The Brindlee Family

"We are family," Brindlee Mountain's players are saying. Some of those players shown here are:

Front - Ethan Mcgee, Jaylen Anderson and Mythias Tannehill.

Middle - Mathew Westmorelanbd, Kaleb Henderson, Zac King and Bryce Royster.

Back - Nick Royster, Caleb Scott and Cade Pridmore.

It may or may not translate to wins on the scoreboard, but a right remarkable thing is happening in the Brindlee Mountain High football program this year.

The Lions have taken their lumps in recent years, but the 26 young warriors who have stuck with the program now enjoy a tremendous feeling. Attitudes are changing. Hearts are changing. 

"We're not a team," said Mythias Tannehill, a 5-7, 300 pound freshman. "We're family."

Brindlee Mountain has been a historically all-white football team. Tannehill and 4 of the Lions this season are black. 

Race doesn't seem to be on anyone's mind this season however. 

"I don't think about race or racism," Tannehill said. 

"If you cut him, he bleeds red," Cade Pridmore said. "If you cut me, I bleed red. We're no different."

What's going on in the Brindlee Mountain fieldhouse goes far beyond black and white or the X's and O's used to draw up football plays. 

Coach Keith Garner will tell you that most of his players do not enjoy the economic advantages many city teams have. There are some families enduring tough times in the far reaches of rural Brindlee Mountain. 

"I've had players who left the team because they needed to work to help their families," Garner said. "I don't fault a kid who has to do that."

For the boys who remain, what Garner hopes to instill goes way beyond the football field. He wants the lessons of football to be about developing character, overcoming struggles and becoming good men. 

"These guys are going to be husbands and fathers one day," he said. 

To that end, Garner and his team have a book study every season. On Fridays, when there are no activities other than the game that night, the team meets in small groups to talk about the book. 

Last year's book was "Trusting God To Get You Through" by Grammy winning gospel singer Jason Crabb. 

"We read the book, then Jason came in and had a concert," Garner said. "Jason grew up poor. He grew up in a trailer with holes in the floor and you could see the dirt under the trailer. He had his struggles. Now he's a superstar."

The book in Garner's first year was "The Uncommon Man" by former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy.

This year's book is "How To Be A Man" by Rick Burgess and Andy Blanks. Four captains - book captains, not necessarily team captains - will lead the book study for Garner.

How common is it for a football team to have a book study?

"It's not unheard of," Garner said. "Coach Randall Taylor used to do some of this when he was at New Hope. He's here at Brindlee now."

A local church provides the books for Garner and the team. 

"The churches out here are so good to us," Garner said. The churches often provide team meals for the Lions on game days.

Garner acknowledged some of the guys might not exactly dive into the book. But he  hopes just to plant a seed. 

"Jason Crabb said some of the guys might throw it in a box or throw it on a shelf and not pay any attention to it," Garner said. "But at some point, it will come back to them."

Garner thinks some of the lessons may be sinking in with his squad already. 

"We had a player who always wore tennis shoes to practice," the coach said. "I didn't say a word to anybody. Some of the guys noticed and 4 or 5 of them got together and bought him a pair of cleats. It made me proud."

It's what families do. 

Brindlee Mountain has won one game in the last 2 seasons. Some coaches might be looking to bolt. 

"I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing," Garner said. He sounds more like a minister than a coach when he talks about such things, but he will tell you quickly he's no minister. 

Success on the field would be nice. But Garner is enjoying the attitude change that seems to have enveloped the squad this year. Even the boys have noticed.

"It's the best group I've had in the 3 years I've been here," he said. You're not sure whether he means athletically or because they're listening and buying into the life lessons he's instilling along with the football fundamentals.

"Things are going very good," said Kaleb Henderson, a Brindlee running back. "It's a lot better than last year."

"If someone messes up, if someone gets down, someone else brings them back," said Bryce Royster, a lineman. "If Kaleb gets down, it's my job to pick him up."

"It feels good," said Jaylen Anderson. "It feels like a team. It feels like family."

The boys keep going back to family and building each other up through adversity. It's exactly what Garner is looking for. 

One player noted that Brindlee finished the season with 16 players last year. 

"We've got 26 this year," he beamed proudly. 

Garner is hoping more Brindlee Mountain athletes will choose to play football as well as other sports. That hasn't been a strong suite for the Lions in the recent past. 

But Caleb Scott, a big tight end, is breaking that mold. He plays basketball as well as football. 

Garner tried to recruit some soccer players this year. 

"I lost that battle this time," he said, smiling. "But I won't always lose it."

For now, he's content with his 26 and the direction the team seems to be going.

"We are a family," Garner said. "The kids are doing good. Do they make bone-headed mistakes sometimes? Of course. They're kids."

But there's no denying an attitude change is in the works on Brindlee Mountain. 

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