When discussing his future legacy, former Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle doesn’t mince words.
“Football is a blessing and I enjoyed it,” Croyle said. “But if I’m remembered as a football player then I have not done my job while on earth to impact the kingdom.”
Well, he will be remembered as a football player, but also a lot more.
The son of Crimson Tide legendary defensive end John Croyle, Brodie was exposed to the game at a young age. Born in Rainbow City, Ala., and raised in the small town, Croyle grew up on Big Oak Ranch, a home for abandoned, neglected and abused children started by his father in 1974.
He may have been surrounded by children who were not related to him by blood, but he still called them his brothers and sisters.
Croyle eventually attended high school at Westbrook Christian. Despite it being a small 1A school, he jumped at the opportunity to play football.
“Going to a 1A school and playing there, there was always chatter of ‘Hey man’ — what people always told my dad — ‘If you want Brodie to go play college you’d better get him in a bigger school,’” Croyle said. “That was the language that people would always throw out there. My dad said something that he told me and it just stuck with me: ‘Son, if you’re good enough they’re going to find you. That’s their job.’
"[I] loved getting to go to school there and it didn’t take long to get scholarship offers and going to camps in the summers.”
His father was right, and soon Croyle was popular in recruiting circles. While deep down he desired to attend the school his father had attended so many years earlier, coaching struggles and the threat of possible probation for the Crimson Tide had him keeping his options open.
“It was such a fun process,” Croyle said. “Getting to see how many amazing schools are out there and all the great people that are out there, but at the end of the day to make a long story short, on paper it probably made the least amount of sense for me to go to the University of Alabama. Alabama had just hired Dennis Franchione. It was an option-style system. We knew that sanctions were coming. We knew that probations were a possibility. But there’s something about when you grow up dreaming of playing there.
“There’s something about when your dad played there. At the end of the day you gotta go where your heart’s leading you.”
After multiple recruiting visits by college coaches, Croyle had not yet reached his ultimate decision. However, a visit by former Alabama native and Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden steered him to Tuscaloosa.
“It was actually coach Bowden’s words — and he doesn’t even realize it — that kinda pointed me in the right direction,” Croyle said. “He came to my house as his regular, charming self [and] had my mother ready for me to commit to Florida State. He really did most of the talking and at the end of it all I said ‘Coach Bowden it sounds great and I’m really leaning towards going to Florida State but’ — you know, at that point he was getting towards the end of his career, and I said ‘I just want to know if I’m going to come there, if you’re going to be there.' He said something as a pitch for Florida State but it pointed me towards the University of Alabama. He said ‘Son, you don’t go to universities because of head coaches. Head coaches come and go. You go to a university because it’s something that you believe in and something that you want to tie your name to.’
"At that point I said to myself ‘This is somewhere that I’ve always dreamed of going and I don’t care what the situation is.’”
And that was that.
Croyle decided to attend Alabama and soon after committed to the Crimson Tide.
To this day, Croyle chuckles at the ironic accuracy of Bowden’s words that led him to Alabama.
“Little did I know how prophetic coach Bowden was,” Croyle laughed. “I was one of those that was recruited by [Mike] DuBose, played for [Dennis] Franchione, practiced for [Mike] Price and finished with [Mike] Shula, so boy could he have not been more prophetic with that statement that he had.”
Croyle graduated early from Westbrook and started attending classes at Alabama in January 2001. After redshirting his freshman year, he became backup to senior Tyler Watts for his second season.
After the 2002 season, though, Franchione left to take over the head coaching job at Texas A&M. This brought about Price in January 2003, but he was dismissed just five months later after due to unsavory off-the-field conduct.
Soon after, Miami Dolphins quarterback coach and former Crimson Tide quarterback Mike Shula was hired, and remained head coach for the rest of Croyle’s tenure.
Despite the coaching chaos, and Alabama indeed going on probation, Croyle has zero regrets about picking the Crimson Tide.
“Having so many coaches it teaches you early how different personalities work,” Croyle said. “The process of learning all-new terminology but it also teaches you personalities. I look back now and people say ‘Man don’t you wish that you had been able to play for Saban,’ and I’m like ‘You know what, obviously playing for Coach Saban would’ve been a great thing but I wouldn’t trade my time.' I know that my journey was my journey and that I needed to take it and go walk it so I’m very grateful for it.”
After back-to-back disappointing seasons and a knee injury that forced him to sit out his junior year, Croyle came back determined to finish strong. In 2005, he led Alabama to a 10-2 season and a final ranking of No. 8. The exclamation mark was a 13-10 Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech.
After graduating from Alabama in 2006, Croyle was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the third round of the NFL draft.
Croyle quickly realized that professional football was on an entirely different level than it was during his days of playing in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“I remember my first practice we ran a play that I’d run a million times: an in-cut with a cross,” Croyle said. “They went man coverage and with an in-cut you read high to low and I saw that the in-cut was covered so I hit the crossing route for my first rep in the NFL and I was like ‘Sweet, completion.' I went back and the quarterback coach said ‘Why didn’t you rip it?’ And I said ‘Rip what?’ And he said ‘The in-cut.' I said he was covered and he said he wasn’t and I said that he looked covered. He said ‘Alright we’ll watch it in film’ and we went on to the next play. When we got into the film room and the play ran I said ‘See? I told you coach, he was covered.’ And he went ‘Son, out here that is not covered.’ He had about a four-inch window to get the ball in and I went ‘Oh wow! Ok.’
“It was one of those moments where I went ‘Ok I’d better hold on to this as long as possible because these guys play at a different level.’”
After five seasons in the NFL, Croyle reached a point in which his body was beaten. Following 11 surgeries from numerous injuries including three fractured vertebrae and a ruptured spleen, Croyle and his wife, Kelli Schutz, decided that it would be best for him to retire.
Despite having several opportunities to return, he knew that his time had come. In 2012, he hung up his helmet for the last time.
Soon after retiring, the Croyles moved back to Tuscaloosa, where Brodie partnered with a friend in the land and timber business. Despite being successful, he didn't feel that it was his calling.
“The children at Big Oak have always been my heart,” Croyle said. “But that was my family’s deal. It was my dad’s deal. He raised me to be my own man so that’s what I was doing, but at some point in time I wanted to be able to do more than just write a check.”
One night after a long day of work, Croyle sat down with his wife and began to discuss the tugging that had been placed on his heart to return to Rainbow City and continue the work that his father had begun so many years earlier.
Her response was not at all what he expected.
“I said ‘I really feel like God’s calling us back to the ranch and started crying and I thought ‘This is not going at all how I thought this was going to go,’” Croyle said. “And she just said something that I’ll never forget. She just looked at me and she said ‘I’ve been waiting for you to say this for five years. Me and your family have spent countless hours in prayer, countless hours in conversation but we knew it had to be on God’s time and it had to be on your time.’
“She said ‘Tell me when and I’ll have us packed.’”
Pack they did, and the couple, along with their son Sawyer, soon moved back to where it all began: Big Oak Ranch.
Fast forward to today, and Croyle along with his wife and two sons, 9-year-old Sawyer and 6-year-old Luke, reside in Rainbow City. He's the executive director at Big Oak Ranch, which is now up to serving over 150 children in two different branches.
“People ask me ‘So when did you surrender to the ministry?’” Croyle said. “I wake up every morning and I pinch myself. Out of anybody in this world that God could have used to do what we get to do, He chose us. I don’t take that for granted at all and I don’t view it as a surrender to anything. I am truly grateful that out of everybody He chose us and we get to serve 150 kids every single day.”
The ranch just started work on a new subdivision that is expected to be full of boys by the fall. In the next 10 years, Croyle expects for the ranch to double in size and dramatically increase capacity so that more children can be tended to and reached by the ministry.
Croyle welcomes the growth and looks to expand even further to meet the needs of the children that mean so much to him and his family.
“There’s still millions of kids out there that need it so we started planting oaks and over the past three years God’s really blessed it and we’ve really helped poured our resources into 50 different children’s homes in 17 different states that are now serving over 800 children,” Croyle said. “We’ve got about five ministries underneath our umbrella and every day is different and we’re just trying to equip everybody that leads each branch the best I can and be a resource but also going back to those football roots and understanding what my job is but also empowering those to do their job and do it well.”
The Croyle family has developed a lasting legacy in the lives of over 2,000 children over the years. The two-story brick homes, each housing eight children and a dedicated couple serving as the children’s mom and dad have helped minister to the children and spread love and joy to those who are in the most desperate need of it.
Earlier this year, it was announced that Croyle would be the first recipient of the inaugural Starr-Sullivan Achievement Award, an award given to a former college quarterback to demonstrates exemplary character and dedication to his community.
Croyle said that he is honored to have even been considered.
“It is humbling to say the least,” Croyle said. “Those are two guys that I’ve always looked up to that I always said ‘Man they did it the right way.’ To have the board and their families out of anybody that they could have picked to say ‘Hey we want you to receive it first,' I am humbled beyond words and I couldn’t be more grateful to receive it.”
When all is said and done, when it comes to discussing his legacy, Croyle knows exactly how he wants to be remembered.
“My legacy here on earth, it’s going to write itself,” Croyle said. “What I want my legacy to be is when I stand before my Creator and when I stand before God almighty, and He looks at me and I say ‘I did as much as I could with what I’ve been given,’ for Him to look at me and say ‘Yes you did. Welcome.'
“That’s the legacy that I’m searching for. That is what we wake up every single day for. That’s why we go as hard as we go.”