Bradley Pinion, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ punter, has felt God’s guiding hand on his football career for years now.
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It didn’t start when he discerned God’s calling to leave the San Francisco 49ers, the only NFL franchise he had ever known, and sign a four-year contract with the Bucs this past March. He spent his first four seasons in San Francisco, and although the team often struggled, Pinion proved his worth as one of the better punters in the league.
It didn’t start when Pinion left his NFL future in God’s hands during the 2015 NFL Draft, when he became the 49ers’ fifth-round pick and the only punter selected.
It didn’t even start when he listened to God rather than conventional wisdom after his junior year at Clemson. Everyone knows punters don’t leave early for the NFL draft, and that’s exactly what Pinion heard over and over again. Yet Pinion felt stagnant, as if there weren’t enough opportunities to grow as a football player and as a person with the Tigers.
“I felt this tug from God to go ahead and make the jump,” Pinion said of that time recently on the Sports Spectrum Podcast.
Pinion has sought God’s infinite wisdom ever since the day he saw God at work in his life on a high school practice football field in his hometown of Concord, N.C.
As Pinion’s final season in high school approached, he had narrowed his list of colleges down to three: Georgia, North Carolina and Clemson. There were reasons to attend all three, but none of them had risen to the top. The decision weighed heavily on Pinion.
One day while driving, after praying about the looming decision, Pinion noticed a sign for Statesville, N.C., a town an hour north of his hometown. The next day, he went out to punt on his school’s football practice field back in Concord, when a larger African-American man with a stick gets out of a Prius and begins to walk around the track encircling the field. Near the end of Pinion’s workout, the man entered the field, called Pinion by name and said he was a preacher — from Statesville.
As Pinion remembered on the podcast, the man said, “In a dream last night, God came to me and said I needed to come talk to you.”
The man encouraged Pinion in his monumental decision with a few verses from Scripture and then headed to his car. Pinion turned back to ask for the man’s name, but he had completely vanished.
Pinion was shaken by the profound encounter and headed home in tears to talk it over with his mom, when he soon realized the man had a distinctly Clemson-orange shirt on. Pinion understood the whole experience to be a sign from God that Clemson was the school for him.
Pinion said on the podcast, “That moment was like, ‘All right God. God, You’ve got me. I don’t know what my journey is. I don’t know what You want me to do, but I’m going to Clemson. I’m doing this. And I’m Yours.'”
Pinion said it was then that the faith introduced to him by his family had finally become his own.
And despite Pinion’s best efforts in the nine years since, he has never found the man through whom God changed his life.
“I’m actually convinced he was an angel,” Pinion said.
Pinion has grown in his faith since that time — first at Clemson with head coach and outspoken follower of Christ Dabo Swinney, and then in the NFL.
“The more I hung around Coach Swinney, his faith overflowed into everyone around him,” Pinion said.
The Tigers reached their first national championship game under Swinney (a 45-40 loss to Alabama) the year after Pinion’s departure. Meanwhile, Pinion was adjusting to life in the NFL and the scrutiny that comes with it.
“That was one of the hardest things,” Pinion said, “to not find your self-worth in what [fans] say but find your self-worth in what God says about you.”
Pinion is open about his faith, even on social media. He said he reads the Bible every day and is working to become a spiritual leader on a young Buccaneers team.
“The big thing I’m focused on learning right now is leadership,” Pinion said. “I’m going into my fifth year in the NFL, so I’m transitioning from that rookie mindset to a veteran mindset.”
The Buccaneers had a rough Week 1 under new coach Bruce Arians, as they gave up 25 second-half points and dropped their season opener, 31-17, to the 49ers. Pinion’s day was similarly forgettable. He had two opportunities to punt in his first game in a Buccaneers uniform against his old team, and one of them was blocked.
Pinion and the rest of his Buccaneers teammates haven’t had much time to dwell on the loss, as they’re on the road for Thursday Night Football hoping to turn things around. They’re in Charlotte this week to take on the Carolina Panthers (8:20 p.m. ET).
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