The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

Panther linebacker walks with God

Sia DeyKoontz
Redshirt junior linebacker, Jesse Garza, getting interviewed. Football is back for the 2024 spring season.

Redshirt junior linebacker Jesse Garza grew up asking questions about his religion, as his curiosity about God grew when he was in fourth grade.

At first, Garza was reading a lot of Percy Jackson books, but he knew that he didn’t believe in the Greek gods mentioned in the books.

“I didn’t know what I really believed in, and I think that just really sparked me to ask more questions to my parents,” Garza said.

Up until Garza was in sixth grade, Garza’s family didn’t go to church often. Garza didn’t know a whole lot about Christianity, as his family didn’t speak about God much.

“I would start asking questions because I got curious,” Garza said. “I felt like I believed in something. I guess my parents started to see that curiosity, and they figured they would get us to learn about God.”

Garza touched on his belief of his life being “aligned perfectly” with what God wants for him when the recruiting process first began for him after his time at Allen Hancock College.

At the end of his recruiting process, Garza had an offer at the University of Akron, but he had to sign more papers to confirm his commitment.

The University of Akron planned to fly Garza out to the campus in Akron, Ohio, for his official visit, but they pushed his visit back by one week.

The week Garza was supposed to visit, the University of Akron flew out another linebacker who ended up committing to the school before Garza did. Because of that, Garza’s offer was pulled from him.

“At that moment, I cried, and I was mad,” Garza said.

But after it all, Garza said he felt something he has never felt before.

“I didn’t have a problem in the world, and everything was just right,” he said. “It just felt so peaceful. I’m in this low, low point in my life, and I’m feeling better than I’ve ever felt about anything.”

While he was still in the process of being recruited, Garza reflected on how he felt like he was only “going through the motions” instead of truly believing in God.

“I just got to the point and said, ‘That’s it. I’m all in.’,” Garza said. “I started changing what I was doing. I started being more obedient to God’s word.”

It wasn’t until May 15, 2023, that Garza got offered to play at Eastern.

When Garza moved to Eastern in the summer, he was sitting outside and reading his Bible outside of Groniger Arena when redshirt sophomore forward Kooper Jacobi came up to him and asked if he wanted to talk about God.

The two exchanged numbers and went on to have numerous Bible studies together, and they would exchange verses over text messages.

“I started talking to him, and he gave me a little of his background and I asked him about the gospel and if he believed in Jesus, which he did,” Jacobi said.

During one of their Bible studies over being baptized, Jacobi asked if Garza had ever been baptized.

“I wanted to [get baptized], I always wanted to, but I just didn’t know when or where or what to do about it,” Garza said. “From that point, I was like, ‘I guess I should be baptized.’”

Garza had an opportunity to go back home to Nipomo, California, for only one week, and he used that time to get baptized back at home.

On July 7, 2023, Garza, his family and his pastor went to Pismo Beach, California, so he could be baptized.

“It was a real overcast, and as we went out to the water and got baptized, [the sky] just started to clear up,” Garza said. “I was like, ‘That’s the God I know for sure.’”

Reflecting on his baptism, Garza truly believes it was the right decision to get baptized when he did.

“The thing that set it off was how everything lined up just to be right,” Garza said. “For some reason in my life, there have always been things that have lined up about God. Whenever God is in the picture for me and when he’s first and foremost, things just seem to go right. I feel like being baptized at that time couldn’t have come at a better moment for me.”

Garza’s teammates, senior defensive back Tienne Fridge and junior safety NiJhay Burt spoke on how Garza is strong in his faith on and off the field.

“Jesse is one of the most positive people I know,” Fridge said. “He brings a good energy to the environment, but he also challenges people in different ways whether it’s through character or how they think about things. He’s very strong in his faith.”

“Jesse’s pretty straightforward,” Burt said. “He’ll keep it real with you. He’ll let you know if you’re doing something wrong, and he won’t let you sabotage yourself.”

Garza also gives grace to God for continuously helping him to be better and continue to put his faith in God.

“Now, I’m doing a lot better,” Garza said. “I’m finally starting to read [my Bible] consistently. When other people are having troubles themselves, I’m not scared anymore, and I’ve built up the courage to pray for people and being more intentional with what I’m doing and who I’m praying for.”

Fridge touched on how he has seen Garza grown with only knowing him for a short amount of time.

“I think [Jesse’s religion] is part of his identity,” Fridge said. “I think it’s something he’s very serious about. Since he’s moved from California to EIU, and the short time I’ve known him, I know this is something he takes more seriously now than he did in the past, and he’s trying to better himself.”

Garza says when he meets new people, he wants to put himself on the same level as the person he’s talking to.

“Sometimes, especially being an athlete, I would kind of put myself above people,” Garza said. “I’ve learned that’s not how Jesus would want us to live but to be loving and friendly. I’ve learned to be humble, talk to people and to let them know I’m just another person just like them.”


Zaria Flippin can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Zaria Flippin
Zaria Flippin, Sports Editor
Zaria Flippin is a junior sports media relations major. This is her first year at The News.

Comments (0)

Commenting on the Daily Eastern News web site is a privilege, not a right. We reserve the right to remove comments that contain obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language. Also, comments containing personal attacks or threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
All The Daily Eastern News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest