“If you learn not to derive your fulfillment from football but to bring it to football, if your fulfillment’s in Christ … well it’s that fulfillment in Him, when you play the sport not only do you bear fruit but you get the ultimate fulfillment from playing it,” said Andrew DiDonato, ’10, head football coach at Grove City College.
As a coach, DiDonato focuses on whole-person development based on the Great Commandment that we are to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind – because who you are off the field is who you are on the field.
If Grove City College’s football coach sounds like a minister, there’s good reason for that – he is. Perhaps not in title but in practice.
“I was really feeling a call to ministry, and I heard a quote from Billy Graham one time when I was in college,” DiDonato said in a recent interview with Word FM’s The Ride Home with John and Kathy. “He said a coach will impact more young people in one season than most people will in a lifetime. And that really hit home to me.”
That thought stayed with him, and DiDonato began looking into coaching. After graduation from Grove City College, he moved into a college coaching position at the University of Buffalo then became an offensive coordinator at South Fayette High School where he helped the Lions to a 32-0 aggregate record and two Class AA state titles before returning to his alma mater as head coach in the fall of 2016.
DiDonato’s passion for bringing Christ into all aspects of student development – spiritual, social, mental, and physical – echoes the College’s vision of developing leaders of the highest proficiency, purpose, and principles ready to advance the common good no matter what arena God leads them into.
“We use a slogan ‘4/40/forever’ because we’re reminded - football is gonna last four years, their degree the next 40, and their faith’s gonna impact eternity forever,” DiDonato said. “It’s is an amazing platform we have to not only teach character and sportsmanship but ultimately to point young people to Christ and ultimately what it means to glorify God and utilize the gifts that He’s given you.”
But don’t think that his focus on character takes anything away from DiDonato and his team’s competitive edge.
“We use a number of four-second phrases with our guys … and one of those is ‘Content but not complacent.’ based off the apostle Paul,” DiDonato said. “Paul’s the man who said ‘I’ve worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but Christ in me.’ And we’re called to work heartily as unto the Lord... Actually as a follower of Christ, [that] should make us work harder than anyone.”
And, in fact, DiDonato is already seeing the fruits of his labor. This past fall, the Wolverines ended a three-season, 33-game drought with a 24-14 win over the Saint Vincent Bearcats, marking DiDonato’s first win at Grove City College.
“We had to lay that foundation brick so that we can continue and lay many more bricks on top of it,” DiDonato said.
In addition to the win, the student body set an attendance record that night. They packed the stands in a white out and flooded the field victoriously when the clock ran out, bringing an energy to the stadium that the College hasn’t felt in years. The fans were crucial, and seeing this support reinforced the message of community DiDonato preaches to his team.
“Each of us needs all of us,” DiDonato said. “[That] night was really special for our players to see that the whole community was behind them. What happened is something I will never forget.”
College president, Paul McNulty, echoed DiDonato’s sentiments. “That night was the community at its strongest,” McNulty said. “To see the students respond to what we asked of them and come out to support the team was incredible. And believe me, it made a difference.”
Grove City College finished the 2017 season as the most improved squad in the Presidents' Athletic Conference, posting a 4-4 mark in conference play and featuring an offense that ranked second in the conference in red zone efficiency.
But most importantly, a new wave of community and inspiration began on Grove City College’s campus. It seems that the impact of this coach has become a ministry indeed – one that will last beyond four years.