Football players in Kenya

Travis Wood helps teach a group of Kenyans the sport of football. (Robert Madrid, Baltimore Sun / January 2, 2012)

Just one year in age separated 17-year-old Travis Wood from the oldest of the Kenyan boys he was standing before, but at 6 feet 2, 190 pounds, he appeared like a giant to them.

So too did 5-10, 175-pound 16-year-old Keifer Rawlings.

The two linebackers from the St. Paul's football team were in Kenya in early January as part of a Fellowship of Christian Athletes mission trip.

Sharing their faith and the sport of football, Wood and Rawlings coached the Kenyan boys for five days, helping them progress from knowing hardly anything about the sport — many of them play soccer — to participating in a scrimmage wearing helmets and shoulder pads.

"When I first found out about this trip, I didn't really want to come," Wood told the boys during one of many moments of ministry that were held before or after water breaks.

"Now," Wood told them, "I don't want to leave."

Wood, a junior, joined the FCA trip at the urging of Rawlings, a sophomore whose parents have been longtime friends of FCA regional mission director Joey Potter, who organized it.

"When I first found out about the trip, I kept putting it off," Wood said. "I didn't want to go out of my comfort zone."

'Makes me feel like I'm special'

For Wood, that comfort zone includes excelling in his other sport of lacrosse. The Hunt Valley resident has committed to play at Johns Hopkins University, having also been recruited to play defense by Maryland, North Carolina, Penn State and Virginia.

Wood also loves football, and to share the sport in a foreign land appealed to him after the first-day shyness on the part of the Kenyans began to dissipate. To get there, it took two eight-hour flights, the first from Atlanta to Amsterdam and the second from Amsterdam to Nairobi, then a three-hour drive to Nakuru, to reach Mountain Park Academy.

"At first, I didn't know what to expect," Wood said. "When I first saw them, I kind of felt like they didn't want us there. It felt like we were forcing it on him, but we really weren't."

Wood befriended one of the boys named Kevin.

"He's kind of like a little brother to me now," Wood said midway through that week, Jan. 2-6. "He makes me feel like I'm special. I also like him because he's a jokester. He's not very good at football. Not very athletic, I would say. But he's always pretty funny. He kind of fits my personality."

Rawlings, a Bel Air resident, ended up bonding with a boy named John.

"He was the kid who listened to me the most," Rawlings said. "He wanted to learn. You could tell he wanted to do it.

"Because I'm near their age, I feel like I can know what they're thinking. I feel like I'm able to communicate with them better because of that. I think they knew I was there to talk to them and help them out."

'A slap in the face of satisfaction'

Wood and Rawlings were the youngest members of the FCA team. The other football coaches included former NFL cornerback Dexter Davis; Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln High assistant coach Kyle Eastridge; and Fort Myers (Fla.) Evangelical Christian School football coach Brian Lynch, whose son, Corey Lynch, plays defensive back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and whose daughter-in-law, Cissie Lynch, is the granddaughter of the Rev. Billy Graham.