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Croyle reminds FDA students to keep focus on ‘the big picture’

On a freezing cold and snowy Sunday playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers,  Kansas City Chief quarterback Brodie Croyle, a former Crimson Tide standout, found himself performing his first play ever in the NFL.

He threw a touchdown.

The only problem is, he threw the pigskin to a receiver for the other team, who ran it 55 yards for a touchdown for the Steelers.

“Where did I mess up? I was so busy focusing on the best tight end in the NFL and the best safety that I failed to see the other team’s receiver right there in front of me. I couldn’t see what I needed to see because I was focused on the wrong things,” Croyle explained.

“And sometimes we all focus so much on the ‘right here and now’ that we lose sight on the bigger story.”

Croyle, a Rainbow City native and director of the non-profit Big Oak Ranch, spoke to students, staff and guests at Fort Dale Academy on Thursday morning. The school’s SGA is currently raising funds for Big Oak, a faith-based organization which has served approximately 2,000 youngsters since opening in 1974.

The lifelong Alabama fan said he was the same age as most of the fifth graders present when he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up.

“I remember I walked into my parents’ bedroom and said, ‘I am going to play in the NFL one day’ . . . and my parents told me to shoot for the moon,” Croyle recalled.

“To my fault, that became my god. Football became all I wanted in life, all I thought about. You could say my priority list got turned upside down.”

Croyle’s quest to become an NFL star led him to play at Alabama during a tough transitional period for the school’s football program. “Those were not the Saban years. I played for four different coaches in four years. Needless to say, it was a learning experience adjusting each year to someone new. And it was fun,” he said.

Drafted by the Chiefs in 2006, he went on to play for five seasons before being released in 2011.

“My coach in the NFL told us, ‘You play on Sunday, but I am also concerned about you Monday through Saturday and what you do with your days . . . my plan is to help you become not only a better player, but a better husband, father—a better man.’”

Croyle added, “When we look at the measure of a man, what’s most important is not how much money he makes or how much power or notoriety he has. It’s how he affects others around him in a positive way.”

The speaker reminded the students present that there were many people at the school “who are set to help you find success.”

“They are invested in you, and you have to be invested in yourself daily. There will be those moments, those ‘plays’ in your life and how you respond can help make you—or break you.”

Croyle told the students the children and youth served at Big Oak Ranch “are just like you in many ways . . . except, I am assuming, that your parents actually stuck around for you. These are kids who just need a chance. They have been abused, neglected, orphaned or abandoned.”

He recalled, as a small boy, standing next to his father, John Croyle, founder of Big Oak, as a man drove up in a vehicle with three boys inside.

“’My girlfriend says I gotta choose between my kids or her,’ the man told my dad. And then he said, ‘So I want to leave my three boys here with you.’”

The oldest child, Croyle recalled, seemed happy enough to be there. The middle child ran off and had to be chased down by staff members at the ranch.

And the third child, who was close to Brodie’s age, clung tightly to his dad and pleaded for him not to leave him ‘like Mama did.’ The man left anyway.

“Little did I know that little boy would go on to become my best friend . . . and he called me a few years ago to ask me to be in his wedding. His house parents at Big Oak served as his mother and best man. And he was so excited because this woman he was marrying had a seven-year-old daughter—and now he could be the daddy she needed and didn’t have,” explained Croyle.

“You know, we both messed up a lot along the way—but we still made it. Do not let your past define you. And don’t let all these things out here—social media, friends—keep you from seeing the big picture and what’s really important.”

Croyle said his coaches taught him to “play to a high standard every single day no matter who you are playing in front of—and that applies to a lot more than football.”

Croyle added, “Jesus set the standard. He came, lived and died so that even though we mess up, we can be forgiven and spend an eternity in heaven. Can we ever live up to that standard He set? Not a chance. But it’s important to keep reaching for it. When you do the right thing in all aspects of your lives, just wait and see what happens.”

During a Q & A session following his talk, Croyle explained that Big Oak actually has three campuses, with 10 cottage homes at each location. A husband and wife team serve as house parents for either six boys or six girls in each home.

“And just like a regular mom or dad, they take the kids to sports, to music lessons, whatever it is they need. We also pay for each of these children to get a college education—in fact, we have 22 students in college right now,” Croyle explained.

The former football star stayed for a few minutes after the Q&A session to talk with the students, pose for photos and sign autographs.

Croyle also praised his student audience, saying, “If you haven’t been really listening, you’ve done a heck of a job imitating it.”