In cities all over Alabama, Friday night football games are one of the most beloved parts of the week. That’s certainly true for Grove Hill, where the Clarke County High School football team recently won the state 2A championship.
But for some in Grove Hill, Friday morning breakfasts have become even more beloved. That’s because ever since Grove Hill Baptist Church started feeding football players from Clarke County High and Clarke Preparatory School on game day before school, 14 players have professed new faith in Christ.
It all started last summer when the church’s deacon chairman, Bobby Keahey, proposed the idea of having a deacon at the church every day to pray about what God might have them do to reach their community. It wasn’t long before one of those deacons, Brandon Garrick, felt God begin to lay something specific on his heart.
“When I was growing up and playing ball in school, we always had a church that did that outreach and would always invite the football players to eat breakfast every Friday morning,” Garrick said.
He mentioned it to a friend — Eric Neel, defensive coordinator at Clarke County High — and Neel told him there wasn’t anything like that for the players.
“Some moms used to do it, but there wasn’t anyone feeding them on game day these days,” Garrick said.
Making a plan
Garrick and Neel, a fellow church member at Grove Hill Baptist, put their heads together with Kyle Routzahn, senior pastor, and Austin Bedwell, student pastor, and came up with a plan. They invited football players from both schools, recruited people to share devotions each week and figured out how to feed breakfast to as many as 100.
Some of the senior adult members of the church helped out, providing fresh eggs, Routzahn said.
The first week they had around 45 players. Soon, they were averaging 80 to 90 each Friday morning, including cheerleaders and band members.
Along the way they saw God work, Routzahn said. He shared his own testimony with the players of meeting Jesus while in rehab at age 25. Garrick also shared his testimony of coming to faith at 26. Jeremiah Castille, who played in the NFL in the 1980s, spoke one Sunday and they invited the football teams to the service.
Along the way, Routzahn said he could see God “was disarming them.”
Garrick saw the same thing happening. Many of the players had never been regular church attendees, but he had conversations with several who were ready to give their lives to Christ. When Routzahn shared the gospel, 14 football players responded.
Leaders got each player who attended the breakfasts a study Bible with his name and number on it.
Garrick said all this had nothing to do with them — “first it had to do with prayer; our deacons started praying and God started moving.”
And it kept going.
As both teams got into the playoffs, the breakfasts continued. Clarke Prep lost out in the first round, but Clarke County High kept winning. They’d win, and Grove Hill would host another breakfast. Garrick said he thinks it was a “God thing” that they kept winning, so the breakfast outreach could keep going.
He said the players agreed — even mentioning it in news interviews after they won the state championship game in December.
“As they spoke after the game, the first thing they said is, ‘The only reason we’re here is because of God,’” Garrick noted. “The kids were saying God didn’t want that ministry to stop. I truly believe that state game and that season we just had with that football team, that it was a God thing.”
Garrick said it’s been a blessing to watch the students grow spiritually and see outreach grow. He said it’s also been a blessing to see the way it’s brought the two schools together.
“When Clarke County rolled out of town on the buses, Clarke Prep was standing out on the road cheering for them as they left,” he recalled.
Routzahn said the community is taking notice too, and a number of people have invested in the ministry with donations. The mother of one of the players stopped one of the deacons one day in the store and said her son had been coming to the breakfasts.
“She told him, ‘Please keep doing what you’re doing,’” Routzahn recounted.
Right now they’re working on doing breakfasts for the basketball teams and other sports at the schools.
Bedwell said he’s been thrilled about the opportunity to have an inlet.
“We’re always looking for ways to reach them, and I had no idea how big of an impact such a simple idea could make,” he said.
Seeing a change
Stacy Luker, head coach at Clarke County High, said after the ministry started “you could just see a change in the players — a lot of them — for the better.”
“I just really appreciate what Grove Hill Baptist has done with our kids and our school,” he added. “It’s been a neat thing to watch.”
Routzahn said it’s been a big encouragement for the church, which has been looking for what God has for them in this post-pandemic season.
“It started with prayer,” he asserted. “And I would recommend it to anyone who thinks it’s something they could do in their own community.”