From Playing For The Bear To Serving The King with Jeremiah Castille
Today’s show features Jeremiah Castille, Chaplain for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
“God is glorified when we succeed. Glory comes from it, and we can take that glory and have a platform from it. I believe that God placed in each and every person the desire to win, because He is a winner. And when we understand that He has a formula and a way for it to be done, and we do it, we will succeed.”
Ray: Well, hello everyone. This is Ray Hilbert for Bottom Line Faith, where we lift the hood and tinker around in the engine of Christian leadership. You know, we get a chance to interview some of America’s top Christ-followers in business and in the marketplace and athletics and entertainment. Today is one of those special days here at Bottom Line Faith. We are going to interview an unbelievable leader. I am in Birmingham, Alabama, and our guest today is Jeremiah Castille. And look at this resume, folks. He played for Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama from 1979 to 1982, he played six years in the NFL, and currently, he is the chaplain for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Roll Tide, I guess is what I’m supposed to say here.
Jeremiah: Roll Tide.
Ray: Folks, I’m with Jeremiah Castille. Jeremiah, hello, and welcome to the show.
Jeremiah: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Ray: We’re going to talk about faith and leadership and all those important things later. But you’ve done a few things on the gridiron, haven’t you?
Jeremiah: Well, I played for a great coach, Coach Bryant. Just really, when I look back at all of my success, you know, from college on, he really was instrumental in me succeeding.
Ray: Well folks, Jeremiah played quarterback, is that correct?
Jeremiah: That’s it.
Ray: Defensive back for the Alabama Crimson Tide. And in January of 1983, I see that you also had the incredible privilege of serving as a pallbearer for Coach Bryant’s funeral. What was it like playing for Bear Bryant?
Jeremiah: Tremendous opportunity, experience, tremendous experience to grow and to move from being an 18-year-old boy to a 22-year-old man. In fact, our last game that we played, Coach Bryant’s last game was my last game.
Ray: Oh wow. Okay.
Jeremiah: And if you knew me back then, Ray, I didn’t say four words in the four years I was at Alabama. Last game, the Liberty Bowl, it’s cold, and we’re getting ready to play Illinois. And there’s a strong prompting from the Holy Spirit to say, to get up and say something in front of the team right before the captains went out. And this prompting was so strong, it was, if I don’t get up, I’m gonna throw up. I’m gonna be sick. So I raised my hand and asked Coach if I could say something, and he nodded yes. And when I got up, well, the Lord just let it flow. And I said, “Coach, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me. Four years ago, I came here as an 18-year-old boy. Tonight, I’m leaving as a 22-year-old man, and I personally want to thank you for that.” And I said, “Coach, there ain’t no way we’re gonna lose this game tonight, even if I got to play it by myself.” But you know, I had a chance to personally thank him. And that was the last time that I actually saw Coach Bryant because about 20+ days later, he passed away.
Ray: Incredible, and what a special thing that must be for you to have that memory, as that last interaction was being able to stand up and get outside your comfort zone, right, and say some words to Coach and the team.
Jeremiah: Well, that’s how I felt. Those are heartfelt works from a 22-year-old young man that had matured and was able to see, you know, from 18 to 22, all of the things that I went through.
Jeremiah: And it all came to a culmination of “Thank you, Coach, for what you’ve done for me. Just the practices, all of the things that help develop young men as leaders.”
Ray: So take me back to your high school days, just a little bit of background. What kind of area did you grow up in? What was your life like in high school, and in your teen years? And then what was it like when Coach Bear Bryant came and recruited you?
Jeremiah: I grew up, originally I’m from Columbus, Georgia, but finished high school in Phoenix City, Alabama, which is right across the river. And Ray, I grew up with both my parents having a drinking problem. I’m number eight of nine children, and I saw alcoholism and drugs. None of my sisters and brothers had even graduated from high school; I came to know the Lord at 13, at a little church down the street from my house. And I had had a dream of being a professional football player before that time. But after coming to know the Lord, then God gave me the power and the discipline, and I just started pursuing football and athletics. I lettered in three sports in high school, and my parents weren’t supportive. You know, they didn’t come to my football games. My mother really had a serious, serious drinking problem.
But during my time of coming to know the Lord, God was able to show me that the vision was to take this athletic ability and get a college scholarship with it. Go get an education, come back, and help my mother and my father. That’s what drove me as a high schooler. So I got very serious about school, about getting an education, about football in high school. So I was very serious. And then I can remember being in the lunchroom my junior year when I opened a letter from the University of Alabama, and they said that I was being recruited as an upcoming senior. And man, I jumped up in the lunch room, screaming, yelling, ran out of the lunch room. All my buddies were like, “Man, what’s wrong with you?” And it really let me know that hey, the dream had come true to be able to go to college.
Ray: As you said, the dream was coming true right before your very eyes. But yet you had a vision of that the Lord had spoken to you many, many years earlier, right? This was something you were going to pursue. But he also gave you this intrinsic motivation that it wasn’t about Jeremiah. It was about Jeremiah being used for God’s glory back in your own family and your own communities. Is that a correct way to look at it?
Jeremiah: As a matter of fact, what I share with the young people is a vision, a true God-given vision always encompasses other people. It was a lot of days at the University of Alabama, you know, back then, they didn’t have the NCAA rules where Coach Bryant had me all day, man, I mean, it was some days that you’re thinking, man, can I put one foot in front of the other? And I’ll tell you what, I mean, it was some days where the thought crossed my mind to quit. And God would bring my mother and her condition to mind, and her alcoholism come to my mind. There would be an energy to get through that next sprint, or that next lift, whatever it was we were doing. And so my mother and my father is who God kept constantly on my mind.
Jeremiah: That drove me.
Ray: That’s powerful. Tell us about what you’re doing today. Now you’ve got, you’re still involved with the University of Alabama football program, right?
Jeremiah: If you want to call it a job, I got the greatest job in the world, you know. That is, I still get to be around young men that are pursuing their dream, and I get a chance to spiritually impart in their life. I get to be around a great game that teach young men so many valuable lessons where I went to college. And so at the University of Alabama, the Lord has really blessed the 10 years Coach Saban has been there. This is my 16th season as the chaplain ,and so I just get to do something that is, I don’t call it work. I just get up, go, and work in the kingdom.
Ray: So what’s life like as a chaplain for the University of Alabama? What’s a typical week look like for you in that role?
Jeremiah: I travel from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa, which is about an hour’s drive. During the offseason, I’m there 2, 3, 4 days a week. We do a Bible study with our players, and then I partner with a young man named Scotty Hollins that works with me, and he also has a Bible study with players and coaches, and so we partner together in this endeavor. And we also work with our players on just some of their personal issues, showing them how they could take the Word of God, take the Word of God, and let it be the solution to that problem. And how they can overcome and not only to the problem but take the Word of God and let it help motivate them to be the best student and the best athlete that they can be.
Ray: And you really have this passion about building character into the next generation of young men. And particularly, you had talked with me about your calling to really model what does it look like to be a godly man and specifically in your culture in the African-American community. Would you just elaborate a little bit on that passion and tell us more about that?
Jeremiah: Well, Ray, I can only attribute it to God placing it in my heart that as a young man, before ever got married, and growing up in the community where I grew up, that God just placed in my heart, the vision of saying, you know, of being a godly black man. That what I wanted to be known for was when people looked at me that hey man, there goes a godly young black man. And when I look at the people got put in my path to help me accomplish that by instilling the wisdom and the discipline that it was going to take – especially wisdom, biblical wisdom. So at the University of Alabama, I was able to get the right mentorship that I needed. And so when I got drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I was a 22-year-old, but I was mature, married, just recently married, had probably been married two weeks when I went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their training camp. But I wanted to model being a godly young black man. And as a result of that, God is still using that in what we do today.
Ray: And you’re particularly involved, as I recall, mentoring youth, Bible studies with young men, really helping. I love that you’re talking about preventing them from having a midlife crisis. Would you talk about that just, even what you’re doing? I think you call it your 20-30 program.
Jeremiah: Yeah, well, as you know, I’m 56.
Ray: And you don’t look it at all.
Jeremiah: Well, thank you for that compliment. But at 56, you can look back, you have several decades under your belt, and then you’re still young enough to where you can look forward to, hey, I still have a greater work to do. But as I look back, I look at it, and it humbles me, that I thank God that He saved me at 13, and I got on fire for the Lord. And every decade, you know, from 13 to 23, that decade of my life, I’m a product of leadership. So I have a responsibility to turn around and be that to the next generation. I don’t accomplish anything without leadership.
And that’s what I really instill in our young people is man, soak it up, be a hearer. See, I was a quiet kid, so I listened. I was kind of you know, like I said, at Alabama in the four years there, I probably didn’t say four words. So I listened, and I teach young people, I say, one of the greatest skills you can develop is to be a listener. Be a good listener. And as a result of that, each and every decade of my life, I look at how, because I walked with the Lord, when I came into football, and pro football, I had already been mentored, so football was a place for me to take the gospel even though I was playing, right? You know, it was a profession, I saw it as a place for the gospel.
Ray: It was your mission field, right?
Jeremiah: My mission field. And every decade of our life, we have, we have been on the mission field since 22 years of age.
Ray: And you’ve been married now for 34 years?
Jeremiah: This July, it’ll be 34 years.
Ray: Wonderful. And how many children?
Jeremiah: Six children
Ray: Six children.
Jeremiah: Six children.
Ray: A couple of boys, I know, followed you to play football at Alabama. And then you have an amazing story with your son, is it Caleb, is that correct? In the movie?
Jeremiah: Our youngest son.
Ray: Your youngest son, Caleb. For those of you, if you have not seen the movie Woodlawn, I’m going to tell you right now. You need to check it out. It is in my top five all-time favorites, especially in the genre of sports and athletics, right up there with Rudy and We Are Marshall, and those kinds of movies. But Jeremiah, tell us quickly the story. Your son plays the lead role in the movie Woodlawn.
Jeremiah: Yes. Caleb was in his senior year at University of Alabama, called me one day, said, “Dad, I’m not gonna play my senior year.”
Ray: Now, what was that like?
Jeremiah: It was a shocker.
Jeremiah: I tell you what, he was gonna feel my wrath as a father. But he said something. The next statement was, my dream is to be an actor. And I knew that if it was his dream, then I couldn’t touch that. I had no I didn’t have any right. And so he didn’t play senior year, pursued acting, did all of the, just the, what you call legwork to get it going, and I found an agent, and God opened the door. For about three or four months, Caleb and I spent, prior to the movie audition, we spent time as son and father that summer, getting up and getting in the Word together, which is how he grew up. And we spent that three, four-month period of time before he had to go back to school and finish up his senior year. Got a call from his agent, and his agent said, hey, there’s this movie, Woodlawn. I’d like for you to audition for it.
He auditions for it, and reading the script, his testimony is when he was reading the script that God spoke to him and said, “This is your role.” Even though the producer said they’re not going to use an inexperienced actor. So ultimately hired an experienced actor out of England. When they got ready to shoot the movie, the gentleman that they’d hired couldn’t get a work visa; he was going to be delayed for four weeks. Well, Caleb had already interviewed in an audition to be the body double to do all of the football stunts. And they had already done that work weeks prior. So the football director, when they had this dilemma, said, “Well, hey, why don’t you try Caleb Castille out for that role if you’re going to not going to hold off.” And he went in on a Sunday, read the script, and was filming that Monday.
Ray: He did a fine job. I know you’re proud of him, but I remember sitting in the theater with my wife and just, I said, “I don’t know who this young man is, but man, he was incredible in the role of Tony Nathan.” And then, so congratulations.
Jeremiah: Well, thank you.
Ray: Jeremiah, talk to us a little bit about the parallels that you have learned in your years in athletics and, and leadership. What have you learned that parallels over into business in terms of leadership and character and integrity? Talk to us a little bit about that?
Jeremiah: Well, I think when you start talking success, there’s a foundation for it, whether it be in athletics, whether it be in business. In life, there is a foundation, and I think it starts with character work ethic, vision, all of these things I think are important when you start looking at leadership and leadership is vital. It’s vital to our society, and leadership is I like to say, it’s either great, which is what it should be because of the very nature of it, you want to produce great people from it, or it can be bad, and that’s what leaders need to understand. When it’s bad, it’s really bad, and the collateral damage from that. I’ve met people that set up under bad leadership, you know. When I got to the NFL, because I was under great leadership, I beat guys out that was bigger, stronger, and faster, and they’re sitting there looking at me, “Look at this little bitty guy.”
They’d have all of the measurables, but I had those intangibles. And when you start talking leadership, it’s those intangibles that make up the tangible, and I believe it starts with character. Character, when you look at it biblically, it’s moral excellence. That is, we should have a morality, a right and a wrong. A right way to do something, I can still hear Coach Bryant right now: “There’s a right way to do things, men, and there’s a wrong way.” And he’d say to you, “We don’t have time to do it over if you do it wrong.” And boy, you know, you perk up there. We don’t have time for that because you can’t go back. And so for me, that is what was instilled to me is there’s a right way to live life and a wrong way. And each and every day we get up, we have to put that pressure on ourselves as leaders, and you know, we do our camps, right, in the summer. What I tell these high schoolers that we start, I say, “You already a leader,” I say,” Because there’s a five-year-old looking at you, there’s a six-year-old looking at you. Are you leading in the right direction? Because a lot of the time, they think, “Well, hey, I’m looking up to the college,” you know, because we take college players with us. They’re looking up. No, there’s somebody already looking at you, maybe your cousin or your younger brother
Ray: And whether we understand that or not, it is true and whether we understand the consequence, good or bad, it is real Is that right?
Ray: Whether we know it or not.
Jeremiah: We have the power of influence. What I want my life, when it’s all said and done is that that guy influenced me. If you follow me around for a week, pretty much every day you gonna hear a Bryant story or something’s gonna come out of my mouth. This is what Coach Bryant said because he had that much influence. My philosophy on raising our children, a lot of it comes from Coach Bryant. Part of what my children experience was, you know, they expect the unexpected. Man, that’s one of his lines, coming into a meeting you know, don’t expect. So my kids don’t know. Sometimes, I wake them up at four in the morning. We’re going to be at local gym, all six. “Dad, it’s four o’clock.” “Expect the unexpected.”
Ray: Well, Jeremiah, as you see these parallels of leadership and character, what’s the parallel then of character and leadership as it relates to business? You know, we’ve got let’s say we’ve got a business leader listening right now. And they’re wrestling through a decision. What advice would you have as the parallels of character and leadership in business versus what you’ve experienced in athletics?
Jeremiah: Well, the first thing I would ask them is, do they want to win at business? What’s the bottom line? The bottom line is a profit. Well, there’s a formula for that. And you don’t have to cheat. You don’t have to cut corners. You know in athletics, any athlete that’s achieved, a Super Bowl champion, a national champion, the first thing they’ll tell you, you cannot cut a corner, you cannot cheat. There is a way to do it. And you do it right. And so for me, I mean, the bottom line for any business is you want to make a profit, you want to succeed, you want to be successful, and you can’t do that if you’re cutting a corner, if you’re not going to be the best that you could be, and doing it right. You have to do things right when you do, then success comes. If there’s anything I learned from in athletics and from Coach Bryant, if you do it right, you’re going to succeed. You don’t have to worry about that.
Ray: So what have you seen as the consequence in leadership for those who do cut those corners?
Jeremiah: Failure. And I think that God placed in us a winner’s attitude. I could think back to before I came to know the Lord. If I was sitting down playing shooting marbles, guess what? I want to win. That’s the bottom line on it is you want to win. That’s what God put in us. But there’s a formula; there’s a way for us to do that. God is glorified when we succeed. Glory comes from it. And we can take that glory and build it and have a platform from it. So that’s the way I look at it from an athletic standpoint. But I believe that God placed in each and every person the desire to win because he’s a winner. He’s a champion. And when we understand that he has a formula, a way for it to be done, and then we do it, then we’re going to succeed, we don’t have to. It comes with; it comes with the territory comes with it. And I say, it’s just decision making. It’s, it’s about to see. I’m a powerful entity. Each and every human being is a powerful entity made in the image of God. And he’s given us something called decision-making power. We decide whether we’re going to be a champion or not, and not our circumstance. So for a business owner, what he needs to realize is there’s no circumstance he faces on a daily basis that’s greater than his decision making power. He’s in the driver’s seat.
Ray: And I’ve often heard that that’s one of the most powerful words in the entire English language: decision. Once a decision has been made, it’s die-cast, would you agree?
Jeremiah: Yes, I meet people all time. They say, well, how’d you do it? How’d you do it? Well, from well, playing pro ball, playing in Alabama, raising children, and having one that’s in the movie business, I say, this is it right here. Make a decision, and the decision will make you.
Ray: Did y’all hear that? Would you say that one more time, Jeremiah?
Jeremiah: Make a decision, and the decision will make you.
Ray: That’s very good. So my guess is that somebody right now is listening to this program, and you’ve been wrestling, you’ve been uncertain, you’ve been fearful. You’ve been wondering, what’s the right thing? What’s the course of direction? I think God’s already spoken to you. What is that right thing to do? Make that decision, and we’re getting great advice from Jeremiah. Make that decision because the decision is going to what?
Jeremiah: Make you.
Ray: Love it. Jeremiah, I want to ask you, you talked about some of those great statements and words of wisdom from Coach Bryant. Maybe from Coach or maybe from someone else, what’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you and how’s it continue to play a role in your life today?
Jeremiah: As a little hot-headed teenager growing up in Phoenix City, boy, my temper was very short. My dad didn’t physically spank as much, and I’m thankful for that. But my dad said something to me. One day, when I was the type of kid, you said, Go left. I go right. And just very hot-headed. And one day, and him sharing with me, he says, he said, and I can remember it like it yesterday, right? He said that son, if you’re going to ever make it in life, you’ll have to learn how to take some things. And the light went on for me, I believe is probably the most important one of the most important statements ever made to me. Because, you know, I was young, and you know how it is for young people. But even for people today, you can be successful in business. And it may be where you’ve gotten to a point where your ego is running things, and you don’t have a great relationship with your coworkers.
And if you learn how to take some things and learn how to love people, and I just learned how to take some things. And it was vital because when I got to Alabama, I really, I had to learn how to take coaching. I had to learn how to be coaching. And I saw guys that didn’t know how to be, you know, it was tough coaching. I mean, they were, it was, I call it where they laid hands on you literally back then, you know. And, and I learned how to take it, I learned how to be coached. And those words have never left my mind from my father sharing those words with me.
Ray: That is really great advice. And it also applies over to the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives. Because sometimes we go through things that are painful, they’re difficult, and we have to allow those to shape us. We have to allow the Holy Spirit room and time to work off the rough edges, right? To shape us and learn how to take it from that standpoint. Is that right? That’s correct. So, Jeremiah, you have a chance in what you do to talk with very successful by the world standard wealthy business leaders. And yet, in your view, maybe they’re not as wealthy as we think, talk a little bit about that.
Jeremiah: Well, right, you know, with my background, and traveling throughout the country, and what I found, and, you know, if you could get business leaders to understand the power, the influence that they could have, but it takes vision. Vision comes before provision. And so you can be a man with a lot of money, but if you don’t have a vision, you still poor. Because vision is what empowers it and that’s the way God does it. He gives you the vision before the provision, and here they are, they have they could have access to all of the world’s wealth. And yet they’re poor men.
And I see that all the time. They have poor self-esteem. I’ve seen a guy; he’s worth hundreds of millions. And he’s, you know, you sitting there, he can’t even look up at you. His eyes are on the ground. I’m like, man; you could buy and sell me every day. And I’m sitting here I’m shaking my head, looking at him, you know, but you, you know, you have low self-esteem. Why is that? Because money can’t give you that. That has to come from, as we were talking earlier, character. And so if you can get business owners to understand this, and then with the opportunity, once they get wisdom on this, they could change the world, that world which God’s called them to, they could change that world. That’s how I think we become world changers.
Ray: That’s powerful. And that is the essence of what it really means to be a Christ follower in business is to take not only the vision that God has given you but then the provision of the resource, of the people, the finances and build his kingdom, combining that vision and provision. Good stuff, good stuff. Well, folks, we are winding down, so Jeremiah, I ask this question in every interview I never fail. This is my when I call my 4:23 question. In Proverbs chapter 4, verse 23, Solomon writes this. He says, “Guard your heart.” In fact, he says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for from it flows the wellspring of life.”
So the biblical scholars that believe these may been among his last words, painted this picture that he’s given us all these words of wisdom, all these parables and things to live by. He’s at the tail end of his life. Perhaps he’s gathering his loved ones and his friends and his family around him. And he says, “Now I know I’ve given you all this wisdom. I know I’ve given you all this excellent advice upon which to live and build your lives. But above all else, guard your heart.” So Jeremiah, let’s just for a moment, let’s paint the picture. We move the clock forward. We don’t know when that day is for any of us, right? And you have a chance now to gather your family, your friends, your loved ones, those who are most precious to you, and you want to pass along your “above all else” counsel to them. Jeremiah, what would you say? Above all else…
Jeremiah: Above all else, love God and love your fellow man.
Ray: Is it that simple?
Jeremiah: Yes, that’s what I want on my grave is “Here lies a man that loved God and loved his fellow man.”
Ray: That’s powerful. And you really are doing everything in your ability to live that out on a daily basis. I can tell.
Jeremiah: That’s what it’s all about to me.
Ray: That’s what it’s all about. Folks, we have been speaking with Jeremiah Castille in Birmingham, Alabama, and Jeremiah, any closing words, thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our audience here at Bottom Line Faith?
Jeremiah: You know I wasn’t, Ray, I wasn’t the biggest guy, I wasn’t the fastest guy. I tell people I was just the believing guy. That is, I believed in what God’s Word said to me, who I am in Christ and what I can do. And it brought about two things in this journey of life as I look back: confidence and courage. If people were to realize that God is for them, he loves them, fall in love with the Lord, then that confidence and courage they need for the journey, each and every day, God will give it to them.
Ray: Incredible words of wisdom. Folks, check us out online at bottomlinefaith.org, and you can hear not only the interview here with Jeremiah of course but also many of the other interviews that we have been recording for you as marketplace leaders. Also if you are a Christ follower in business and you would be interested in learning what does it look like to live out your faith on a daily basis in and through your business, check out our website at truthatwork.org. Learn more about our roundtable programs and see if what we have to offer might be for you. Well, folks, it has been my incredible privilege to host on the program today Jeremiah Castille, chaplain for the Alabama Crimson Tide, founder of the Jeremiah Castille Foundation, incredible man, incredible follower of Christ. And if you’re anything like me, you know that the last 30 minutes of your life has just been an incredible encouragement. Jeremiah, you’re so gracious, so kind. Thank you for the time today. We are so grateful you joined us at Bottom Line Faith.
Jeremiah: I’ve enjoyed it, Ray. God bless.
Ray: God bless you all, and we’ll see you next time at Bottom Line Faith.