From the age of 7, Jeremiah Castille had a vision of one day playing professional football, following in the footsteps of those players he watched in recaps of NFL games. Back then, however, he had no idea how God would end up using this vision.
Most of Castille’s life has revolved around football, but his faith has been a steady guide on the journey. The former University of Alabama football player, NFL player and current chaplain for the University of Alabama football team is the associate pastor of Covenant Heirs International Church in Birmingham. He is also a motivational speaker who focuses on mentoring the next generation, strengthening marriages and teaching about intentional grandparenting. He and his wife Jean founded the nonprofit Jeremiah Castille Foundation and based it on Isaiah 61:1-4, in which Isaiah is commissioned to spread good news.
A native of Phenix City, Ala., Castille started watching “The Bear Bryant Show,” featuring the legendary Crimson Tide coach, while Castille in middle school. On his way to and from elementary school, Castille had walked by the home of Woodrow Lowe, an Alabama player who was part of the national championship team in 1973. Whenever Bryant would mention Lowe’s name on his TV show, Castille thought, “I know him. That’s where I’m going to play football — at Alabama.”
However, Castille had to overcome a lot of obstacles. His mother had a severe drinking problem, and his dad was a maintenance worker and couldn’t afford to send Castille to college. Castille wanted to finish college in order to have the resources to help his mother.
“I really started pursuing it — that one day I would see my mother sober. That was the passion that I had. During that time, I came to the Lord — at 13. My relationship with the Lord at that time is what gave me the vision, the strength, the love, the wisdom to navigate my middle and high school years,” Castille said.
A scholarship and his newfound faith kept him disciplined and off the streets. He lettered in track, basketball and football and worked hard on academics.
Opportunity to play
Meanwhile, God was setting up the opportunity from the college’s end. Both Billy Jackson and Lowe had played at Central High School in Phenix City, as did two others who were on Alabama’s basketball team.
“So the university had four guys right there out of Phenix City who had done well,” Castille said. “I was undersized. I was 5 feet, 6 inches, 155 pounds. Not a lot of colleges were really interested. Auburn told me I was too small.
“But Coach Bryant gave me an opportunity and offered me a scholarship.”
Castille started at Alabama in 1979, played all four years, was named a Kodak All-American his senior year and was MVP in the 1982 Liberty Bowl, Bryant’s last game. He went on to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Denver Broncos where he played in the 1987 and 1988 Super Bowls.
‘Influence and impact’
However, it was those college years that deeply affected his life.
“The mission of the Jeremiah Castille Foundation is to invest, influence, impact and inspire the next generation. Those four words are the four things Coach Bryant did for me. He invested in me. He influenced me. He impacted me, and he inspired me to be the best person God created me to be,” Castille said.
Everyone either loved or hated Bryant. Those who weren’t willing to receive the passion Bryant had to be the best hated him. Those who knew that his goal was to help the development of these young men loved him.
Castille loved him.
“Everything you did, you had to have a spirit of excellence — everything. Classroom, academics, athletics, socially — every area. He really was training us to be true gentlemen and to live life at the highest level.”
Investing in the future
Castille has been the chaplain for Alabama’s football team for 22 years. One of his highlights included baptizing Heisman winner Bryce Young.
But the Bible study times that Castille facilitates during off seasons are his favorite parts of this ministry.
“It’s where you really dig down, where you can really get to know the players. When the players come back, we still have relationships,” he said.
Castille related one example of a now-professional player, Anfernee Jennings, who texted him some of his Bible study notes from years earlier when Jennings was still at Alabama.
The intentionality that he emphasizes in his teaching about marriage, parenting and grandparenting is also a result of Bryant’s example. Bryant always encouraged the players to ask themselves after grueling two-a-day practices in the August heat if they had given 110 percent and if they hadn’t, to work harder the next practice. Castille likewise encourages giving 110 percent to one’s marriage, parenting and grandparenting.
“Like Coach Bryant said and taught us, ‘Men, you need to have a plan.’ It’s taught me that success doesn’t fall out of the sky; you’re not going to have a lucky day. You have to have a plan, and you have to execute that plan.
“That was a Coach Bryant thing that I still live by today. That’s how I approach being a father, being a husband, being a chaplain. That’s the way we go about developing our relationships with players.”