2013 Heart of Houston Recipient

Tyler Gautney, 2013 Heart of Houston Recipient

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Tyler Gautney2013 Winner

Brooks High School seventh-grader, Tyler Gautney, is the kind of person Jeremiah Castille calls “a winner”. Known as a student dedicated to his studies, family and church, with an easy smile and always ready with an encouraging word for others, Gautney also might just be the kind of person society doesn’t understand, given his background and the hardships he’s endured in his young life.

On Wednesday, May 8th, Castille presented Gautney with his organization’s Heart of Houston award, an honor bestowed annually upon a middle school student in Alabama who, despite hardships in life, shows a fighting spirit and determination to succeed.

As the recipient of the Heart of Houston award, Tyler received a $1,000 scholarship to the college of his choice, a Bible signed by Castille and an Alabama football signed by Castille and his three sons, all of whom played football at Alabama including his youngest, who is on the team now.

The Bible is symbolic of the first award given to 13-year-old Houston Thraikill, of Cullman, after his home burned in 2008. Castille said that he was impressed by Thraikill’s positive attitude and determination to overcome his family’s tragedy. Castille signed a Bible for Thraikill when he spoke at Thraikill’s church. Thraikill later said tat losing the Bible in the fire was his greatest regret. Castille replaced the Bible and soon thereafter the foundation created the Heart of Houston award.

Castille, a former defensive back at the University of Alabama who later went on to play six seasons in the NFL, now heads the Birmingham-based Jeremiah Castille Foundation. He became an ordained minister in 2001.

Standing before the Brooks High School student body, Castille told the assembly that Tyler, in many ways, is a reflection of himself in his youth.

“A lot of people simply can’t relate to the fact that a child could be rejected by his family,” Castille said. “It’s hard for people to comprehend because it just shouldn’t be. I look for young people with challenges because I had them and I know what it takes to overcome that kind of upbringing. But I also know that these same challenges mold character.”

Castille grew up in an abusive home with alcoholic parents. The eighth of nine children, he told the students that the very people who were supposed to love and nurture him as a child, were the very ones who hurt him most. “It’s tough growing up when the very people who should love you, reject you,” he said, adding that the abuse at one point when he was 10 escalated to his mother cutting him with a knife when she was drunk.

Gautney’s young life in many ways paralleled Castille’s. The 13-year-old spent his early years with a mentally ill mother and an alcoholic and abusive father. He and his three siblings entered the foster care system. His foster parents, Ladale and Russell Gautney, took the children in and after having them for two years, Tyler’s biological parents’ rights were terminated and the Gautneys adopted the siblings. “Tyler’s life when he was young wasn’t pleasant and he’s had to overcome a lot,” Ladale Gautney said. “He’s working his way through it all. He’s so very smart, keeps A’s in his classes and remains so good-hearted and compassionate. He’s humble and so very thankful. When other kids are saying they’re thankful for their Wii system, Tyler says he’s thankful for a home and a family. He’s that kind of child.”

Tyler, who didn’t know until the presentation that he was the award recipient, said he was shocked. “I really didn’t expect anything like this,” he said. “I knew (Castille) was coming to our school and was looking forward to hearing him speak but I didn’t know about this award. It’s pretty awesome.”

Castille issued a challenge to the students: “Listen to and learn from your teachers.”

“I was a quiet, shy guy but my background made me mature quickly,” he said, adding that his maturity helped him become a leader for Paul Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide from 1979-82. “I wasn’t the fastest guy out there, and at 5 feet 9, 155 pounds I wasn’t the biggest, but I sure had heart and I listened, a lot. Football was a piece of cake because I’d already lived through life’s biggest obstacles. Your lives are stories and you all are writing them. “At 13, Tyler has decided to be a winner. You all have to decide what stories will fill your book.”

By Lisa Singleton-Rickman Staff Writer
TimesDaily.com