Despite a series of injuries that prevented him from playing football, Paul Pitts III kept his faith in God.
In fact, the 23-year-old, who is pursuing a joint bachelor’s and master’s degree in religion and liberal arts and sciences, says that a torn Achilles only reaffirmed his faith and drew him closer to God.
“That threw a rift in my plan,” Pitts says of the injury that sidelined him from the field for several seasons. “My heart began to change and I began to grow in the church.”
Now Pitts, who is affectionally known as “Pastor Paul” by his former teammates, has aspirations of becoming
an evangelical pastor and was known to organize impromptu Bible study and prayer meetings in the locker room before and after practice and games.
A possession receiver with a wide catch radius and good body control, the 6-foot Pitts appeared in 11 games for the 2015 Mountain West Conference Champions.
In 2011, he caught the attention of San Diego State University (SDSU) as well as other schools when he was recruited to play for the Aztecs.
The Rancho Cucamonga, California, native turned to football after hearing about the success of his father, who
excelled on the field. Pitts was a standout in high school and quickly caught the eye of SDSU officials.
“I started playing football when I was 8 years old,” says Pitts in an interview with Diverse. “From football, I learned so much. Sports [are] the greatest teacher.”
But the injuries that Pitts suffered taught him humility, as he cheered on his teammates from the bleachers.
“That is where the development of my manhood began,” he says. “You realize the power of a team. I was on the sideline hurt, but I had to pray for guys even though I was not playing. That taught me how to serve and endure.”
The connection that he developed with his teammates has been transformative. In 2013, he was awarded the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Idaho Sports Medicine Institute Humanitarian Award. The award is given “to a player who has given the most to himself in service for others and can include work with youth, hospitals, the elderly, leadership programs and family, and any other activities which help others,” according to an Aztec article on Pitts.
“We are a family,” he says of the football program at SDSU. “The program was not what it was before we came here. There were a lot of people who doubted us.”
Pitts, who once had aspirations of playing in the NFL, says that he’s now found his purpose in life: to work in
Christian youth ministry. He recently returned from a mission to East Asia and has plans to travel the world spreading the gospel.
“By God’s grace I was able to get into San Jose State and play football,” he says.
“Now, my goal is to become a pastor. By God’s grace, I’ll be able to live that out.”
Pitts’ academics are faultless, too: he maintains a 3.8 GPA and was named a 2014-15 Mountain West Scholar-Athlete, one of only 33 from SDSU. This past fall, Pitts was named to the Academic All-Mountain West team, one of a handful on the university’s football team.
Bobby Smitheran, associate athletic director at SDSU, says that Pitts exemplifies the qualities that the university values in its athletes.
“Paul has been a tremendous representative of San Diego State University, a great role model for his fellow student-athletes, and someone we have all been inspired by,” says Smitheran. “His efforts in the classroom,
his display of great sportsmanship, and his dedication to his faith and how he’s used that to impact our community,
make him worthy of the recognition he’s receiving.
“Paul is a true Aztec for life and we look forward to watching him grow and the people he’ll impact on his journey.”
School: San Diego State University
Major: Religious Studies