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SPORTS: Ark. State coach points players to Christ — & wins on the field, too

JONESBORO, Ark. (BP) — At Andy’s Frozen Custard in Jonesboro, Ark., an addition to the menu has been selling like hotcakes since it was introduced at an Arkansas State University power breakfast this summer.

Similar to a strawberry milkshake but with a lighter taste, the vanilla custard drink blends strawberry syrup and soda water. It has been named “Andy’s Coach Freeze” in tribute to Hugh Freeze, who was introduced as Arkansas State University’s 27th head football coach in December 2010.

Freeze also has his own shake at Arkansas State. As music sounds in the locker room after wins, Freeze shows players his moves with a spirited victory dance that has been caught on tape.

There has been a whole lot of shaking going on in Jonesboro this fall.

[QUOTE@left@150=‘I made a vow to God that I would never coach a kid who did not hear the plan of salvation.’
— coach Hugh Freeze
]The Red Wolves, who started the season 1-2, have won eight straight and clinched at least a share of the Sun Belt Championship. They can win it outright with a win over Troy Dec. 3. At 9-2, they have clinched their first winning season since 1995 and will go to the GoDaddy.com Bowl — their first bowl since 2005.

“There is so much positive energy around here now. You can just tell the difference,” said senior linebacker Demario Davis. “Players are not just trying to win football games; they are growing in character. The biggest difference is that God is the center of this team. Jesus is doing this for His glory. We are just His instruments.”

Freeze, who was hired in spring 2010 as offensive coordinator and engineered a leap from 95th in total offense among Football Bowl Subdivision teams to 43rd while setting nine school records, gives God credit for success.

“It’s God’s goodness and favor,” Freeze said. “I tell my team that all the time. Why God has chosen to be good to me, I’m not exactly sure. I have so many faults and failures like most of us in this journey, but His goodness overwhelms me.”

The state president of the Baptist Student Union while a senior at Southern Mississippi in 1991-92, Freeze was licensed to preach by his home church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, in Independence, Miss., in 1991. Freeze became a Christian when he was 7.

He and his wife Jill and daughters Jordan, Ragan and Madison are members of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro.

Ultimately more important than teaching his players X’s and O’s, Freeze wants to introduce them to Jesus Christ.

“The fact that God has put me and the staff in a position of leadership … carries with it a burden that you want to be found faithful,” Freeze said. “Hopefully, you can give them the greatest gift of all time, that being a relationship with Jesus Christ.

“I made a vow to God that I would never coach a kid who did not hear the plan of salvation.”

The former recruiting coordinator at Ole Miss, Freeze, 42, was the high school coach of NFL player Michael Oher, who was featured in the book and movie “The Blind Side.” Freeze preaches that his players have a God who loves them “more than they will ever know” and insists that his staff model the idea that there is “something different about us that inspires them to seek what that is.”

Success follows those who “walk the walk” with Christ, said center Tom Castilaw, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and was named to the Sun Belt pre-season all-conference team.

“We know that nothing happens outside of God’s will, and nothing happens outside of Christ’s reign,” Castilaw said. “Any time there is success, it’s easy to say, ‘I am awesome; this is cool,’ and kind of forget God. We are constantly brought back to the point, ‘Let’s give God the glory for this.’ Coach Freeze wants to build a winning program, but his focus is ‘Let’s glorify Christ with our lives.'”

Never have Freeze and his wife wanted to glorify God more than when their middle daughter, Jordan, was born.

Physicians told them that she might have Down syndrome. They prayed that God’s will be done, and Freeze said, “If God wants us to have a baby with Down syndrome, He has chosen the right people to do it. I trusted Him and prayed, ‘If You deliver a healthy baby, I will give praise to everyone of Your power.'”

When Jordan was born on Freeze’s 30th birthday, Sept. 27, 1999, she was perfectly healthy. He and his wife cried.

“Christ is the Rock, and hopefully, I’ll never forget that,” said Freeze, whose spiritual goal is to love God “with all my heart, soul and mind.”

For the Freezes, rocks have been reminders of God’s faithfulness. Jill has kept a record of significant family events by painting dates on rocks that fill up a fish bowl. They include salvation and baptisms of their children, answered prayers, moves and coaching opportunities.

When Freeze became head coach, it challenged his faith.

He was replacing Steve Roberts, whom Freeze called a “model of what I think God would want a coach to be. I have great admiration for him.”

Freeze had left San Jose State University after a two-month stint in 2010 as offensive coordinator to help Roberts. When Freeze learned that he was Arkansas State’s choice to replace Roberts, who was dismissed after nine seasons and a 4-8 record in 2010, he couldn’t sleep.

“I really had a hard time enjoying achieving my goal (to be a Football Bowl Subdivision coach). One moment I was, ‘Thank You, God.’ The next moment I was thinking of the hurt Coach Roberts was experiencing.”

The fact that he coached Michael Oher has helped him recruit at Arkansas State.

“People may or may not have heard of Arkansas State or Hugh Freeze, but you mention, ‘Have you seen The Blind Side?’ and they all have seen it. It opens doors,” said Freeze.

Whatever the future holds for the 2011 Arkansas State team, Castilaw knows it will not just be measured by wins and losses.

“The more we are in the business of obedience, whether results are produced or not, I can see Coach Freeze is wanting to produce men who love the Lord,” Castilaw said.
First published in the Arkansas Baptist News, online at ArkansasBaptist.org. Bill Sorrell is a freelance writer and pastor of First Baptist Church in Whiteville, Tenn.

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  • Bill Sorrell