What does it take to have the heart of a champion?

There were two standing ovations offered by a crowd of 300 people at the March 10th Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Heart of Champions Banquet.

Don Mauldin, the outgoing director of the North Central Florida FCA, was celebrated with a surprise trip for two as thanks for his 17 years of leadership of the group that unites two passions: faith and athletics.

The other standing ovation erupted as University of Florida Head Football Coach Dan Mullen delivered insight into his leadership as a coach and believer in faith as a driving force. 

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Mullen took to the stage at The Family Church in Gainesville after an evening of fundraising that included dessert donations, raffles and a lively auction conducted by Florida Champion Auctioneer Chad “Cracker” Johnson.

Johnson was able to wrangle the crowd into raising those bids that went as high as $2,000 for skybox tickets to the upcoming Gators vs. LSU football game and $1,000 for a football signed by Mullen himself.

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“It’s a great honor to be here tonight,” Mullen said as he revealed that he attended Catholic school his whole life and he  joked that, “It wasn’t always FCA at Catholic school but the nuns would get after you.”

Mullen went on to emphasize what he believes the purpose of organizations such as the FCA serve and how he challenges himself to be a champion.

“I try to spend a lot of time self reflecting,” he said. “As a coach, as a mentor, as a teacher, as a parent, as a husband. As a competitor, I’m always trying to get better.”

He challenged the crowd: “Find ways how to improve yourself and do better.”

Then he asked them to find the answer to the question, “Why do you do what you do?”

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“I’m one of the luckiest people on the face of the earth to be the head coach of the Florida Gators,” he said. “Why am I a coach?

“I love to win,” he answered. “Winning gives you these unbelievable highs.”

But there is more to that, he added. “I have the opportunity to make a positive impact on young people’s lives. 

“And that is something that sticks with you. That is extremely rewarding as a person.”

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Mullen asked the crowd made up of athletes, coaches and FCA supporters to think back to people who have influenced their lives as he remembered his second grade teacher. He said he didn’t remember who won the Super Bowl or who was President when he was in second grade, but he remembers his teacher.

He said coaches and teachers have more impact on the lives of people they lead than they might know.

“I get to realize that,” he said. “I get to go out and make a positive impact on people’s lives.

“Think how blessed I am that I got to coach a young guy named Tim Tebow,” he said. “You may not have heard of him,” he joked. “He’s this baseball player, he played minor league baseball, he’s Demi’s husband.

“If you look at that, national championships come and go, wins and losses can come and go, but I had that opportunity to make a positive impact on Tim Tebow’s life. Help him accomplish his goals to achieve the platform he has to go out and change lives around the world.

“What are you going to be remembered for?” he asked the crowd. “The impact of teaching, coaching volunteering, working with FCA. That’s what’s rewarding.

Being a champion

Mullen then discussed what he thinks leads to being a champion.

“Being a champion is not sometimes a thing,” he said. “It’s a way of life. You’re either are a champion or you’re not.

“Champion in the classroom, weight room, how you eat and take care of your health? 

“Your faith is that way,” he said. “I’m a champion on Sunday when I go to church. If you want to be a champion in God are you living your life that way?

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“I love to win. Winning gives you these unbelievable highs. But there is more to that. I have the opportunity to make a positive impact on young people’s lives.” 

“Champions win because they live their lives like champions in every single way and eventually they’re going to come out on top, and that is how you should try to live your life as well.”

What it takes to be successful

Mullen said he is unique because of his long run of 13 years as a coach in the SEC and said he likes to read articles that quote his players. “I love to read our players’ quotes to see what message they are putting out,” he said. 

Mullen’s message for success: Hard work. 

“Doing more than you think is possible,” he said. “It starts with hard work, having no fear to do what’s asked. Give your maximum effort, give more than anybody else.”

Beyond hard work, Mullen emphasized that you have to make sacrifices.

“Surrender yourself for a bigger cause,” he said. “The team is more important than individual needs.

“Be committed,” he added. “The path to success is a long journey. Outside forces can’t interfere with my accomplishments.”

Mullen encouraged listeners to “Take risks if you want to see the view God has for you,” as he gave an analogy of climbing a mountain to see the view.

And he left the crowd with his thoughts about faith.

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“Faith is a really unique thing,” he said. “Faith is believing in something you can’t see.

“What can you accomplish with faith? Can you become a college graduate, a big-time athlete, a doctor, lawyer, teacher, politician, own your own business one day?

“When you embrace God in your life, you start to get an understanding of faith,” he said.

“Faith can give me a vision and give me belief of what I can do in life.

“I look at the platform I’ve been given and think about how blessed I am to do the things I am doing,” he added.

Mullen then thanked the FCA for letting him share his ideas.

“I thank the FCA for what they do. How they expose young people and give young people an idea and a foundation of faith in their life to go achieve the goals that they want to achieve.

“Because without a foundation in faith, how do you know?,” Mullen asked.

“Have a great night. Go Gators,” he said as he left the stage and the crowd stood applauding as he weaved his way to the door shaking hands along the way.

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