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CBN.com Jeff Hazuga dreamed all his life about playing professional football. As one of six children born to a Wisconsin dairy farmer, Jeff’s goals seemed unreachable to just about everyone but him…
"I wasn’t really a star player. I wasn’t that big of a kid at the time," he says.
Jeff was raised in a Christian home but he wasn’t without his share of hardships.
“My parents separated when I was in sixth grade. I went to live with my dad and everyone else moved to town. So that was kind of a hard time for me [and] for the whole family.”
Jeff’s family was reunited in time to cheer him through stellar football careers in high school and college. After graduation, he caught the attention of the Minnesota Vikings and signed a contract to play for them in the 2001 NFL season.
But along with his new position, Jeff developed some new priorities. “I started doing some things that I normally wouldn't have done and hanging out with some people that I normally wouldn't hang out with.”
The prestige and privileges of being an NFL player had gone to Jeff’s head. His dream had come true, but it didn’t last….
“We were playing the Chicago Bears,” he recalls. “It was only the third game I’d played in that year. They said to run down the field and try to knock them all down, and I ended up hitting a guy that was a lot bigger and tougher than me.
“I remember coming off the field, and I couldn’t move my arm at all. [I got] x-rayed, and I’d broke my scapula right in half.
From his brief time on the team, Jeff knew how easily and quickly players were replaced. "So I was really scared,” he admits.
Jeff mended quickly and got back to playing as soon as he could. But in the middle of his first day back he got hit again.
“About halfway through practice, the coach cut me from the team. So it was kind of a tough deal, and I didn’t really understand why it was happening to me. I was bitter and upset about it but I took it upon myself to say that, ‘I’m gonna fix this or I’m gonna handle it my way.’
Jeff’s career came to a screeching halt. He waited for offers that didn’t come. And then he got a break…
“A player personnel guy from NFL Europe called me up and said they had an opening if I wanted to come to Florida and try out. So, of course, I jumped on the plane and went down there and everything ended up working out really well. I got signed by their team and went over to Germany and played for the Frankfurt Galaxy."
Things seemed to be going great, until midway through the season…
“I was tackling a guy and one of my teammates fell on my leg and sure enough broke my ankle. So then I was really upset because then I had to fly to Alabama, where the NFL sends injured players to have surgery.”
But something had started in Europe that continued when Jeff came back to the United States.
“I started attending a church over there. I definitely could feel God starting to talk to me again. I felt something going on there but I wasn’t really ready to open up yet or let go what I had been doing.”
After his injury, Jeff had nothing but time to think.
“One night I was flipping through the TV channels and The 700 Club was on. This is a show that I would never have watched a year ago or two years ago.”
Jeff was drawn to the program and began watching it almost every night.
“This is kind of crazy, but I went to the Goodwill bookstore down the street and the first book that I grabbed off the shelf was Pat Robertson’s biography Shout It From the Housetops,” Jeff recalls. “I went back to my room right away, and I started reading it. It blew my mind.”
The next night Jeff watched The 700 Club again. As a guest shared a personal testimony, Jeff broke down crying. “I was like, ‘God, give me another chance. Let me live my life for You. Come into my heart.’ It was just an awesome feeling. It was the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Since he rededicated his life to the Lord, Jeff’s perspective has changed dramatically. He now volunteers at a local high school and is deeply involved in his church. Serving has become his life.
“It wasn’t like I was some awful guy but I wasn’t living my life the way God intended me to.”
Jeff is not sure what the future holds for him as far as playing football but he understands that his future is now in God’s capable hands.
“[Through] all this time and all the things I’d done or things I’d been through, the one constant was God. He was always there. When I was at my lowest point, there He was. I think maybe it took that to get back to where I needed to be.”
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