Once a reluctant actor, Jason McLeod is now an enthusiastic witness.
The Albany, Ga., man, who played the role of team captain Brock Kelley in the movie "Facing the Giants," recently told North Georgia Fellowship of Christian Athletes members to look to the Lord as they face trials in their life.
"You don't have to build an ark, you don't have to sacrifice your son, you don't have to lead people out of a country," McLeod said.
Yet every young person is likely to have some "bully sin," something "they struggle with, something that eats them alive at night," the 26-year-old said, and the only way to triumph over such a sin is "to give that to the Lord."
"The great people, that is how they pushed through," he said. "You can't do that on your own. You have to depend on your relationship with the Lord."
When "Facing the Giants" was filmed by Albany's Sherwood Baptist Church in 2004, McLeod said, he went to auditions because the congregation filmmakers asked people to come out to help.
"I had no intention or expectation of getting a role except in the background helping with football," he said. "Alex [Kendrick, an associate pastor at the church] encouraged me to read for the role of Brock, and I reluctantly did it."
The movie, made on a shoestring budget by volunteers, went on to become a surprise hit and led to the completion of additional movies by the church production team.
McLeod, meanwhile, found life was imitating art. His character, the defensive captain and most influential player on the team, was half-hearted on the field and apathetic in the classroom.
In life, McLeod had been captain of his high-school football team, a senior superlative and had many leadership opportunities. But, he said, though he hadn't been a bad person, he'd been complacent in his faith.
"It was paralleling my life," McLeod said. "This character was me on a lot of levels. It was a huge learning experience ... how it challenged me."
His character, he said,
learned "if you stand up and lead, these guys will follow. It became very personal to me in the same kind of way."
McLeod, who had just graduated from high school when the movie was made and went on to play football at Georgia Southern University, eventually realized he was being called into ministry.
"I didn't know what that meant," he said. "I had no [particular] opportunities to do anything. This was not anything I pursued."
McLeod left the football team but continued to go to classes just as the movie was released. He had relatively low expectations for the film, he said, but once it was released, one opportunity after another to speak about his experience came up. And, he said, it hasn't stopped for the last six years.
McLeod's ministry has taken him to children's camps, detention centers, prisons, retirement homes, children's homes and high school and college campuses, especially with sports-related events.
He later had a small part in the Sherwood production of "Fireproof," then worked behind the scenes on the church's latest release, "Courageous."
The independent Christian movies, he said, are just a big "church family effort," a two-year process from start to finish by "a bunch of folks in South Georgia with regular lives."
The future for him, McLeod said, is in God's hands. He's just trying to "teach from God's word," he said. "I just want to try to encourage students with that ... in areas of life relevant to them.
"I didn't go looking for this," McLeod said. "It kind of found me. I just want to take advantage of the platform."
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...