Former NFL star turns from making tackles to touching lives

November 22, 2007
Lee McCracken of University City Magazine
His athleticism gained him fame and fortune. His faith kept him grounded. Mike Minter could have worshipped the god of football throughout his college and pro career, but an injury, a move to Charlotte and a spiritual mentor helped him to order his life differently.
Minter, 33, announced his retirement from the National Football League on Aug. 7, but he’s not sitting at home on Sunday afternoons in front of the television. Minter is embracing a new life, one that ministers to others, not in the locker room or huddle, but in the game of everyday life.
Many people know Minter, a former Carolina Panthers safety, by his stats — 148 games played (141 started) in his 10-year NFL career and 953 tackles — but just as many know him by his heart. The God-centered family man uses his celebrity status and means to touch the community. Minter and his family began their life in Charlotte in University City’s Radbourne neighborhood, and they continue to think of the area as their second home.
“University City is my heart. I love the energy — just common people loving life and families coming together,” said Minter. “Nobody else on the (Carolina Panthers) team had their neighborhood behind them I like I did (in Radbourne).”
From his support of the University City YMCA and the start of Ruckus House Learning Centers and The Ruckus Foundation to youth athletics and real estate ventures to help the poor, Minter is involved. “Whatever God gives you is not for you (to keep) …” he has said.
In the year ahead, Minter said, he will focus on “being an engine to fund ministries and help people.” His to-do list includes hosting Christian rallies at high school stadiums and rebuilding a small, struggling town in Oklahoma.
His calendar also includes speaking engagements, so that he can share the lessons he learned on the football field with business leaders.

The early years

Minter was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but his family moved to Lawton, Okla., when he was very young. He and his three siblings were raised by a single mom, and Minter spent a lot of time at the Boys and Girls Club. He played football and basketball in high school, and during his senior year, he led the state in football with 1,589 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on 187 carries. He also averaged 21 points per game in basketball.
In addition, Minter had brains. At Lawton High School, he was a member of the National Honor Society.
An athletic scholarship took Minter to the University of Nebraska, where he earned an undergraduate degree in engineering and stood out on the football field.
Twelve years ago, he married his wife, Kim, and their oldest son, Michael, was born in the Cornhusker State.
But Minter realized he couldn’t build his life around sports. “I had grown up in a Christian home, but at that time, I wasn’t saved. Personally, it was football — that was the god I worshipped,” he said. “But my sophomore year, I got hurt, and it was the first time in my life I was without football.”
In the third game, a knee injury took Minter off the field for the remainder of that season. “It made me think, ‘What is life without football?’ and ‘What does life mean?’” he said. “It started me thinking that life has to be bigger than football.”
As a new father, Minter began to ponder his faith and think about the values he wanted to teach his children.

At home at the Y

In 1997, chosen by the Carolina Panthers in the second-round draft, Minter moved his family to University City. The YMCA quickly became a place to work out, meet friends and enroll the children in preschool.
“In Oklahoma, the Y is where the rich kids went — that’s all I knew,” said Minter. “The poor kids went to the Boys and Girls Club. That’s what kept us off the street. But what I saw (in University City) was Jesus Christ right up front with scriptures on banners and teachers talking about the Christian aspect of the preschool.”
Highland Creek resident Mike DeVaul, who was executive director of the Y at the time, explained the mission of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and it clicked. “Before that, I had no clue what YMCA stood for,” said Minter. “The first thing that catches me in anything I get involved with or anyplace I go is if it’s faith-based. (I ask) ‘What is the mission?’ and ‘Is the mission trying to help people become better people and communities become better communities?’”
Since then, Minter has supported the Y significantly through financial gifts and his time. As co-chair of the Y’s “Promises for the Future” campaign in 2002, Minter made a four-year pledge and was the first contributor to the Judy Rose Endowment, which supports the YPathways program, which provides scholarships to adults and children who otherwise would not be able to use the facilities or take part in programs.
He has been a board member of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, traveled to Africa with Y representatives and paid for the new University City Y community playground. The small chapel inside the front entrance of the U. City Y is named for him.
Kim Whitestone, chair of the Y Board of Managers, describes Minter as “both generous and gracious.” Even as his career took off and his notoriety grew, Minter continued to visit the Y with fellow Panther Mike Rucker. “I worked out there every year that I played in the NFL,” Minter said, noting he didn’t mind the occasional interruption or request for an autograph. “People came up to me to talk about Carolina Panther football, but it was like a family atmosphere, you know, as opposed to people just bugging me.”
Mitch Gibson, the past chair of the Y Board of Managers, described Minter as “very humble and very approachable.” He said, “When Minter and Rucker were at the Y, they were just nice, regular guys working out.”
In 2004, two years after Minter added real estate to his resume, the family moved to Pine Creek, a gated community in Kannapolis. Minter twice offered his home for fund-raising events for the Y.
“He opened his doors — not to be showy, but to generously help the Y — and he made everyone feel at home,” said Gibson.
Minter will host another fund-raising event this fall. “Beyond knowing Mike as a football player and Y supporter, he is a longtime friend and a partner in the success of the University City Y, even though he never wanted to take the credit,” said DeVaul, who is now a senior vice president with the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. “He would hang out after his workouts and talk with people because he just wanted to be around regular people. Mike is all about building relationships.”
Reflecting on a friendship that has deep roots, DeVaul said his family and the Minter family have become very close. On a recent YMCA trip to West Africa, the bond strengthened when both fathers brought along their sons and experienced life-transforming connections with the people they met.

Blessed to bless others

As Minter’s family and football career grew, so did his faith. At Northside Baptist Church, Minter found a spiritual mentor in Dr. Bradley Price. The Minters then supported Price in the opening of Kings Way Baptist Church in Concord.
Recently, he began Minter Ministries at the church. “I’m a licensed minister now, and I can do weddings and funerals,” he said. “The next step is to be ordained, and that takes some school – but it’s not as intense, because I have a degree.”
Minter said he’s planning rallies with speakers and live music at high school football stadiums. “I want to reach families. God has laid that on my heart, and I think it can be powerful. The message is about the cross. At the cross, everybody is equal. … I can’t come to the cross and say, ‘Man, I’ve got money, so I’m good.’ And I can’t come to the cross and say, ‘I’m black,’ or ‘I’m white.’ We’re all equal, and we all need help.”
Minter also gained new insight through a trip to West Africa in March with representatives from the YMCA. “I thought it was going to be a sightseeing trip and some history lessons with my boys,” he said. “But it was a soul event, a spirit event.”
Visits to an orphanage, a small village and slave cells at Goree Island moved him.. “When we went into the orphanage, one of the babies crawled right to me … and I saw myself in his eyes. I saw that he needs exactly what I got: the love and attention and opportunity to become what God created him to become.”
Minter also admitted that he bought new clothes for the trip. “I bought all my outfits to go over there. I had dress pants, but I needed khaki pants and golf shirts,” he said. “And when I got there, the Holy Spirit spoke to me: ‘Give away all this stuff.’ When I gave outfits to the people at the hotel, it blew me away how thankful they were and the joy on their face. I really got it then. My suitcase was empty when I came back.”

Helping single moms, youth

As a businessman and real estate developer, Minter is helping people across the country. Last year, he and his sister, Rosalind Beaty, opened Imaj Salon & Spa in Concord (along with Fantasia Barrino, Danny Wilson and Thaddeus Turner). As a tribute to their mother, who died last year, a percentage of every sale at Imaj will be donated to establish How Divine Haven Foundation for Women, a program for single mothers who need help getting back on their feet.
In addition, other real estate ventures are helping the less fortunate be able to own a home. Citadel Property Group is building affordable luxury town homes in Miami, and Oklahoma Land Management is embarking on revitalizing the small town of Randlett, Okla.
“I went into the gym at the school (in Randlett), and there are no pictures of boys’ teams on the walls. The principal told me that the boys have to quit school to go somewhere else to get a job,” said Minter. Partnering with Lowe’s Home Improvement, Minter’s company will build 600 homes and a main street over the next seven to 10 years, bringing jobs back to Randlett.
His endeavors for children and teens also are impressive. In 2002, he started Recruits Unlimited, an Internet recruitment program that offers college coaches online information about potential high school athletes, many of whom would not have the opportunity to gain such exposure.
And with NFL colleagues Mike Rucker, Muhsin Muhammad and Stephen Davis, Minter opened Ruckus House Learning Center in 2005, a faith-based child development center for ages 6 months to 12 years, in Harrisburg. A second center is now open in Moss Creek, and four other locations are being considered in the Charlotte region.
This past spring, The Ruckus Foundation was started to award scholarships to students attending accredited North Carolina colleges to pursue degrees in education.
Minter also financially supports and is director for USBA Hoops, and he helps to coach his sons’ Youth Development Football League teams.
Finally, there are several causes to which he lends his name: Minter is a national spokesman for the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, the regional spokesman for the National Kidney Foundation and the state spokesman for the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program.
Wherever life takes the former NFL player turned philanthropist, it’s almost certain Minter will be at work using his football career as a stepping stone to do greater things. As his farewell to fans on his Web site states: “I will miss hearing your cheers in the stadium, but I look forward to the opportunity of spending more time with you all off the field.”