terrazas also support each other by traveling to speaking engagements with each other and, along with serving on their Huddle leadership team, also co-lead a team Bible study.
“It’s been great watching guys grow and get excited to know biblical truth and what Christianity really is,” Futrell said. “Right now we have about eight guys who are coming to Bible study, and we’re all learning more about who God has called us to be and what that looks like.”
According to those who observe the pair on a regular basis, the spiritual fruit being produced through their examples and leadership is evident in more ways than one.
Justin Neally, a former FCA intern who took over the role of FCA area representative in Champaign-Urbana after Casey’s departure last spring, currently oversees the FCA ministry at the University of Illinois. In his time with the Illini, Neally has enjoyed watching what he jokingly refers to as the “dynamic duo” inspire the faith of their teammates, Huddle members and campus.
“It’s like it says in Proverbs that iron sharpens iron. It’s great having Eric here and being able to grow with him in the Lord. He really is like my brother.”
“These two are leaders of leaders,” said Neally, who serves the campus along with FCA’s Sara Arnold. “Before this year started, they both expressed a desire to be men of integrity and set a standard of faith. Since then it’s been like a spark has lit a flame on our leadership team and in the core group of the Huddle. These guys are just talented individuals who really have a desire to see Christ impact their campus, and that’s exactly what is happening.”
o o o
Terrazas and Futrell know that this year is special in both their athletic careers and in their friendship. Both are seniors academically, though Futrell has another year of eligibility after redshirting during his injury. Where they go from here, neither knows for sure, but the blessing they realize is that they don’t have to.
“It’s all kind of up in the air right now, and I’ve been praying about it a lot,” said Terrazas, whose immediate next step after college is an internship with Carl Perry and the FCA Wrestling ministry. “God works in crazy ways sometimes, and you just never know what He has planned for you. All I know is that I don’t ever want to retire. I want to be in service to the Lord forever. I’ll just give it all up to Him and go wherever He calls me.”
With another year on the mat, Futrell’s plans include further education via grad school and more competition, perhaps even at the international level.
“I’d like to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro,” he said, acknowledging both the difficulty of the attempt and the faith in God’s ultimate sovereignty. “But I’m like Eric; I’m just trusting in God to lead me wherever He wants. All I know is that I’m His, and I’ll be available to answer His calling. The Lord will use us both to help each other figure out exactly where His path leads.”
For now, that’s back to the wrestling mat with, perhaps, a few trips to the bowling alley along the way. After all, there’s still a score to settle.
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
|MORE MINISTRY IN ACTION|
For the past three years, both Terrazas and Futrell, pictured above with a local Huddle, have been impacted by the ministry of FCA’s annual National College Conference, held each spring during Memorial Day weekend.
Through the conference, the two wrestlers formed a friendship with FCA’s Doug Pollock, area representative in Central Illinois and annual conference Huddle Leader, which has blessed both their faith journeys and their stack of resources.
“Doug is awesome,” said Terrazas, whose internship with FCA’s wrestling ministry will begin this summer. “He really invests in us and cares about our spiritual maturity. We’ve actually had to buy extra bookshelves to hold all of the books he sends us to help us grow in our faith. He’s one of my mentors, and it’s been awesome to be surrounded by guys like him and Carl Perry through FCA.”
For more information about FCA’s ministry at the University of Illinois or the national FCA Wrestling ministry, visit illinilandfca.org. and fcawrestling.org. And for more on the FCA National College Conference, go to fcacollegeconference.com.
Courtesy of Justin Neally and the University of Illinois