Matt Lepsis was having a blast - doing drugs, partying and even playing in NFL games while he was high.
The Denver Broncos offensive lineman had established himself as one of the league's more underrated left tackles and was rolling in money, having signed a four-year, $25 million contract before the 2006 season.
The last thing on his mind was God.
Every day when he woke, the first thing he did was get high. He enjoyed the effect drugs had on him. He was no longer painfully shy around his wife or at the parties they attended.
"For the first six games of the year, I was high," Lepsis said of the 2007 season.
By his choice, that season would be his last in the NFL.
Lepsis left it all - the game, the drugs, the money - to follow God.
"I was getting deeper and deeper into things I shouldn't have," Lepsis said. "I started to feel this presence. I felt the presence of God, which I never felt before."
Now, instead of helping push the Broncos toward the playoffs, he's pushing himself through Dallas Theological Seminary.
Lepsis' spiritual journey is amazing and mystifying. He realizes some of it sounds far-fetched. He admits he can't explain everything.
But he promises it all happened.
Road to addiction
Lepsis had dabbled in recreational drugs since he was a tight end at the University of Colorado, but it never became a habit. Painkillers taken after a season-ending knee injury in 2006 led to daily use of recreational drugs.
"The first thing I did when I woke up in the morning was get high, and I would try to stay that way all day long," said Lepsis, who won't say what drugs he used.
The NFL's annual substance-abuse test didn't uncover Lepsis' hidden addiction. He said he practiced about 10-15 times last year while under the influence before trying it in a game.
"I look back on it, and it was really foolish of me," Lepsis said. "There were definitely times when I wasn't even really there. I was physically there, but I was in another place mentally."
Lepsis understands that he was being self-destructive, but he didn't feel that way at the time.
For most of his life, he hated his introverted personality. But the influence of drugs changed him. He joined the party crowd and was much more comfortable around people, including his wife.
But Shana Lepsis - despite enjoying the new lifestyle - wasn't so sure about the changes.
"He was turning into a person I wasn't really able to recognize," said Shana, who has been married to Matt for 8½ years. "Definitely not the person I married."
Even though his wife grew skeptical, Lepsis never hit rock bottom. But somehow he found religion anyway.
"Usually this person was in the gutter or had no other place to go," Lepsis said. "For me, it was the total opposite. I was having a ball. I was playing in the NFL, making a lot of money and I found this thing that helped me. I was on top of the world."
Some odd signs began to get Lepsis' attention. The first came when his phone rang as he was playing with his kids. When he answered, a song was playing. Lepsis, a fan of the Dave Matthews Band, heard the lyric "The difficulty is coming" from the group's song titled "#41."
Days later, he heard music coming from headphones in his locker. Again he heard: "The difficulty is coming." But he didn't remember leaving on any music.
Another phone call with the lyric followed that week.
"I'm like, ‘I'm really getting scared,'" Lepsis said.
Lepsis was terrified of flying so his initial interpretation of the message was he would die in a plane crash, maybe on his next flight for a game at Indianapolis.
"I'm thinking, how am I going to break this to (Broncos coach Mike) Shanahan that I can't fly to Indy?" Lepsis said with a laugh.
At a birthday party before that trip, his mind started to wander. He told the birthday girl about his fear of dying in a plane crash. She replied that he shouldn't worry because God was in control.
"I was like, ‘What? God?'" Lepsis said. "It got the wheels turning a bit."
He started to wonder about his drug habit and his "crazy thoughts." He started to think about his priorities, including whether the money he always had coveted was that important.
‘Peace and purpose'
On the flight to Indianapolis, Lepsis approached Jason Elam, the team's kicker and a devout Catholic who had studied world religions at Liberty Theological Seminary before that season.