By Robert Wilson
Former Jackson Prep star kicker, Swayze Waters, had his biggest moment as a pro football player November 25 when he helped the Toronto Argonauts win the Grey Cup, the Canadian Football League’s version of the Super Bowl.
But that wasn’t Waters’ biggest highlight of that day.
It came during the wild celebration when Toronto safety Etienne Boulay gave Waters a massive hug and said, “Thank you,” with tears rolling down his cheeks.
“That was my biggest win over the year, not the Grey Cup,” Waters said.
You see, the reason why Boulay was telling Waters thank you was because Waters was a major influence on Boulay receiving eternal life in Heaven just a few weeks before. Let Waters explain.
“Etienne is a big star in Canada (he won two Grey Cups in six years for Montreal) and he signed with Toronto on the same day I did,” Waters said. “We stayed in the same motel and became friends. I didn’t have a car up there so I would ride with him to eat all the time. I began to talk to him about my faith and what God meant to me. God laid it on my heart to talk to Etienne and witness to him. Gradually, he began listening to me, understanding me, and my faith. I downloaded some Christian music and some sermons for him. It was amazing watching Etienne’s faith grow. Then on the final chapel meeting of the year, our chaplain, Herbie Khun, asked if there was anyone who wanted to make a decision for Jesus Christ. Etienne gave his life for Christ that day. It was awesome. For several months, I had developed a relationship with him and Etienne began a relationship with Christ. So after we won the Grey Cup, he said thank you. It brought it all home for me. I was on this journey in Canada for a reason, a much bigger reason than kicking a football. God has a bigger plan. I was there to make a difference in someone’s life and help them gain an eternal place in Heaven.”
Waters has definitely been on an interesting journey, an up and down trek where many would have quit and started a new path. But not Waters, who was an All-State kicker from Prep where he was not only the team’s leading receiver for three years, but also one of the top kickers in the South. No Division I school in Mississippi offered him a scholarship, so Waters signed with Alabama-Birmingham and became an All-Conference kicker there.
Even though he was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, named for the best kicker in the nation, Waters wasn’t drafted by the NFL and signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Lions. He did well, but was injured and didn’t play in a regular season game before being released. He signed again the next year with the Oakland Raiders, played well, but was cut before the regular season. In 2011, same result, different team—this time with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Waters didn’t give up on his dream to play pro football. In the spring of 2012, he was signed by the New York Jets, but cut days later. Then the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League signed Waters in June, but he was cut in July because of the American-Canadian ratio on the team.
Finally, Waters got the break he needed with Toronto. Their star kicker, Noel Prefontaine, went down with an injury and the Argonauts signed Waters. He stuck. Waters punted, kicked off, and kicked field goals and extra points. He became one of the top kickers in the league and helped Toronto to the Grey Cup championship. But more importantly, Waters has been a Christ-like influence to his teammates, many who didn’t know the Lord. He also spoke at churches in the Toronto area and saw many come to know Christ through his message.
“For the first time since college, I felt a part of a team because I was there for an extended period of time and bonded with some of the players,” Waters said. “The locker room camaraderie was my favorite part. I got into the weekly groove. Also, I participated in a weekly Bible study and was able to disciple outside of the team locker room. That was a blessing and icing on the cake. I was able to dig into God’s Word.”
Now, Waters is back in Mississippi and still sharing his faith. He is working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and, along with Kiel Higginbotham, is in charge of 61 high schools and three colleges in District 6 in the central part of Mississippi.
“I have the honor to be able to speak to groups, student athletes and coaches about my journey and how God was there every step of the way,” said Waters, who is a member of Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson and lives in Jackson with his wife, Kendal. “Kiel and I are visiting a lot of schools and listening to their students and coaches’ hearts and visions. We are seeing kids and coaches who are fired up for Christ and how they are learning more about God.”
Waters is on a two-year contract with the Argonauts and plans to go back to Canada later this year. He still has dreams of the NFL, but Waters knows he must listen to God and follow His plan.
“God’s ways are not our ways and we must obey what He says and calls you to do,” Waters said. “I’ve gotten opportunities in Canada to speak that I never imagined and I’m able to reach others for Christ in an unbelievable setting. I’ve been asked to speak at a conference with about 300-400 college students this year in Toronto. God has given me a great platform to share his Word. I thank Him for the honor of doing that every day.”