SUMMERDALE, Alabama — The youngsters at the Baldwin County Boys Ranch celebrated an early Christmas on Wednesday Crimson Tide-style. Former Alabama All-American defensive backJeremiah Castille visited the Boys Ranch on behalf of his Jeremiah Castille Foundation, and he brought along former Tide wide receiver Brandon Gibson, Alabama wheelchair basketball playerDequel Robinson, rapper Already Ready and gift bags from Bama football coach Nick Saban.
“Drew and Lisa Crouse are on our board,” Castille said, in explaining his trip from Birmingham to Summerdale. “This is a project that he had gotten started, and once he came aboard with our foundation, he wanted to be a blessing to these children during Christmas time. It just fits in with what we do as a ministry and within our foundation of investing in young people, letting them know they’re cared about. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if there hadn’t been grownups who took time to show me love, concern and took the time to draw out the good things in me that they saw. Through these gifts, these small tokens we can give, hopefully, we can encourage them.”
Gibson was a UMS-Wright star before playing on the 2009 and 2011 BCS national championship teams at Alabama. “I learned a valuable lesson when I first got to college,” Gibson told the boys, “and that is everything is not promised to you. You’ve got to work for it. “I learned from a guy named D.J. Hall. One of the best receivers Alabama’s ever had, but he had his problems. He told me straight up: ‘Don’t be like me.’ He taught me a valuable lesson – that the NFL is not promised to you. I got my head on straight and started to take my schooling very, very seriously.”
Gibson said one thing in particular that Saban said while he was playing for the Tide had influenced his life. “One thing I learned from coach Saban,” Gibson said. “Don’t pray to receive blessings. Pray to be a blessing.” Gibson left his phone number for the boys to use if they needed to talk. Gibson, who now works in medical sales, earned not only a bachelor’s degree, but also a master’s degree from Alabama. “To go back and go the extra mile and get a master’s degree was a big deal to me,” Gibson said, “and it will take me farther than sports would.” Gibson told the boys at their age, “the choices and decisions you make every single day will deeply affect your future.”
Robinson, a football and track standout at LeFlore, contrasted his story with Gibson’s.
“Brandon is a great example to show what you can do when you make great decisions and the right choices,” Robinson said. Robinson told the boys he was a fighter from childhood, a trait “that grew into a very, very bad temper.” “I fought a lot,” Robinson said. “That’s what I was known for. That was my reputation. And it wasn’t good.” Robinson lost a football scholarship at Alabama A&M because he got in a fight at school. He got a second chance running track at Southwest Mississippi Community College. But he left school after another fight. “That demon was still inside me,” Robinson said.
Robinson lamented more poor choices back home in Mobile, including the night he was at a club drinking with friends. At the club, Robinson said he “ran into guys I’d been fighting since ninth grade.” “As soon as a guy said a word, I hit him,” Robinson said. “So it’s me fighting six guys in a club. It was normal.” Robinson was ejected from the club, but got back in and into another fight. Thrown out again, he decided to leave. But just as he got to his car, he “felt the first shot.” There would be six more. “That one punch I threw in the club,” Robinson said, “led to where I am now – sitting in this chair, paralyzed from the waist down.” “I made up my mind lying in that hospital bed with seven holes in me,” Robinson said, “that I would find a different path. This time, I would try to find the right path with God.”
Robinson discovered wheelchair basketball after being paralyzed and that led to what he called his third chance – playing wheelchair basketball while attending Alabama.
“I’m on that path I’m supposed to be on,” Robinson said. “I’m not supposed to be here, but God had a greater purpose for my life.”
After Gibson and Robinson spoke and Already Ready, who gave his testimony in songs, performed, the 10 boys received their gifts, including an autographed photo of Alabama’s All-American quarterback, AJ McCarron. Gibson autographed photos of himself in action for the Tide. The youngsters got gift bags from Saban, which included an autographed program book from the 2012 BCS national championship game against Notre Dame, an Alabama ballcap and socks. Already Ready presented the boys with copies of his CD and T-shirts.
“This is the kind of stuff behind the scenes that coach Saban does besides winning national championships that a lot of people don’t know about,” said Castille, the chaplain for the Alabama football team. “I think Brandon really summed it up when he said coach Saban said he wants to be a blessing. When we told Brandon about this, he said at the drop of a hat, ‘I’ll come over. Just let me know.’ And that tells you the kind of influence that coach Saban is having at the University of Alabama on guys.”
The Summerdale facility is one of four in the Boys and Girls Ranches of Alabama. At the ranches, “Children live in family situations with house parents on working ranches where Christian principles, hard work, responsibility, manners and loving kindness are used to help children grow strong in body, mind and spirit,” the system’s web site states.
“This means a lot to the boys,” said Jim Harmon, the Baldwin County ranch’s director. “They look forward to seeing Jeremiah and Drew and their guests each year. These guys bring a story that they’ve gone through that maybe our boys have faced or can help them in the future with problems they come up against.”
Article contributed by: Mark Inabinett | firstname.lastname@example.org