After seven years off the field, grad student returns to football

By Cassidy Thornburg, Sports Editor

At 5 a.m., with every intention of not waking up 10 9-year-old campers, Bert McJunkin shuffled out of a newly built wood cabin, cautiously placing his feet so the boards won’t squeak. On a weekday morning at K1, a Kanakuk Sports Kamp in Branson, Missouri, the grounds were quiet and barely lit by a peaking sun in the distance.

The 6’2” wide receiver crossed the stretch of P-gravel from his cabin to the little gym located beneath the dining hall. He opened up the equipment room and got to work. While the rest of camp slept, McJunkin was in the weight room. Why? The desire to compete that drives almost every Wheaton football player. It’s a new title for the 24-year-old Texas boy, but it’s one he’s been preparing for all summer.

After staying committed to his summer lifts and workouts despite long days at Kanakuk, McJunkin immediately jumped into training camp, mid-August. His story is different than many of the 19 to 22-year-olds who take the field in McCully Stadium beside him, still in their undergraduate years.

Bert graduated from Texas A&M this past May with a business degree and is currently in Wheaton College’s graduate program pursuing a biblical studies degree. In addition to his studies, he still has two years of eligibility with Wheaton Football.

“I haven’t played in almost seven years,” McJunkin said, shaking his head. “There’s a lot to adjust to from game speed to a lot of little things like technique. Playing against a defense with pads on is so much different than just pick up football.”

In his undergrad years at Texas A&M, McJunkin didn’t play for division one team. “I tried out to walk on during one of my years and didn’t make it,” he said. “I just played intramurals. I missed football a ton but loved my friends and the community at Texas A&M.”

It’s been seven years since he has stood in a huddle or taken a knee. For McJunkin, training camp at Wheaton has been far from routine. “Camp was tough, just the fatigue,” he said, letting out a soft chuckle. “I haven’t run or taken hits this much since I was in high school. I was praying a lot for help and for safety. If this was something that God wanted and that I was going to come and give my all to, I prayed God would keep me healthy and even if not, that I would have a good attitude about it.”

McJunkin is a “freshman” or at least a new guy on the team, although he is the same age as some of his coaches and older than his fellow teammates. “That’s probably been the hardest adjustment, honestly, to trust God and be able to humble myself even though I’m older and being okay with being treated like a newbie,” he said. “Diving back into this has been weird at 24, but it’s been really fun.”

McJunkin’s past summer working at Kanakuk is only a small snapshot into his heart for sports ministry. The graduate student hopes to use his biblical studies degree to continue using sports to impact people’s lives for Christ on and off the field.

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