Kicker finds balance in faith

LSU’s Hairston says Catholicism helped in hard times

Most college football kickers judge themselves on their consistency on the field, where statistics are used to tell the story.

LSU kickoff specialist James Hairston measures consistency and balance in his life — on and off the field — in a different way.

“The only consistent thing in my life is my faith,” Hairston said.

Faith helped Hairston, 20, take a hard emotional hit as an adolescent, make a change in sports and work his way into his present position.

The son, grandson and brother of athletes, Hairston took over kickoff duties for the Tigers prior to the West Virginia game in September 2011 and has made 24 starts for the Tigers.

Hairston said his Catholic faith helps him to calm his nerves and guides him every day.

“My faith starts the day, continues in the middle of the day and ends the day,” Hairston said.

His passion for his faith grew in high school at Jesuit College Prep in Dallas.

“Jesuit did well in teaching us the principles of Ignatian life,” the kicker said. “These principles come from St. Ignatius and teach you to live your life for the greater glory of God.”

His Catholic family also played an important part.

“I’ve been so blessed to have great family, coaches and teachers all along the way, who have guided me and continue to do so,” he said.

While family members guided Hairston in his faith, they also guided him in athletics. His parents both played golf for Southern Methodist University, his grandfather made it to a Green Bay Packers’ training camp and his uncle was a pitcher in the New York Yankees farm system.

One of his sisters played soccer at the University of Houston, the other plays soccer at the University of North Texas, and his younger brother plays baseball for Jesuit.

Hariston said the way his kicking career took off after tragedy can only be credited to God’s mysterious ways.

At the age of 13, his mom died of melanoma skin cancer.

“Losing her, that event, it did not give me any excuse to fall,” Hairston said. “It only gave me reason and motivation to do something great.”

Soccer had been Hairston’s sport, but when he got to high school only a short time after losing his mother, he began to kick for a different sport. Coaches took notice.

By his junior year, Hairston was kicking for the varsity football team.

His coaches told him they felt he would play football in college and he should give up soccer. He followed their advice.

“I put in a lot of hard work, and it all came together when the LSU coaching staff called me and offered me a scholarship,” he said.

The new Tiger sought out the Catholic faith community at several parishes in Baton Rouge, and eventually settled in at one.

“I stuck at St. Jude,” he said. “I usually go to Mass there on the weekends, but I try to be involved at Christ the King on campus during the week.”

At Christ the King Catholic Church on LSU’s campus, Hairston left a lasting impression on the Rev. Matthew McCaughey.

“Oftentimes, students pass me by after Mass and won’t introduce themselves to me unless I speak first, but James came to me,” McCaughey said. “He is very inquisitive, and he has a zeal, a passion about his faith that is very relatable to his intensity for football.”

Hairston’s passionate, motivational attitude did not make him popular among his teammates as a freshman, however.

Ben Domingue, an offensive lineman for the Tigers from 2009 to 2012, recalled the first time he saw Hairston.

“I’ll never forget one practice when the freshmen were running sprints, and James, a kicker, was running and pushing the group to keep going,” Domingue said. “He challenged the team, especially his freshmen class, and a lot of guys didn’t like him at first, because of that.

“But once they saw how he was constantly doing the right thing and encouraging each guy during drills, their view of him changed.”

Hairston said that as he emerged as an outspoken leader on the team, he grew in his faith by watching and listening to the men around him.

“I grow in my relationship with God by seeing different guys live out their own individual faiths,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they are Catholic or not, it just helps me to see men who are defeating the odds week in and week out.”

Hairston said he works hard for his teammates, and that a selfless attitude truly characterizes the team.

“It’s like when Jesus said, ‘The greatest gift is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,’” Hairston said. “We don’t actually die for each other, obviously, but we sacrifice so much for each other on and off the field, coaches included.”

Teammates have seen him grow as a man of character and faith, and they have benefitted from his growth, too.

“I was blown away when I saw how James could talk to anyone, make anyone laugh, relate to anyone,” Domingue said. “I remember leading a Bible study at my apartment, and, by the end of it, James was leading and teaching us.”

Hairston hopes to take his skills to the NFL after college, and if he gets there he hopes to bring others to Christ through his actions.

“I don’t want to tell them about the great things in my life,” Hairston said. “I want to tell them about the struggles, and how I overcame them by giving everything to God.

“Faith allows people to have a calmness about themselves,” Hairston said. “It allows them to do great things.”

When 93,000 fans pack into Tiger Stadium on Saturday nights this fall, they may see Hairston do great things for the Tigers.

What they may not see is the crucifix he carries when running out of the tunnel and the sign of the cross he makes before each kick, keeping his faith consistent through it all.