Cheering on Aaron

A few recent highlights from Aaron Rodger's resume include:

  • Super Bowl XLV winner and game MVP
  • The 2011 NFL Most Valuable Player
  • Popularized the phrase "discount double check"
  • Honored by the state of Wisconsin with Aaron Rodgers Day (12/12/12)
  • Young Life Alumni and Friend

While many people might consider that last accomplishment as minor when compared to the others, Rodgers does not. “I had a ton of great experiences doing Young Life and enjoy supporting it to this day,” he said. “I love that Young Life’s mission of just being real with kids and meeting them where they are is continuing to go on.”

Like most Young Life alumni, Rodgers’ involvement began through a relationship. Matt Hock, the area director in Chico, Calif., was coaching Rodgers’ older brother, Luke, in baseball when he first met Rodgers in 1997. The following year, when Rodgers was a freshman at Pleasant Valley High School, the two struck up a friendship. When Luke invited his younger brother to club, the rest was history.

“Young Life club was always something I looked forward to,” Rodgers said, “and it just became a fun, safe environment. A lot of my friends went and we had a blast. Afterward we’d go to Jon & Bon’s or Baskin Robbins and get ice cream. I just loved Mondays at 7:27 wherever club was that week.”

The kickoff

Before becoming involved in Young Life, though, Rodgers grew up in a strong family of faith. “The most important part of my childhood was growing up in a home where our foundation was built around a faith in God and trusting Him for things that might not have seemed realistic many times. My dad went back to college in an effort to pay for his kids’ own college futures. We sacrificed a lot, came together as a family and leaned on our faith through that whole process. We trusted God for resources and guidance on where to live, where to go to school and how to get through those times, so I learned from a young age how important that faith was to my parents.”

The strong foundation his parents laid helped Rodgers eventually realize his own hunger for a relationship with Jesus. “You have a faith that’s your parents’, and you say the prayer to be saved, but at some point it’s got to be a personal relationship. To be honest with you, Young Life was a big part of that, because for the first time I saw how much fun Christians could have. I went from going to church on Sundays, knowing how important that was to my parents, to a desire to grow deeper in the Lord.”

“It was so fun to hang out with Matt because he was the coolest Christian I knew,” Rodgers continued. “I saw him on campus. Matt wanted to spend time with me and that was something I thought was really great. And that’s the goal of Young Life — that extra time with kids, that campus time, the hours you put in.

“What I’ve always loved and appreciated about Young Life is it’s not about what you look like or wear, or if you’re in the cool group. It’s just ‘we want you to come and have a good time.’ And the Gospel was presented in a way that’s not over your head, with analogies and demonstrations that made you think, ‘Jesus is someone I could really hang out with.’ Matt was great at using real life stories to let us know what the Gospel is really about. It didn’t matter if you grew up in the church or didn’t know who Jesus was.”

Road wins

Every Young Life leader looks for opportunities to share life experiences with kids. Hock and Rodgers fondly remember two special weeks they spent together. “On spring break during my sophomore and junior years,” Rodgers said, “I went to Mexico with Young Life and Amor ministries to build houses for underprivileged people down there. Those were two of the greater experiences of my life. Doing mission work and spending 15 hours in a van with 14 other people was how I spent my spring breaks and I had a ball.”

Hock agreed. “Those were some of the sweetest memories — having cabin times in these tents. We’d talk about who Jesus is, the purpose of life, seeing what people have in a Third World country, while being thankful for the stuff we have.”

Other shared experiences involved Campaigners on Friday mornings before school. “We did a small group with Aaron and his friends,” Hock said. “We’d walk across the street to the Donut Nook and get maple bars and open up Scripture. There was a lot of growth in my walk with Jesus and hopefully in their lives as well.”

Camp is also a memory, but with mixed emotions. While Rodgers loved winter weekends at Woodleaf, there is a summer trip he missed. “Summer camp was always difficult because of football. I think my one regret from high school is from the summer going into my junior year, when Young Life in Chico had the opportunity to go to Malibu. I really wanted to go. However, it fell on the same week as football camp and coach basically said, ‘If you go [to Malibu], you’re going to go into training camp as the number two guy.’ Looking back now I see football camp wasn’t that important,” he laughed. “I wish I had gone to Malibu!”

From leading songs to leading the Packers

In his freshman year at Butte Community College, Rodgers became a junior leader at club and loved the process of learning the philosophy behind leading a Young Life club. “I had a blast seeing the other side — how the leaders put together a club, picked songs, you know, all the fun things that when you’re a kid, you don’t see.”

One of the parts of leadership Rodgers enjoyed most was selecting the music for club. “I had a couple of go-to songs. ‘It’s Amazing’ was one. When I learned how to play guitar one of the songs I wanted to learn how to play was ‘One Tin Soldier,’” he laughed. “That was one of my favorite songs and still is to this day. And I always enjoyed ‘Humble Thyself.’ All the guys used to try and use a really deep voice because of the guy/girl part in it! I love music and I loved leading songs.

Speaking in front of people has always been a little uncomfortable for me, but I always loved being up front for songs or mixers.”

Even then, Rodgers was a quick learner and a humble leader. “He brought authenticity and genuineness,” Hock said. “He was a total team player; things were starting to look up for him in regards to moving up as a quarterback, but he would never use his status for leverage or preferential treatment. He just looked to serve and began to live into that.”

In the years since, that service has carried over to life in the NFL, Hock said. “Aaron understands relationships and the platform Jesus has given him. He doesn’t always have to verbally proclaim he’s a follower of Jesus. He doesn’t let the left hand know what the right hand’s doing in terms of giving. He doesn’t give to get attention. He gives out of the goodness of who he is and what Jesus has done for him. That may be through giving his time or finances or an experience to someone. He really understands the platform he has right now and he uses it to bring life to people. He understands that God’s economy is relationships.”

Knowing the power of these relationships is what spurs Rodgers on to support the work of Young Life in Chico and Green Bay.

“What I’ve learned over my time in the NFL is it’s really important to remember where I came from. It’s then I remember the struggles I had when I was in high school on and off the field, just trying to fit in and figure out who I wanted to be. I know there are millions of kids out there who have dreams and are trying to figure out life, whether that’s in sports, educationally, vocationally, whatever they want to do. The more opportunities I have to align myself with programs and organizations that really care about kids, I’m going to do that. I work heavily with a group out here who helps kids with cancer (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) that’s near and dear to my heart. I want those kids to have the same opportunities I had.

“I support Young Life as well because I want kids to be around people like Matt who really care about them. I don’t think there’s enough good role models, especially for men growing up. So many haven’t had the foundation I had, with a positive male figure in their life. And the more Matt Hocks we can have in the world, the more kids are going to have those dreams and hopes renewed and reenergized. It’s been fun to still be a part of what Young Life’s doing and stay involved financially, making sure they’re getting an opportunity to carry out that incredible mission of reaching kids.”

On fame and faith

Today Hock shakes his head when Rodgers appears on TV. “I still view him as the kid in the tent helping build houses, laughing and cracking jokes. So it’s surreal to see him in commercials and magazines.” Hock’s commitment to his friend extends to Sundays on the couch. “It’s definitely fun to watch him. I haven’t missed any play Aaron’s had in the NFL. I sit and watch every single game and cheer for him.”

What truly excites Hock, however, is how Rodgers handles himself off the field. “Money, fame and popularity are not what give him life. What impresses me is seeing him visit a little girl who’s in remission from cancer. Out of the goodness of his heart he went and surprised her and did whatever she wanted to do that day — kick the soccer ball around, play video games. Again he doesn’t do it for any type of recognition, but because he gets to participate with Jesus in the redemption of the world.”

When living out his faith, Rodgers embodies the phrase “earning the right to be heard,” a model he saw firsthand in Hock. “St. Francis of Assisi said, ‘Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary use words.’ That’s what Matt did. He loved us where we were at. He showed us the kind of love Jesus gave. He wasn’t hanging out with all the cool kids and the rich politicians. He was hanging out with the lowest of the low and that’s what he’d always bring it back to: it’s not what you look like, or what you wear, or what group you’re in or what clique you’re in or what sport you play or don’t play, or how well you’re doing in school, it’s that you’re loved. And Matt was always able to live that out. I think as you get older you gain a greater appreciation for people who genuinely live out their faith like that, and that’s what I’m trying to do in my own life.”

Hock’s goal with Rodgers, like every kid he works with, is to make a difference in his life long-term. “Some of these kids will stand next to you when you make your marriage vows; when you tell people your wife’s pregnant, these are the people you call. I view Aaron as I do any of my Young Life kids — my job’s to cheer them on in life. My goal with Aaron is to keep trying to put Jesus in front of him. I send books and encouraging texts to him. I just remind him he’s God’s beloved in the midst of people telling him he’s something or he’s not. My job is to keep reminding him of who he is in the eyes of Jesus.”

When asked about the incredible turn his life has taken over the last few years, Rodgers responded, “I’ve learned a lot about myself and relationships and how to surround myself with people who are good for me in where I’m at in my life right now. I need enough people who can support me, but also tell me what I need to hear, not what they think is going to make me happy.”

You can be sure Matt Hock, who has been with him throughout the journey, will continue to be one of those voices for years to come.

Aaron Rodgers is one of thousands of alumni still intimately involved with Young Life. To visit the Alumni and Friends website, join, update your information and reconnect with your Young Life friends, go to