NASHVILLE (BP) — Jake McEntire was a movie-minded student at Dallas Baptist University in 2004 when he felt God leading him to write a film script. Thanks to prodding from a few friends — and lots of prayer — McEntire finally did so.
McEntire’s 14-year-old screenplay becomes reality Feb. 22 when “Run the Race” is released in theaters. Former NFL and college football player Tim Tebow and his brother Robby served as executive producers, while Chris Dowling (Where Hope Grows) directed it. The WTA Group, a company that helped market “I Can Only Imagine,” also was involved.
The faith-based story follows the lives of two teenage brothers who are chasing their high school athletic dreams after the death of their mother and abandonment by their father. When yet another tragedy strikes, the boys must rely on one another and decide if the Christian faith they were taught as children — the faith of their mother — is real.
“This is a story that God put on my heart,” McEntire told Baptist Press. “I want people who watch the film just to run after God and run after Jesus a little bit more than they did the day before.”
The film was endorsed by J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Gary Cook, chancellor of Dallas Baptist University; and Jimmy Draper, former president of LifeWay Christian Resources. LifeWay will release curriculum based on the film.
Trey Brunson, a friend of McEntire’s, is an executive producer, too. The two met during a spiritual formations class at Dallas Baptist. Brunson said McEntire discussed the story — a lot — while in school.
“After a few years of him telling me the story over and over and over again, I finally said, ‘Jake, I don’t want to hear this story again. If you don’t write it down, no one will ever see this movie. I believe in you. I believe that people will see this movie.’ And so he started writing,” Brunson said.
Still, it took more than a decade to get it made into a movie. McEntire and Brunson spent their time collecting endorsements for the screenplay.
The turning point, though, came when the Tebows read the script and got involved. Brunson knew them from his days at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., where his father, Mac Brunson, was pastor. Trey Brunson was on staff at the church and had frequent interactions with Robby during Fellowship of Christian Athlete meetings. He showed Robby a concept trailer.
“I immediately started to fall in love with the story,” Robby Tebow told BP. “And a couple months later we met in Los Angeles and read the script and it was one of the few times in my life where immediately, I just fell in love and felt called. It impacted my heart in a way where I just felt God calling me to be a part of this and to help tell the story.”
The fictional story isn’t based on the lives of the Tebows. Nevertheless, Tim and Robby felt a connection to the brother-centric story.
“There were a lot of things about it that resonated,” Robby Tebow said.
“Whether your brother agrees with you or not, they have your back. You can be in a foxhole or you can be in a corner, and you know that person is going to come out fighting with you. There’s a large aspect of this movie that definitely related there.”
The film stars Tanner Stine (NCIS) as one of the brothers, Zach; Evan Hofer (Kickin’ It) as the other brother, Dave; Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) as the brothers’ coach; and Frances Fisher (Unforgiven) as their surrogate mother.
Zach is a high school quarterback with dreams of playing major college football when an injury derails his plans, leading him to question his purpose in life and the existence of God. Meanwhile, his brother and his girlfriend — both Christians — try to pull him back to his faith. Dave is a former high school athlete who saw his own athletic dreams derailed with a head injury.
The movie includes a gospel message but also several other themes that filmmakers hope can spark discussions. Among them: the bond between siblings and family members, the need to support and love one another during hard times, and the importance of individual spiritual growth.
“I hope people are encouraged and inspired,” Robby Tebow said. “We serve a very big God, and it’s OK to have big goals and big dreams, but it’s important to put yourself in a scenario where people support you and have your back. You don’t have to do it alone. And I think sometimes we can get in a very lonely place in our lives.”
It is the Tebows’ first venture into filmmaking. It likely won’t be their last movie.
“Moving forward, I think both of us definitely want to be a part of more things that impact and tell a story, and that can be inspirational,” Robby Tebow said. “But we also want them to be good movies. It was about telling a story, but making a good movie, too.”
Brunson, who is communications director at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., said he hopes churches get behind the movie. He also hopes many non-believers watch it.
“I think it’s an honest movie,” Brunson said. “I want there to be Christians to take up that call, to be Dave, to run the race and chase after those people in your life who need to hear the Gospel.”
It likely isn’t the last movie from McEntire, who says God gave him a passion for filmmaking, including for acting.
“We [humanity] are story-driven people,” said McEntire, a member of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. “God did that for a reason. The majority of the time [in the Bible,] Jesus is talking in stories. He’s telling stories to prove his point, to win people’s hearts, to get them to understand.”
Movies, McEntire said, are a unique way to communicate the Gospel to those who may never attend church. But movies can impact Christians, too.
“Fifteen-year-olds now watching the movie could be impacted to run after Christ. And then when they turn 50, they’re showing their kids, they’re showing their grandkids perhaps and saying, ‘Check this movie out. This one moved me.’ And if you tell a good-enough story, it’ll still hold up. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ still holds up today, and it was made in 1946.”
For more information, visit RunTheRaceMovie.com.