Mission with a Kicker

Arkansas punter Dylan Breeding had to promise there would be more soccer balls sent to replace the one he booted down a mountain in a Guatemala prison.

Dylan Breeding never wants to out-kick the coverage the way he did this summer in Guatemala.

The Arkansas punter booted the only soccer ball in a prison game with guards over a 30-foot wall and over a cliff.

"Obviously, that ended the game," Breeding said. "Looking back, that was not a good situation. That could have gotten us hurt."

The game matched a Fellowship of Christian Athletes mission team against the prison guards. Tyler McMahan, the FCA campus leader at Arkansas, said it was a funny moment. But it didn't last long.

"We didn't realize the gravity of the situation," McMahan said. "The ball was owned by a lady who is the leader of the toughest gang in the prison. That was their only soccer ball. We quickly promised that our next mission team, due in a couple of weeks, would bring them some more soccer balls to replace the one Dylan kicked down the mountain."

The prison guards seemed to handle that all right. Plus, they had whipped their bigger foes handily.

"We did score twice on them," Breeding said. "But they got about 10 on us. We were actually glad the ball went over the wall. It was the end of the day for us, and we were all super tired. The guards weren't. We'd played a long time, and they just wanted to keep going.

"I wasn't trying to do that. I was just trying to score a goal and kick it as hard as I could. It went a little high, though."

McMahan said it was an amusing sight, the matchup between Razorbacks athletes and the guards.

"We had some players like Dylan, who is 6-1," McMahan said. "The guards, they were all about 5-2. But they were all about like pro soccer players. Very skilled. I think they played every day."

The trip was hardly play for the FCA team. It was serious business from the start. McMahan took them to the toughest, most dififcult areas of Guatemala City. They went to ghettos and an area called the dump, a poverty-stricken area that is built on the actual city dump.

There were trips to three prisons, all in hopes of preaching the gospel.

"We put them in tough situations, but we had great relationships with leadership within the areas we visited," McMahan said. "The lady who took us in has been in those areas, and we were in good hands."

Breeding is the top punter in the Southeastern Conference, at 44.6 yards per punt. The Hoover, Ala., product said he was all for everything that they did, including the three visits to prisons. He'd been on two mission trips with FCA to Arkansas prisons. But this was different.

"These prisons were dirty, filthy," he said. "The guards had machine guns and grenade launchers. The prison in Arkansas is pretty nice by comparison. We went in the barracks of the Guatemala prison and saw the actual cells. The beds were nasty. Old and nasty."

They preached the Gospel in areas where open sewers were common. They saw the ugly side of Guatemala City, the dump where children ran without shoes or pants.

"I saw children running in that mess," he said. "Some were just crying."

But many were not. They ran to Breeding and his FCA teammates looking for a hug.

"They didn't know us," he said. "They welcomed us. They'd pull on our legs, jump into our arms. They wanted us to hold them. Their eyes were lit up."

After their tour of one of the prisons, the warden asked if some members of their FCA team could meet with government officials as part of a committee looking at prison improvements. Rhett Richardson, a former Arkansas deep snapper, and junior gymnast Amanda Siebert agreed to the meeting.

"Turned out, it was with the Guatemala minister of defense," McMahan said. "Rhett's father works in prison ministry at home, and he wanted to do it. So they talked to him about maybe adding a craft workshop to make things better in one prison.

"Rhett had seen that male prisoners were abusing women. He said, ‘No, they don't need crafts, they need a wall placed to keep the populations separate. He drew them a picture of how he would set it up.

"The minister asked if Rhett could come to the next meeting and they would figure out how to do that. We were headed home the next week, so that wouldn't work.

"We just were amazed how God could use a deep snapper to influence that government.

"There were sessions in the prison where the FCA team, with the help of a translator, taught the Bible.

"We got real encouragement from one segment of the prison population," McMahan said. "When we were leaving, one of the women told us, ‘We look forward to your group coming back next week. We want to learn more.' That was tough for us to tell them we were going back to America the next week. They thought we were rock stars."

But Breeding doesn't want to be a rock star. He wants to be a teammate. He wants to lead by example. He wants to make a difference in lives.

"Obviously, our goal as a football team is to win games, win championships," he said. "I want to do that. We all do.

"But this trip changed me. It made me want to come back to my teammates and be there for them when they need help. Some of them came from a pretty rough background. They've been through a lot. I haven't. I came from a nice home with parents who could provide a lot for me. My parents were able to send me here as a walk-on. It's nice that I earned a scholarship, but I was able to make it two seasons without a scholarship."

What was the biggest takeaway from the mission trip?

"I observed a lot," he said. "The trip to the dump was one. The children there didn't know who we were, just total strangers. But they loved on us. They wanted love back. I came home with an attitude that I should show childlike faith and put that into everything I do.

"Then there was a trip to a ghetto church. We walked down alleys that were no wider than a table. It was dark and we were tripping over the concrete blocks. It was a horrible area. There were tin shacks, tents. The tin shacks were just tiny. But the celebration in the church was real. They sang worship songs — with four trumpets — for one solid hour. Then they went crazy with prayer, all at the same time. There was crying and passion. We went on this trip to share the Gospel and we did that. But we came back changed."

The change includes less stress in everything, including football.

"I don't feel pressure when I go into a stadium," he said. "When you see people living in a tin shack with flies everywhere, doing what I do in football isn't hard. There are thousands who would trade with me. Those people in Guatemala have it difficult. I don't."

There won't be any pressure Saturday when Breeding lines up against LSU. Yes, pressure might be when you've just booted the only soccer ball in the prison off the mountain.

Dylan Breeding (left) joins team leaders in mission work in Guatemala.

Dylan Breeding with a new friend in Guatemala.

Dylan Breeding runs with the ball on a fake punt against Alabama.

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