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Marques Tuiasosopo: Third string? It’s OK

By Gail Wood

He’s heard the roar of the crowd celebrating the unlikely comeback win.

He’s the only college quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards and run for more than 200 yards in a game.

He’s a Rose Bowl MVP, throwing for a touchdown and running for another in the University of Washington’s remarkable comeback win against Purdue in 2001.

And now, Marques Tuiasosopo, once a Heisman Trophy finalist and still considered to be one of college’s best quarterbacks ever, is a seldom used backup, a third-stringer for the Oakland Raiders. He’s a forgotten star.

The quarterback with yesterday’s headlines is now in his eighth season in the NFL and still waiting for his chance. He’s the patient apprentice.

“It’s tough at times. I’m still working hard. I’m still waiting for my chance,” Tuiasosopo says. “It’s hard not going out and helping your team win when you feel you have the ability. I definitely have the confidence.”

Tuiasosopo’s motivation comes in part from his dad, Manu Tuiasosopo, a former NFL defensive lineman. He’s also motivated by his coaches and teammates. But a Bible verse, a comment from the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:5 about doing your best for God in whatever you do, is his motivational foundation.

“I have that verse written down,” Tuiasosopo says. “My wife reminds me of that verse all the time. That’s really where it’s at. If you do that, you will be prepared for what you need to do.”

That’s classic Tuiasosopo, the ultimate team player. In a jubilant post-game locker room after Tuiasosopo threw for 307 yards and ran for 207 yards in Washington’s 35-30 win against Stanford in 1999, he was presented a game ball. He then flipped it to Rock Nelson, an offensive tackle.

“He’s the type of guy you love to sell out for,” Nelson said that day.

Tuiasosopo wasn’t even expected to finish that game after getting hurt on the second play from scrimmage. Tackled on an option play, he was knocked backwards, landing hard on his seat. He slowly got up and limped back to the huddle.

Then Huskies head coach Rick Neuheisel yelled from the sideline, “Are you OK?”

Tuiasosopo pointed to his posterior. At halftime, he was in so much pain coaches and teammates worried he couldn’t finish the game. But on a day Tuiasosopo wasn’t expected to play, he set a record.

The next season, Tuiasosopo led Washington to a dramatic win in the 2001 Rose Bowl.

Then in 2003, the year after the Raiders lost to Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl, Tuiasosopo unexpectedly got his first NFL start when Rich Gannon, the reigning NFL MVP, was sidelined with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. It was Tuiasosopo’s third season in the NFL.

Up to that point, he had attempted just 10 passes in his first two seasons.

And in Tuiasosopo’s only start of his pro career, he injured his knee scrambling from a Detroit Lions linebacker and was forced from the game. He had surgery and was sidelined for the season. It’s not been a storybook pro career for the quarterback with the remarkable college career.

“It was extremely frustrating,” Tuiasosopo says about his injury. “I had an opportunity and I got hurt. I remember thinking, Why me, God? But I’ve learned from that. I’ve grown from that. God cares about the heart. Am I truly living for Him? Am I rooted in my faith?”

Hard times have tested Tuiaso-sopo’s faith. He says his Christian testimony wasn’t the loudest when he raised the Rose Bowl trophy above his head, in a moment when he was a winner and everything was going well. Instead, it was while he was recovering from knee surgery and during his long road back.

“When times are good, it’s easy for us to be on the up and up,” he says, “easy to be the people we say we’re supposed to be. But when times are hard, that’s when your true character and your faith are tested. I just want to pass all those tests. When I focus on Jesus and don’t rely on my strength, I’m able to do that.”

Accomplishments, Tuiasosopo has found, are fleeting. The Rose Bowl victory where he completed 16 of 22 passes for 138 yards and rushed for another 75 yards is one of his highlights. But he says there’s a hollowness to victory, to achievement in sports.

“The feeling we had after that game was great,” he remembers. But he also remembers the next day, when it was back to school, back to tests and back to life’s challenges. The win didn’t take all that away and it didn’t fill an inner need.-

“There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing you’re saved and you’re on a journey,” Tuiasosopo says. “You’re not perfect, but you’re on a journey where you allow God and Jesus to work in your heart, in your life. Becoming the person God created you to be is an awesome feeling. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are.”

Whether you’re a Rose Bowl champ or a third-string quarterback, Tuiasosopo says, a Christian’s joy is the same. God’s grace doesn’t hinge on a passing percentage, a quarterback rating or a win-loss record.

“When you have that joy, that’s way better,” Tuiasosopo says. “Happiness comes and goes. The long-lasting joy that’s not affected by your circumstances comes from knowing Jesus is your Savior and you’re going to spend eternity with Him. That changes your life. That’s awesome. It doesn’t matter what happens. That’s always with you.”

In 2005 with the Raiders struggling, Tuiasosopo was told he’d start the remaining five games. He played in one.

“It’s so hard sometimes to be thankful and not to stick up for myself,” he says. “Or I need to be brash, or say something outrageous. Or to make a stink in the newspaper.”

But Tuiasosopo kept quiet and kept working. Teammates noticed.

“There were times where I’m thinking, OK, God, I don’t feel like working hard anymore after they pulled the rug out on me,” Tuiaso-sopo says. “I felt betrayed. But I said, Well, God, what do You want me to be? That didn’t happen right away. But I did it. After that, people came up to me and said they really appreciated what I was doing.”

Tuiasosopo understands God never promised Christians a life without trials.

“There are going to be bumps in the road,” he says. “But through the bumps in the road, if you go through those times with a biblical outlook, a Christ-centered outlook, you’ll get through those times the way God wants you to. You’ll grow more and more.”

GAIL WOOD is a sportswriter in Washington state and freelance writer for Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

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