Nov. 22, 2000
by Shipp Daniel Clemson Sports Information OfficeThe South Carolina Game Program – November 18, 2000
It’s the Saturday morning of a football game. The team wakes up at about 8:00 am. They go eat a little breakfast. Then it’s time for a team meeting followed by position meetings, all in an effort to go over last minute details before taking on the day’s opponent. After the meetings, it’s time for the chapel service.
Wait… chapel service?
Yep, that’s right… chapel service. The Clemson football team holds about an hour-long chapel service every game day before taking the field. Those chapel services are led by the team chaplain, Darren Bruce.
Bruce, a native of New Castle, PA, came to Clemson with head coach Tommy Bowden from Tulane University, where he served the Green Waves in the same capacity. Prior to serving as Tulane’s chaplain, Bruce was an assistant children’s pastor, an interim children’s pastor, a chapel speaker and a chaplain for the football team at the Christian Academy in Pennsylvania. He then made his way from Pennsylvania to Louisiana as a result of a simple phone call.
“I had a friend in Baton Rouge, and he gave me a call and told me there was a church looking for a minister to do an inner-city ministry,” recalled Bruce. “We talked about it, and they flew me down to Baton Rouge, and we ended up going to New Orleans. New Orleans was the area in which they wanted to plant a new church. I looked around, and I thought ‘this is where I need to be.’ So in 1992, I went to New Orleans and started an inner city church right in the housing projects. I was there for seven years, and that’s where I met coach Bowden.
“When Coach Bowden took the job at Tulane, he was looking for a team chaplain, and I’m not sure how our paths crossed, but somehow he got my resume. I got a chance to talk with him, we talked for an hour or so, and we connected.”
How Bruce got into the ministry is an interesting story, beginning with a personal spiritual transformation. He grew up without a father and with a mother who had a drinking problem. His entry introduction to Christianity and later the ministry began with a self-realization of what was shaping his life and where he was headed.
“My junior year in college, I was out with some fraternity brothers, and we had been drinking. There were some Bible college students that were out on the same strip we were on passing out tracts. This young lady, I’ll never forget it, with blue eyes and brown hair, handed me a tract. And it was like everyone else walked on ahead, but it was my time and destiny. She handed me a tract – it was a red tract with a big white question mark on it. I opened it up and it said ‘if you were to die now, where would you go?’ Instantly, I said ‘Man, I’d bust hell wide open.'”
That thought changed Bruce’s life. “I said to myself, ‘Man I need to change my life, I need to get my life right.’ So I just thought in my heart, that as soon as we get back to campus, I was going to give my life to Christ. Sure enough, I did. Then I got real crazy, going to Bible studies, church, just got real serious about it. “
He did indeed start doing what was right, stacking up a resume that includes multiple years as an assistant pastor, ministry coordinator, and even an appearance on The 700 Club.
Bruce’s work at churches ended when he began working with students and realizing that he was being called to work specifically with college students.
“When I was at Tulane, I still had my inner-city ministry, and things began to happen there. I had a tremendous ministry with the kids there. It wasn’t hard for me, because I could identify with them, having been a student-athlete. Doors just started opening. I was getting invitations to go minister at LSU and other surrounding colleges, and all of a sudden, my heart went out to the college kids.”
Identifying with college students, especially student-athletes, is perhaps Bruce’s greatest strength. He isn’t a stranger to the pressures of being a student-athlete, having attended Bishop College in Dallas, Texas, on a football scholarship from 1980-1984. While at Bishop College, he also played three years of baseball as a walk-on.
“I am able to identify in every facet with the hearts of these young men. One, being a student-athlete. Two, just knowing the pitfalls that these guys can go through. I’m here to help them out. I’m here to tell them that they don’t have to test the fire to know that it will burn them. It’s just my heart and passion – to minister to young student-athletes, and to help develop character. I think that if they have a strong, spiritual foundation to start with, and to build from, that they will be strong academically, physically, and mentally.”
Bruce’s commitment to helping build the team’s foundation begins with the coaches on Monday morning. At 6:30 am, Bruce leads a coaches’ devotional. On Wednesday nights, he leads the Fellowship of Christian Athletes that is mainly for Clemson athletes, but not limited only to those athletes. Bruce, as stated earlier, also conducts a chapel service every game day. Along with those duties, he frequently meets with the players and coaches on an individual basis. The influence Bruce has had on the Tigers is evident when to talking to players and coaches alike.
“You can have one-on-one meetings with him or group meetings. It doesn’t matter. He’s just an excellent man. There is no other person like him. He helps us out a great deal,” says junior strong safety Charles Hafley.
Wide receiver coach Rick Stockstill says, “He brings a comfort level, a confidence level to the players. They know they have somebody that can go talk to about any problem or situation they may have that they don’t feel comfortable talking about with their coaches or teammates. The kids have a ton of respect for him.”
Senior cornerback Darrel Crutchfield summed up what Bruce means to the team on a daily basis. “He’s a great guy. He’s somebody who always cares about you and who always tries to pull you in and keep your heart pointed in the right direction. If you’ve got something on your mind, he’s always there to help you out.”
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