By Cathy Harasta
Louisiana State University kicker James Hairston’s pre-game routine includes preparing himself on every level.
Not only does he practice on the field and converse with teammates about football, but he also speaks before each game with Father Tony Lackland, the pastor of All Saints Catholic Church.
“Father Tony has really brought me closer to Christ,” said Hairston, a 2011 Jesuit College Preparatory School graduate and junior finance major at LSU. “He is working miracles. My favorite quote from Father Tony is, ‘Who you are today is God’s gift to you, and who you become is your gift to God.’ ”
Father Lackland said that he became acquainted with Hairston when he was a Jesuit student.
“We developed this prayerful, spiritual friendship,” Father Lackland said. “He’s a great young man. He’d call me before his LSU games to pray that he would use the talent that he knew was given to him by God. James prays that he will use it for his teammates, to incorporate his faith and remain grounded.”
LSU, ranked No. 13 in the pre-season USA Today Coaches Poll, opens its season against No. 20 Texas Christian University in the Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Aug. 31.
Hairston’s Jesuit foundation helped him serve as a good steward of team morale at a disheartening time for the Tigers last fall.
He stood up in a players-only meeting before the October game against South Carolina and confided the depth of his grief at his mother’s death from melanoma when he was 13. His mother, Cheryl, had taught him to love and live his faith.
Though LSU’s rally to beat South Carolina, 23-21, relied on many aspects, his speech on the game’s eve spurred empathetic tears and a sense of family unity among teammates, according to Louisiana news reports.
He said that it wasn’t easy to open his heart to his teammates.
“I definitely was scared,” he said. “But each person faces opportunities when you feel the time is right. You take the opportunity and you trust the Lord. I tried to show my love through my words.
“I don’t consider myself a leader by any stretch of the imagination. I just try to do the right thing.”
He said that his college setting allows his Catholic faith to flourish.
Hairston, a third-generation Jesuit graduate whose home parish is Christ the King Catholic Church, is an active member of St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Baton Rouge, LA.
He said he receives spiritual guidance from Father Trey Nelson, pastor at St. Jude, and from Father Raymond Fitzgerald, S.J., in New Orleans.
“Father Nelson says that it’s about taking the high road,” said Hairston, LSU’s lead kickoff specialist the past two seasons. “You choose it—Christ doesn’t make you take the high road.”
He said that he always keeps in mind the Jesuit goal of being a “Man for Others.”
“You have to come in every day to football and have a positive mindset,” said Hairston, whose team is coming off a 10-3 season. “There will be some lows, and it’s important to be the person who sticks to his faith.”