Matt LaGrone responds to a higher calling off the field

2009-09-10T07:30:00Z Matt LaGrone responds to a higher calling off the fieldBy Kevin Hampton, Gazette-Times Reporter Corvallis Gazette Times
September 10, 2009 7:30 am  • 

Matt LaGrone was 13 when he said he felt a calling from God.

The calling? To stand up in front of his church's congregation and preach. So that's what LaGrone did.

He was a little nervous, but he had faith. That's the topic LaGrone preached about.

"I spoke on faith," LaGrone said. "I was 13, so probably just relying on God and having faith in God in every situation. Just never letting your faith waver in Christ."

It wasn't long before people began to take notice. This kid was pretty good. LaGrone's talent didn't surprise his father, Carl, who is the pastor of the Garden of Gethsemane Church in Reno, Nev.

Carl LaGrone said he knew his son was going to be a preacher since watching him get up and sing during one service as a 7- or 8-year-old. He knew it was only a matter of time before Matt LaGrone would step up to the lectern.

"He did outstanding," Carl LaGrone said. "(The reaction was), 'Oh, this 13-year-old kid is preaching like a man.' "

Soon Matt was preaching regularly. When he's not at Oregon State, where he's a defensive end on the football team, LaGrone can be found at the church every fourth Sunday running what his father calls a hip-hop service.

LaGrone is a licensed and ordained minister who also leads a college age group on Saturdays in Reno.

"We miss Matt," Carl LaGrone said. "He knew how to move people. He knew how to get them excited and hit them with the Word."

It is Matt LaGrone's faith in God that led him to Corvallis. For some, joining a Pacific-10 Conference football team would have been a snap decision.

It was anything but easy for LaGrone, who was a basketball player for the University of Nevada. Leaving meant giving up his scholarship and moving away from home, his wife, Stephanie, a two-year-old stepdaughter and a child on the way due later this month.

Close friends were telling him to stay. LaGrone prayed about it and talked to his parents. He said they encouraged him to do whatever he felt led to do. The opportunity opened and LaGrone transferred to OSU to play football.

His brother, Josh, was already on the team, so the transition was softened somewhat.

LaGrone's focus was football. He knew it was the sport in which he had the most talent. At 6-foot-6, 256 pounds, he has an ideal frame for defensive end. He's got the quickness and raw ability that can eventually translate to pro football.

LaGrone is fearless on and off the field. His father said he plays like a "Wildman." Josh LaGrone, a safety who is out for the season with a knee injury, said Matt uses his speaking abilities on the field as well as in church.

The decision was driven by more than the chance of an NFL career.

"I believe my purpose is to show Christ through football," he said. "To put Christ on a level of football. The platform that football has is so big and thousands and millions of people watch football every Saturday. Just for somebody to see Christ either in the stands or through their TV screen by my actions on the field is why I believe that I'm here."

Preaching is a full-time job for LaGrone. He will talk to anyone, anywhere. He avoids pushing his beliefs on people, but if he is given the green light, he's not meek about hitting the gas.

"Even if he's not preaching in front of a whole bunch of people, even if it's guys on the team down in the locker room, he's telling them about God," Josh LaGrone said. "He's bold about it. He's not afraid, he's bold and he knows where he stands. No matter what anybody thinks about it, that's how he is."

The road can be a rocky one. There are plenty of temptations for college students, not to mention athletes.

As a Christian, LaGrone holds himself to a higher standard and is often held to a higher standard by friends and teammates.

"It's been hard," he said. "It's been tough because people expect you in sports to live a certain lifestyle and do certain things because you're an athlete and because you're a male. A lot of things that are wrong, people make seem right because you're an athlete or because your name is in the papers or stuff like that. Just having integrity and doing what's right is what I try to do."

LaGrone knows he's not perfect and he's a work in progress.

That includes his football career.

"His skills lie in God and he depends on God. It's faith, really," Carl LaGrone said. "He's a very faithful young man. To leave a full-ride scholarship at a school for a school where you have nothing, that takes faith."

Copyright 2014 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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