Founder, Jeremiah Castille
Brooks High School seventh-grader, Tyler Gautney, is the kind of person Jeremiah Castille
calls "a winner".
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.
said that he
was impressed by Thraikill's positive attitude and determination to overcome his
signed a Bible for Thraikill when he
spoke at Thraikill's church.
Thraikill later said tat losing the Bible in the fire was his
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
"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."
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
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.
three siblings entered the foster care system.
"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."
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.