49er athletes use sports and faith as a platform

Before embarking on the first-ever season of football at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a pair of Catawba County natives and former prep standouts gave back to those less fortunate.

Matt Johnson and Zach Bumgarner both traveled to the small town of Tecate, Mexico for a mission trip during the end of June.

The duo was part of a 38-person group through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), which included Campus Director Ryan Gloer and fellow UNC-Charlotte student Christopher Hildreth.

While it was the first time traveling to Mexico for both Bumgarner and Johnson, this was the 17th year in a row that the FCA conducted such a mission trip.

The large assembly flew out of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta on June 21 and arrived in San Diego a day later.

After driving across the Mexican border, the mission team stayed at a local orphanage for six days to make sure they accomplished all of their goals.

The main objective for all 38 mission members was to work on a house being built for a family attending a local church, which had partnered with the FCA.

The trip was much more about construction for Johnson and Bumgarner.

With their mornings relatively free, both Charlotte 49er athletes put on sports camps for the children of the orphanage.

Johnson, a Maiden High standout who is projected to be the 49ers starting quarterback in their inaugural season, really took a lot away from his mission experience.

“We got to show the kids of the orphanage our love when they don't see that much,” said Johnson, who also participated in a similar mission trip in 2011 in Haiti. “We got the opportunity to do something bigger than ourselves, and we got to build great relationships in Mexico. We will definitely be going back.”

By the time they departed Tecate to come back to Catawba County on June 27, the house constructed by the group for the family was finished.

“The house was built the fastest it has ever been done thanks to a total team effort,” said Bumgarner, a UNCC longsnapper and offensive lineman. “It was a very rewarding experience to be able to use football as a platform to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.”