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Faith Goes Beyond Sports for Garza and Uzo

May 21, 2016 - United Soccer League Championship (USL) - Phoenix Rising FC News Release

"Faith" is a word oft-used in sports. Whether it's a fan having faith in his or her team coming back from a large deficit or a player having faith his or her teammate will be in the right spot at the right time, "faith" is a tenet of the sports word.

But for some of those in sports, whether on the pitch or in the stands, faith is more than just hoping hard work and preparation pays off.

It's about a relationship with God.

Rookie defender Uchenna Uzo, a Nigerian native, was born and raised in a religious home and uses that strength on and off the field on a daily basis.

"As a kid, my parents took me to church and I definitely believed in God," Uzo said. "But it wasn't until I hit high school that I really wanted to know Him personally. My parents raised me the right way in my mind and gave me a religious foundation that has got me to where I am today. They send me scripture every morning as motivation. They never let me forget where I'm from and who I'm really playing for."

Being so far from his family that still resides in Nigeria, Uzo said that he depends on his faith more than anything.

"Having such a strong faith, I know that everything that happens is God's will," Uzo said. "I think that's why I don't stress about a lot of things. I trust his plan."

That same faith can be seen in one of the team's starting forwards, Sam Garza.

"My faith was something that I definitely grew into," Garza said. "I went to church growing up, but I just went because my parents made me. I didn't really have that need to know God personally until I played in San Jose."

From 2012-2014, Garza played for the San Jose Earthquakes. It was there that he said he first formed his relationship with God and hasn't stopped working on it since.

"I wasn't playing much when I was in San Jose and I really started to doubt myself," Garza said. "I was losing sight of who I was as a person and just felt really lost. Thankfully, there was a group of guys on my team that were pretty religious and invited me to church, and it completely changed my outlook. I realized I couldn't do this by myself, so I turned to Jesus."

Uzo and Garza spoke about the difficulties that come with following a religious path day in and day out, but both also said they wouldn't have it any other way.

"My faith is still a work in progress," Garza said. "It's all about baby steps. And though it's definitely tough to live out every day, having the relationship with Him that I do is worth it."

And like all good athletes, both men have their pre-game rituals down to a science.

For Uzo, it's reading passages from his Bible in the morning, talking to his parents on the phone before getting to the field, and praying for his team during the National Anthem. For Garza, it's just about making sure that he prays before the match begins, and again when the game is over.

And for both of them, their strong faith provides the motivation and determination to give their best effort on the field every single game day.

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United Soccer League Championship Stories from May 21, 2016

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