I first met Tyler Sykora when he was part of a discipleship group at Midwestern Seminary I was co-leading with one of our profs. A thoughtful but soft-spoken guy, I was impressed by his easy-going nature and disarmed by his bookish demeanor. I was not surprised to learn that he was assisting as a Research Assistant in our Spurgeon Library. I now attend the same church as Tyler and his wife Samantha (and their due-any-minute daughter Adeline Rose), and he is one of the residents in the Pastoral Training Center I’m directing there. But one evening during a conversation in my home, I was surprised to learn something new and almost-as-cool-as-the-Spurgeon-Library about Tyler.
I was telling him about this book I’d been reading about the rise of private quarterback coaches, guys who’ve built careers around training adolescent and college-age men for prospective success in the NFL, when Tyler casually let it drop that he’d trained with one of the coaches mentioned in the book. I then learned that Tyler had come to the Midwest to train for the pastorate after surrendering a promising ambition to play in the NFL. Below is a portion of a follow-up conversation.
Which came first for you? Jesus or football?
Well, I was raised in the church, but I was your typical “Christian” kid that tried to do all the right things in order to please man. But I was converted at 18 during a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp. While I was supposed to be leading students to Christ, I was confronted with the fact that I had never trusted Christ myself. Shortly after being converted, I went to college to play football at Southern Arkansas University. During this time, I was discipled and began to desire the ministry.
When and how did you begin realizing football may be a professional option for you?
My redshirt sophomore year, we lost a shootout to Ouachita Baptist University. I threw for 520 yards and 5 touchdowns, and after the game I was watching film with my coach, and he looked at me and said that he thought I had a real shot at the pro’s. It had always been a dream, but that was the first time I began to actually think it could be possible.
What happened next?
My junior year we had great success offensively. We broke several school records and made a bowl game. Going into my senior year, there was some scouting attention. My senior year, around 25 or so NFL teams came to Magnolia to interview me and watch practice. However, at the same time, my senior year was not as productive offensively, and we lost a couple more games than the year before. Going into the draft, I knew that I was not going to be drafted, but I was told there was a good chance at signing a free agent deal.
On draft night, the Kansas City Chiefs called and wanted to bring me in for their rookie mini-camp, but then I found out they’d withdrawn their offer shortly thereafter. There were no other phone calls that night.
I was devastated. Yet, that was when the Lord revealed to me just how prideful I was. I had always said I was playing football for the glory of God, but when football was suddenly taken away, my true desires and intentions were made abundantly clear. I wanted God to be glorified, but I also wanted glory for myself. I was like James and John in Mark 10, still wanting to exalt Jesus but just asking for glory and honor at the same time.
About a month went by. Then the Seattle Seahawks called. I went out for a one-day tryout, and it went well. I had a great practice and I thought they were going to sign me that day. However, they sent me home and said they would let me know what they would decide. After no immediate calls, I began to pursue the CFL (Canadian) and the AFL (Arena). I had an AFL contract ready to sign, but I had previously committed to preach in Peru at a small pastor’s retreat and it interfered with the team’s training camp. I told the coach I was going to go to Peru, and if he didn’t like that he could sign someone else. So . . . he signed someone else.
About a year had passed since draft day and, believe it or not, Seattle called back. This time they wanted to bring me in for their 3-day rookie mini-camp. At this point, I was excited, but I discovered that my desire for football had already waned. The camp went fine, but I didn’t get signed.
There was one moment from camp that I will never forget. I was decked out in Seahawks gear (there is nothing like putting on sweet gear!), warming up for practice, and talking to Coach Pete Carroll. In that moment, I had everything that I thought I had wanted for pretty much my whole life. Yet, I remember thinking, “I don’t want this anymore, I would rather be at seminary.” Pretty crazy thought, I know. But I knew that the Lord had called me to preach and teach his Word and I simply was not content with doing anything else.
And what brought you to Midwestern?
I was originally interested in another seminary and wasn’t considering anywhere else. But then a mentor of mine got hired at Midwestern, and he came and talked to me about the school. Within 24 hours, my wife and I made the decision to move to Kansas City. There were several reasons for the sudden change, but the two biggest reasons were the school’s vision of existing For the Church and the legitimate possibility of being mentored by my professors. I wanted to have real access to my professors and I can say that two years later that has been the case. Midwestern has done a great job of equipping me momentarily, but—more importantly—it has done a great job of laying a foundation for a lifetime of study. My experience with Midwestern has been everything I had hoped for and more.
Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy and Managing Editor of For The Church at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Tyler Sykora is currently pursuing an M.Div in Biblical Languages at Midwestern Seminary, where he has served in the Student Leadership Program, as a research assistant in The Spurgeon Library, and a residence assistant for Masters students. He is currently a research assistant to seminary president Dr. Jason K. Allen, a recruitment specialist for the seminary admissions department, and a ministry resident in the Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church.