By Kevin Alan Lamb
What you share with this world is what it keeps of you. When Baltimore Ravens running back Justin Forsett wakes each morning, he is going to work for the woman he loves, his family, and to embody the characteristics of Jesus Christ.
In a world intent on knowing a man before walking even a quarter-mile in his shoes, Forsett is a living, breathing inspiration; a reminder of the sacrifice and courage professional athletes offer to the game they love.
Son of a preacher, husband of an Olympian, the 5-foot-8, 198-pound back has been underrated his entire life; labeled a “journeyman,” he’s had his faith tested at every corner.
“Being a professional football player is more than fame and fortune,” he says. “The job can be highly stressful, life-altering, and dangerous. Players suffer head trauma, brain injuries, and paralysis in the profession. I share all this to say it’s more than just a game—it’s our livelihood, and this is what we do to provide for our families.”
Gifts are given to different people for different reasons. Talent, for some, becomes a crutch which prevents progress. For others, it’s an opportunity to let God’s Grace shine through them, practice servitude, and take each breath with purpose and in appreciation of the Ultimate Sacrifice that made the gifts possible.
“I grew up Christian, a preacher’s kid, always in church. In a Christian household, I gave my life to Christ at an early age; I’m one of those guys that’s all in. I was one of those kids that went through high school with my Bible—reading it, praying every night as I was doing pushups and sit-ups trying to get to the NFL. I wasn’t doing any alcohol, drugs, or anything like that. I was a virgin until I got married. I was trying to live the best I could for Christ,” Forsett says.
At only 22, this Christian’s best was summoned to ensure that he stayed afloat as thunder and lightning crashed upon him. Forsett’s faith filled him with the strength to trust God in his darkest hour, and navigate calamitous storms while holding true to the treasures in his heart.
Within one month of his rookie season, the California Golden Bear was released by both Seattle and Indianapolis, while learning that his mom, Albertina, was losing her battle with cancer.
“A couple of days before that, my dad had told me that my mom, who had been battling cancer for a while, maybe only had a year to live,” he remembers. “I was at a point where I was a rookie, I’d been cut twice, and I was sending money back home whenever I got it to help my mom go through treatment and pay for insurance. I had the burden to not only find a way to provide for myself, but to provide and take care of my mom. It was heart-crushing.”
History is filled with great men who have fallen in the face of pugilism, however this is the story of an underdog. This is the story of a man who spent his entire life being told he was too small by men who failed to feel the fire in his heart. This is the story of a man who believes he can be knocked down, but not knocked out, because he has faith in the One who stands by his side.
“God always gave me a sense of peace in the middle of the storms that I was in. Every obstacle that looked impossible, He made possible. God is still opening doors for me. When people say I can’t do something and try to put me in a box, God breaks that box.”
Born in Lakeland, Florida, Forsett moved to Arlington, Texas during his sophomore year of high school, where he attended Grace Preparatory Academy. In his final two seasons there, he rushed for 63 touchdowns and close to 5,000 yards en route to multiple division-4A state championships, earning the nickname “The Truth.”
Recruited by Notre Dame and Texas, Forsett was instead written off in favor of taller backs. Signing day approached, and with the help of his coach, former NFL player Mike Barber, coach Jeff Tedford saw what he needed in game film, and offered the underestimated Forsett a scholarship to Cal.
Forsett played all four years at Cal, amassing over 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground, where he met the love of his life, Angela, at study hall. Angela ran track and played volleyball for the Golden Bears. She was a member of the 2012 USA Olympic volleyball team, but did not attend the London Olympics due to the blessing of their first child.
“My role as a husband far outweighs my role as a running back in the NFL. I will be my wife’s teammate longer than anybody I’m with on the football field. So shouldn’t my commitment to excellence and effort at home be even greater than what I put forth in my profession?” Forsett says.
After an injury-plagued 2013, Forsett was released by Jacksonville on March 11, 2014, and considered retirement. It looked like the end of the line, and just another example how injuries can knock a man down and consume his dream. But remember, this is the story of a man who knows he can be knocked down, but not out, because he has faith in He who stands by his side.
Riding the recommendation of Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, Forsett was given a ticket to ride, and signed a one-year, $750,000 contract in Houston. Forsett played under Kubiak as a member of the Texans in 2012, rushing for 374 yards while averaging 5.9 yards per carry.
Entering camp as a third-stringer in Baltimore behind Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce in 2013, a comeback story wasn’t foreshadowed on the horizon.
“When I signed here in Baltimore, I hoped for the best, but didn’t know what to expect,” Forsett recalls in a blog entry. “I trained this offseason as if I was going to be a starter this season, and I definitely felt ready to go no matter what happened. I put everything into it. After last year, with what I went through—injuries, being on the bottom of the depth chart, not knowing if I would play again—I try to play every game like it’s my last, every time I step on that field. Not everybody gets a chance to play on Sundays.”
Justin Forsett is a human being defined by limits: Physical limits, imposed upon him by skeptics that could never quite confine the type of man he was or the player he could be. Limits that tested the magnitude of his faith in God, which proved limitless. With a twist of fate, and perpetual faith, No. 29 was given the ball, and the opportunity to shine as an instrument of God’s Grace.
In 2014 Forsett ran for a career high 1,266 yards, elevating him to No. 5 in the league. In Week 12 against the New Orleans Saints, he recorded a career-high 182 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-27 win. The week following, he galloped past the coveted single-season 1,000-yard rushing mark. When it was all said and done, the supposed journeyman collected 8 touchdowns, led the league in average yards per carry, and cashed his ticket to his first Pro Bowl.
“My faith impacts everything; it isn’t something I do on the side. It’s in everything I do. It gives me a sense of peace when I go out on the field knowing that I put in the work. I trust God and His plan. Every week is an opportunity to seize the moment. I didn’t know if I was ever going to play again. So with this platform that I have, I play for God, thanking Him for bringing me this far. From a little kid out of a small town of 3,000, to be able to play [in the NFL] … I try to use that as an act of worship.”
“While I’m on the field, I want to be relentless. I want to play at a level at which my competitor is unwilling to match, and I want to give all that I have; not for man’s approval, but for a higher purpose—another reason I believe God cares about football. It can be used as a vessel for His glory.”
This is a story about a man who refused to be defined by limits. A story about a man who walked by faith, not by sight. A story to remind you that you are not alone, and infinitely capable. And just in case you were looking for one, this is a Good Sign.