Michigan State Football Star Joel Foreman is a Monster on the Gridiron and a Gentle Giant Off Of It!

Hondo S. Carpenter

Joel Foreman is a star on the football field. What makes him special is the man he is off it. Strengthened by his faith, driven by his love of family, and motivated by his brother Dave, the heart under the pads is even more incredible than the play on the gridiron.

The Spartan Nation is spoiled by knowing that Joel Foreman, one of the best guards in the country, will line up on the left side of the offensive line. He is massive with muscles hulking off his body that make him look like he is a California Redwood trunk rather than a Highland, Michigan, youngster. Foreman is driven, passionate, and plays football with a killer instinct that has left many Big Ten defenders in his wake. 

Praised nationally as a great football player, that really isn’t Joel Foreman. To understand Joel, you have to go back home to Highland, Michigan, you have to go back to his roots. This young man is strong in character and faith, and underneath all the pads, muscles, and drive to win a national title, there is a quiet young man. He’s really just a country boy with a heart for people and zeal for life.

I have had the pleasure of developing a friendship with this young man over his time at MSU and as much as he enjoys football it isn’t what he is or who he is. 

During the summer of 2009, Foreman and I had a conversation about motivation and life. It was not a media interview, it was after a practice sitting on a bench and it was two men talking. We always talk about deer hunting and politics, but then as tears began to fill his eyes, Foreman opened up to me. 

“You want to know what really motivates me? My brother-in-law Dave. He is really my brother. He was in an accident. A guy hit him riding his motorcycle and he lost his arm and leg last year. I don’t care how hot or cold it is out there, how hard I work in there (he pointed to the weight room), or what happens in the classroom, that is easy. Dave means so much to me and I think about that when I think I have it bad.” 

Dave Morantes came into Foreman’s life when he was a freshman in high school. Morantes was the big powerful football player at the time. Foreman had been moved up to JV because of his burgeoning talent even at that time. Morantes used to offer Foreman rides home because he wanted to, in his word, “Get in good with his sister Jessica.”

When he dropped off the youngster at home he would give the younger Foreman instructions like, “Tell your sister I said eh.” 

Even though Morantes used Foreman to get to his sister, he soon got even more out of the deal. The two shared a mutual faith in Christ, a passion for deer hunting, and a love of football. Soon enough, they also shared their love and adoration for Jessica. 

Joel says of his sister, “She is so special to me. I get strength from both of them. How they both handled the accident.” This massive man got emotional on that bench when reliving to me the love his sister showed his friend, her fiancée, at the time by saying, “She was unconditional in her love. I was broken up about Dave, we all were, and I just can’t find words for what watching her go through and how she did it meant to me.”

Jessica reflected about the time right after the accident and said, “When his accident happened I was with my sister and we were waiting for him and he never showed. We saw all the EMS and had that gut feeling. They weren’t sure if he was going to make it. I had people ask me if I was still going to marry him? Of course I will. I didn’t want to marry him for two legs and two arms, I wanted to marry his heart and the man he is. I drew on the strength of my faith that my parents shared with Joel and I our whole lives. Joel was broken and he and Dave needed me.”

That day changed Joel Foreman forever. That day changed his outlook on life. His hunting partner, his friend, and future brother-in-law lay broken, dismembered. “I thought a lot about him not maybe being able to hunt again, play football again. I was just coming off of my redshirt year. I used that. I dedicated however many football days I had left for him.” It was that very year Foreman became a freshman All American.

How Dave handled the accident inspired Joel, and opened his eyes to the blessing Dave’s outlook on life meant to him. Foreman said, “That football camp was my best camp. I remember coming back and checking into the dorm for camp. I was upset I had to leave. He was on my mind the whole camp. All I could think about was how strong he was. The moment he came through, the first thing he said when he realized what had happened to him was I have a chance. I am going to get prosthetics. I can fix my bow. I am going to do all that I did and he has. Just weeks after the accident he was out in a blind hunting. He is a miracle.”

Dave has been a very important part of Joel’s life. It would be unfair to tell this story without mentioning a man very important to how Dave grew up. His father, Mr. Morantes, recently spoke to Spartan Nation. Before talking to him Dave told me, “He practices tough love. He may not show that soft love, but I don’t think I could have made it through this without how my dad loved me and his toughness. I can tell you that when you talk to him, he may not say much. He isn’t a very emotional man.” Dave was wrong!

“You’re going to make me start crying. I come from a special upbringing, a special man and woman. They are a big part of me. Dave loved his Grandfather Fred as did I because he was a special man. You get the warm love from mom, but the tough love from your dad.” We paused as Mr. Morantes gently cried and when he could he continued, “My boy is a special young man, like his Grandfather. I am so proud of him.”

Rick Foreman, Jessica and Joel’s dad, reflects on what his family has been through. He told Spartan Nation, “We raised them to love the Lord. Every family goes through trials. We taught them that God is steady. His love never changes. Most of all, you can rely on him. We tried to teach them. To see them reach out to the Lord in tough times was rewarding. You can teach them, but you can’t make them love the Lord and to see it, was humbling.”

Jessica doesn’t share a love of hunting with her husband and brother, but she does have something much more rewarding. “I am grateful that I married someone my brother is so close to. Both of them mean the world to me. I just had a baby one month ago. If anything happened to me they would have each other and they both would look out for my baby.”

Dave got his buck and so did Joel, but they have a lot more than that. Dave says, “#1 is our faith. We have such strong faith and we know that we can do all things through Christ. There have literally been times that Joel and my wife have said you won’t be a cripple. They wouldn’t let me give up on myself.”

Dave tells a story about the size of Foreman’s heart. “Joel feels that pain. He says that I inspire him, but he inspires me. There was a time I was hopping, trying to learn to walk with one leg. Joel was upset and he threw me over his shoulder and carried me. When he got tired, he stopped and set me down, but picked me right back up. I couldn’t ask for a better brother, someone who literally carried me on his back, over his shoulder. It is a wonderful feeling. I am 270 pounds and six feet tall, but on that day I felt the best I ever have. That meant so much to me.”

“I have had my bad days and I don’t want to get up and face the world. I have hunting and when I am hunting, I am with God and his majesty around what he created and it brings peace to me. I appreciate all that I have and not what I don’t. I got my buck. I was with him when he got his. I have a great brother, a great wife and baby, I have a great life.”

Foreman has grown up since he came to East Lansing. He has learned that relying on God has helped him develop into the young man he has become. Dave Morantes’s accident played a big part in that. When he takes the field, the Spartan Nation can see two things written on his wrists. Foreman explained what each meant.

“I decided to put his initials DM right on the tape of my left wrist and always have. It is hard whenever I am in a game facing something hard, I think of him. Dave inspires me. I never want to be doing anything that he isn’t close to me and when I am in a huddle on the line I think about what he has been through and it motivates me.”

On his right wrist he wears AO1. “AO1, it means an Audience of One. Doing what you do to glorify God. I don’t do this for other people. I put AO1 on my wrist. God has given me my opportunities to have the family I have, but also to be a football player. The only reason I have what I do is because God gave it to me. I want to remember that the most important thing I want people to see when they look at how I play football and live my life is my relationship with Jesus. The only audience that matters is Him. If I make sure that he is pleased, then I know everything else falls in place.”

Looking back, Foreman and his father both credit his choice of picking MSU to play football for laying a foundation.

“We didn’t pick MSU. That doesn’t mean we didn’t love it. We picked Coach Dantonio. As a father I was moved by his heart and his faith. I trusted him and the environment of his program with my son,” was how Rick Foreman looked back on the choice.

Joel joined the Spartans because of a man he believed in and admired.  “We really did pick Coach D even more than MSU and I always loved MSU. He is a man who lives his faith. It is real to him. He is tough and demanding, but Coach D has impacted me to be real and genuine in my life and my relationship with God by his actions. I love Coach D and I can tell you, it isn’t because we are 11-1. It is because of the example he is.”

It is normal to cheer for your favorite Spartan stars. Clearly, the crowd loves and appreciates the effort from Foreman. What you now know is that under all the muscles, the pads, and the brute force trauma he inflicts on his opponents, is a massive heart. That heart is bigger than any muscle on his body. It beats for his faith, his family, and for football.

This article is reprinted from Spartan Nation Magazine.  If you don’t get it, the good news is that you can and it is FREE.  Simply click on the email Hondo ICON at www.SpartanNation.com and put in the subject line Spartan Nation Magazine.  Include your name and you can start getting this monthly magazine.