How a boy and his Bible verses are inspiring Iowa's C.J. Beathard

Chad Leistikow

INDIANAPOLIS – C.J. Beathard has gone from unknown Iowa quarterback to college football celebrity in a matter of three months. But as the stage gets bigger, the 22-year-old remains unflappable.

He admits that underneath his calm presence – whether answering questions from Sports Illustrated or reading defenses in the fourth quarter of a one-possession game – he feels pressure.

“There will always be pressure as an athlete in any sport,” he says, “and you’ve just got to know how to handle that pressure.”

C.J. Beathard is 13-0 as a starting quarterback. Only two others in college football have done that since 2010: Auburn's Cam Newton and Florida State's Jameis Winston.

Athletes are often asked about whether they have specific rituals or routines before competing at the highest level. For Beathard, a source of strength and peace before each game this season has come via text message from a 14-year-old boy he’s met twice.

As unlikely as the Hawkeyes’ 12-0 football season has been, so is the friendship that Beathard struck up with Jay Knabe – the oldest of six children who live in an RV with their traveling parents.

Faith is a big deal to Beathard. That’s where Jay comes in.

“I promise, he knows the Bible inside and out,” Beathard says.

The two first met at Iowa’s spring game April 25 when Jay asked for an autograph on a poster he’d drawn of six Hawkeye players, including Beathard. Jay's a big Hawkeye fan – has been since the days of Ricky Stanzi – and was particularly drawn to Beathard because "you can tell he really cares about people," the boy says.

At the spring game, the two talked for a few minutes. Beathard asked Jay to send him a copy of the poster. Jay did, along with a letter “letting him know what an encouragement he was to me. After that, we headed back on the road.”

A photographed copy of the poster that Jay Knabe, 14, had signed by C.J. Beathard and several other Hawkeyes at the April 25 spring game. Knabe included his phone number and a letter with the poster and Beathard called him ... the two have remained friends in faith since.

A short time later, Jay heard from his grandmother, Judith Knabe of Iowa City, that Beathard had tried to contact Jay through a phone number he included on the poster. Of course, Jay returned the call of the Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback. They talked about faith, family and being home-schooled – three things they have in common.

“At the end of our conversation, he asked me a favor,” Jay says, “that before each game this fall, I would text him a verse from the Bible.”

So, he has. Every week.

And he’ll do it again before Saturday night’s Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium between No. 4 Iowa and No. 5 Michigan State.

What will this week’s verse be? Jay says he prays each week from his family’s RV – his father (an Iowa alum), James, is a professional trumpet player – for guidance.

Before the Sept. 12 game at Iowa State, it was Isaiah 60:1: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Beathard was named Big Ten offensive player of the week after his third college start, a 31-17 Iowa victory.)

For Beathard, the texts are part of the larger picture of his Christian faith. On Thursdays each week, he attends a Bible study at offensive lineman Ike Boettger’s house. On Fridays, there is an optional pastor’s message for players that Beathard said is well-attended. On Saturdays, things become more internal.

“I read Bible Scriptures in the hotel before we get on the bus,” Beathard says. “And there’s a book called 'Jesus Daily' that I read a page from before each game.”

Jay Knabe, 14, and C.J. Beathard are pictured after Iowa's 31-15 win over Maryland on Oct. 31. Knabe tries to catch Beathard's games when he can as his family travels the country in their RV.

Why is this important to the first-ever 12-0 regular season in Hawkeye football history? Because Beathard has been the unquestioned leader of this team that renewed its fundamental principles in January. The players follow the actions of their undefeated, all-Big Ten quarterback.

“It’s not necessarily his personality,” all-Big Ten center Austin Blythe says, “but just the way he carries himself on the football field and the way he plays.

“That’s why we love him so much.”

Beathard’s leadership has especially resonated while he’s played through a painful groin injury for nearly two months. Some Saturdays, he’s been dragging his right leg around the field while leading Iowa to victory. When he dove over a pile of Indiana defenders Nov. 7 for an important touchdown, his teammates took notice.

“He’s been playing hurt. We know he’s been doing that this whole season,” senior wide receiver Tevaun Smith says. “When somebody else gets that nick or gets hurt, it’s, ‘Well, C.J. is playing on it, so why aren’t you?’ It kind of gets us going.”

Iowa won that Indiana game in early November, 35-27, to improve to 9-0.

Jay’s text message that day was from Hebrews 6:11-12: “Keep at it until the finish. Don’t drag your feet. Be like those who stay the course with committed faith and then get everything promised to them.”

This Saturday, with a spot in the College Football Playoff at stake, Beathard will go through his routine. He is comforted in knowing a text from Jay will come.

It was during an interview after Iowa’s Oct. 3 win at Wisconsin that Beathard first mentioned Jay as an inspiration. The Hawkeyes had improved to 5-0 that afternoon in Madison, and Iowa’s quarterback answered questions – laid-back, in his Southern accent – with honesty and confidence of what was to come.

“There’s a lot of guys on this team that have a Christian belief,” he said then. “We’re coming together. There’s a lot of good things going on.”


James and Deb Knabe both attended Iowa. James is a trumpet player/teacher, and Knabe home-schools their six children: Jay, 14; Philip, 13; Carissa, 12; David, 10; Jonathan, 7; Stephen, 5. They live and travel the country in an RV ("It's cozy, but we make it work," Deb says.) They document their travels and efforts to bless others on the website


Who: Iowa (12-0) vs. Michigan State (11-1)

When, where: 7:17 p.m., Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

TV: Fox (Announcers: Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt)

The line: Michigan State is favored by 3.5

At stake: The winner will almost certainly get a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff (Cotton or Orange bowls); the loser is likely ticketed for the Rose, Fiesta or Peach.