Tennessee football gamedays are filled with many traditions. Each Saturday the Volunteers play in Neyland Stadium, fans can see the Vol Navy on the banks of the Tennessee River or line the streets to high-five players on the Vol Walk.
But not all pre-game festivities are seen by thousands of fans clad in orange and white.
Four and a half hours before kickoff, the football team participates in a chapel service and after the Vol Walk holds a prayer at midfield.
Both are led by Roger Woods, the team’s chaplain.
“My job, my philosophy, my mission is to encourage and empower, and I do that through scripture, study and sports,” Woods, better known as ‘Chap,’ said. “I serve as a spiritual advisor, mentor and for a lot of these guys, as like a father-figure in each one of their lives. That’s what I do every day.”
Now in his third season at UT, Woods is also the team chaplain for the UT men’s basketball team and serves as the campus director of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
“Chap’s been great,” football coach Derek Dooley said. “He has a wonderful ability to connect with all these young people even if they don’t come in with a strong religious spirit and so he has a way about him that attracts anyone and then uses Christian principles to reinforce his message. He’s as good as I’ve been around and we’re glad he’s in the program.”
The football program has gone through its fair share of adversity in recent years, both on and off the field, and Woods preaches the same message to the team, especially this year after injuries started to mount on key players.
“My word to them is stay in the fight,” Woods said. “In life you’re going to go through adversity and last year we went through a lot of adversity, particularly through the game with LSU and then with North Carolina. We actually got a theme out of that and what came out of that is, ‘When adversity hits, UT will never quit.’ And that also goes in the game of life.”
Woods helps many student-athletes deal with being in the spotlight at UT while still having the same problems other students have.
“We look at it from the philosophy: From outside, these young men and women are looked at as superstars, superheroes if you will. I deal with them from a prospective of ‘man, these are, at the end of the day, ordinary people.’ They have the same issues as the common person,” he said. “My role and my job is to look beyond the superstar athlete and beyond the superstar coach and deal with them as an individual person and really just trying to minister to the heart of the person and not to the heart of the name of the person.”
It’s the heart of UT coaches and players that has Woods believing good things are in store for UT athletics in the future.
“This is why I love working with coach Dooley, (men’s basketball) coach (Cuonzo) Martin, (women’s basketball) coach (Pat) Summitt and all the other coaches and teams, because I really believe that we have to recruit talent but we also have to recruit character with talent. All three of these coaches, amongst all the other coaches on this campus, now believe in operating in character and integrity. My personal belief is that you can’t have character unless you have Christ ’cause Christ is character. That’s what I believe first and foremost.”