CHARLESTON — At first glance, Luke Vercollone seems like any other hip young adult. He’s got the hair, the clothes and the accessories. But on closer inspection, there is a major difference.
He wears a necklace with a cross, a thin silver ring engraved with a Christian fish symbol, a green wristband sports the acronym WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) and each smooth wooden square that makes up two more bracelets bears the image of a saint.
It’s subtle and quiet, like Vercollone himself, but together it delivers a strong message about what is important to the 25-year-old professional soccer player.
“I’m trying to live the faith the best way that I can,” he told The Miscellany in an interview.
Jerry White, director of the Office of Youth and Young Adults Ministry for the Diocese of Charleston, knows how hard it is for that particular age group to stay true to their beliefs. White believes it is especially difficult for Vercollone and others who live in the seductive world of professional athletes.
Vercollone plays mid-field for the Charleston Battery and spent two years with the New England Revolution of Major League Soccer. He acknowledged that playing professional soccer puts him in a worldly atmosphere where a lot is given to the players, not only material items, but fan devotion and admiration. Also, there is the God-given gift of talent which usually gives athletes great confidence, he said.
“With these gifts comes greater responsibility and greater temptation,” he said. “If you don’t have a solid foundation, it’s easy to get caught up in that lifestyle.”
Vercollone credits his parents with his early formation, but said following his family’s faith was not the same as accepting it as his own.
When he started his freshman year at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, he realized it was his choice whether to “pick up the cross and follow Christ” through the narrow gate or follow others through the wider gate.
It would have been easy to leave the cross for someone else. A walk-on for the Seton Hall Pirates in the Big East Conference, he had practice and games on top of his classes. But God kept calling to him.
During his senior year, he found the Fellowship of Catholic University Students and said that really lit the fire of faith for him. Even after graduation and being drafted into MLS, he continued to grow more passionate about Catholicism.
Now, Vercollone spends most of his time off the field as an emissary for the Lord. Not that he would ever call himself that, but his actions speak volumes.
He is a member of Catholic Athletes for Christ speaking bureau and presents a positive role model for children and young adults.
Vercollone attends daily Mass and takes a leadership role in several Bible study groups, teaches youth soccer and helps with youth group and retreats at Blessed Sacrament.
“He’s very devout,” said Joe Burgess, a director of youth ministry. “He has a great enthusiasm for everything he’s involved with.”
One thing Vercollone knows he wants in the future is a wife and children.
“I want to raise a family,” he said. “I don’t know what I want to do for work. I put a lot of faith in the Holy Spirit to help me, guide me with that. For now, I just really enjoy playing (soccer). I’m thankful for that.”
Vercollone has played soccer since he was four years old and prefers playing with the Battery in the USL First Division league over sitting on the bench with MLS.
One avenue he is considering for his future is coaching. In preparation for that possibility, he plans to obtain an A-level license, which will allow him to be competitive for collegiate positions.
But that is a decision for the future. For now, he is starting a Younger Adult Club with his girlfriend, Andrea Rutherford, and some other couples. He also spends time with his friend and mentor, Father Robert Fix, a retired priest for the diocese.
The important thing for Vercollone is to live his life as an example and plant some seeds along the way.
“Nothing too loud,” he said “I stay consistent with prayer and try to keep God number one.”