Professional sports can be a lucrative career for the best of athletes, and it takes talent and hard work for an athlete to stay at the top of his or her game. For a star player in, say, the NFL, to walk away in the prime of his career takes a compelling reason. Khari Willis has the best possible reason.

The Indianapolis Colts starting safety is retiring from the NFL to pursue a call into the ministry. The 26-year-old, who just completed his third season, announced his retirement in a post on Instagram on Thursday.

“With much prayer and deliberation, I have elected to officially retire from the NFL as I endeavor to devote the remainder of my life to the further advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Willis wrote. “I thank all of my family, friends and those who have supported me on this journey thus far and I look forward to your continued support through the next phase of my life. I am both humbled and excited to pursue the holy call that God has for my life which brings me much joy and purpose. Thank you all for your support over the years…”

Willis was a fourth-round draft pick in 2019, and he played college ball for the Michigan State Spartans. ESPN reports that Willis “finishes his career with 219 tackles and four interceptions while starting 33 out of the 39 games he played in.”

“Indianapolis was so sure of Willis’s ability at the time that the Colts traded up 20 spots to get him — Willis took over as the team’s starting strong safety midway through his rookie season, establishing himself as a solid starter with remarkable leadership ability,” writes Joel A. Erickson at the Indianapolis Star.

Colts head coach Frank Reich, himself a committed, outspoken Christian, is excited about Willis’ new journey.

“We’re thankful and appreciative of Khari’s contributions to the Colts both on and off the field over the last three seasons,” Reich said in a statement. “Khari’s character, leadership, and professionalism will be missed in our locker room as will his play on Sundays. I admire and respect his decision to transition into the next stage of his life and ministry and my prayers will always be with him.”

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The Colts had already worked to solidify the safety position prior to Willis’ announcement, signing a free agent and drafting a player this spring, so Reich and his team are ready to make up for Willis’ absence.

It’s an admirable, selfless move for Willis to walk away from the NFL to follow God’s call into the ministry. And he walks away from what could have been a big payday had he stayed in the league.

“The 26-year-old starter was headed into the fourth and final season of his rookie contract, placing him less than a year away from his first shot at free agency and a potentially significant raise in his second contract,” Erickson points out.

I hope you’ll join me in praying for Willis as he bravely embarks on a new career serving the Lord.

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