Faith and Football
***(INFO BOX: No. 3 Wahoo Neumann (5-0) vs. Scotus (2-3) 7 p.m. Pawnee Park Memorial Stadium Radio: 100.3)***
Scotus Central Catholic football hasn’t quite found its way yet in 2018.
After defeating longtime rival David City Aquinas in the opening game of the season, the Shamrocks lost three straight until a week ago at Raymond Central.
During that three-game skid, the team looked and played much more like the team that had to fight off a Monarch comeback than the one that dominated the first half for a 21-7 advantage.
For a program with designs on returning to the postseason after a three-year playoff streak was snapped in 2017, the first month of the season has a precarious way to set up a district schedule that includes three ranked opponents.
One of those top-10 foes comes to Pawnee Park Memorial Stadium this Friday.
Yet, when times were toughest and the future looked its bleakest, there was one player who offered a different perspective.
“My side hurts, my leg hurts, we’re getting the crap kicked out of us, whatever it may be…you just have to remember it’s all for the glory of God,” said senior left tackle Abe Perault. “You just have to keep going because no matter what happens, God will be praised. That doesn’t make it any easier to lose, but it makes it more…conceptualized.”
Perault, a 6-1, 200-pound, two-year starter on the offensive line, practices, preaches and studies the Catholic faith taught at Scotus as a way of life. Once he earns his diploma in May, he plans to make that way of life his calling for the future.
“I felt this deep peace in my heart, and I felt this calling in my heart,” Perault remembered about when the future became clear. “From there, it’s been a life growing in faith.”
Prior to his freshmen year, Perault attended the Steubenville STL conference held annually in Springfield, Missouri.; for the past 20 summers.
At one point during the three-day event, anyone interested in a religious life was asked to come down to the stage.
It seemed a natural step for a young man who thoroughly enjoyed being a part of Catholic mass as an altar server and who always felt the priests “looked kind of cool.”
But of course, it wasn’t simply an image Perault was drawn to. It was the answer to who he is.
Thus, he returned home and shared the news with his parents who were no less shocked than any parents might be discovering a teenager’s future wishes to join the faith, but always supportive nonetheless.
It also facilitated an immediate change in Perault’s daily life that, while still heavily focused on his beliefs, became a life more dedicated to the practice of that faith – setting aside time to pray each day, reading scripture, attending prayer and learning groups and finding his way to daily mass.
During the rest of the school year when football is out of season, he’s at the chapel inside Scotus at 7:20 each morning for daily mass.
“People ask me with all the scandals going on if I’m afraid of it. No. That just proves I need to be a better man, a more virtuous man,” Perault said of making such a commitment in the culture that is American life in 2018. “That’s the whole call of the Christian life, to be that image of Christ to others. That comes with its challenges.”
Those challenges are most often in dealing with stereotypes.
After classmates and others in his life learned of his decision to study at a seminary, some took a different approach to communicate and interact with Perault. Some still do when they find out there’s a potential priest in their midst.
Though no one may say it to him directly, he understands that assumptions about priests and the priesthood cause others to wonder if he sits in judgment of their words and actions.
Then, naturally, there’s the expectation by many to always be the beacon of faith, the perfect example, a saint among sinners.
“I think that’s what people get wrong all of the time. They think these guys have to be top of the line, holiest people you know,” Perault said. “We’re just normal human beings. We’re no different, especially me. I’m just a high school kid. I’m not a seminarian yet. I’m no different than my friends or my parents.”
He finds comfort in relationships with others already in the priesthood or studying to be ordained. Perault serves as a teacher’s aide to Father Capadano, the chaplain at Scotus, has built a bond with Father Joe at St. Isidore’s and leans on the advice of Bill Cremers, a Scotus alumnus currently near completion of his own studies for the priesthood.
Perault also has a handful of close friends at Scotus who are similarly considering taking Holy Orders one day.
“I’ll stand up for my beliefs every day of the week, even if my schoolmates don’t agree with me, I’ll stand up for what the church teaches because that’s our duty,” Perault said. “It’s gotten me some enemies in my class. I’m not, by far, popular because of it, but you have to have a fearless determination about it.”
The process includes a very thick file of paperwork to fill out, a six-page biography Perault must author about himself, physical and psychological testing and, if accepted, an assignment to one of two seminaries in the region to begin work towards joining the clergy.
Following through on his current direction means no wife, no children, a celibate lifestyle and the responsibilities of leading a congregation – an unpopular choice and one that has more than a few critics.
“I want people to know I’m the same as everyone else. My buddies who are considering being priests are the same as everyone else. Priests, just because they’re priests, they’re the same fallen people as anyone else,” Perault said. “We’re all in the same spot. I want people to know I am a sinner.”
Thus he spends every day in prayer, reading scripture and attending mass. As a football player, powerlifter and shot put thrower, he tries to use the talents he was blessed with to the best of his ability.
Sometimes, those talents are best expressed against other young Catholic men in the heat of competition. Even when Scotus meets its two biggest rivals, Aquinas and Wahoo Neumann, and the intensity of the moment may not exactly follow the teachings of Jesus, it’s there where Perault says he senses God’s grace.
“It brings out what we were created for – to give glory to God,” he said. “Yeah, we might talk a little trash, or whatever it may be, but I don’t mind the competition or the rivalries at all. I think it’s good. It brings out the best in athletes, maybe not in what we say, because it can get frustrating out there, but it brings out the talents God blessed us with.”
Neumann, 5-0 and ranked No. 3 in the latest Lincoln Journal Star Prep Ratings, will be across the line this Friday.
“The challenge we face is trying to match up with a very talented team,” Perault said. “Our effort this week has to be way above theirs because we have talent but not like theirs. It’s an effort game. We have to be dialed in, and we have to be focused until the whistle blows.”
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org