Caesar Rentie grew up in extreme poverty with two deaf-mute parents before his standout football talents at Hartshorne High caught Barry Switzer’s eye.
Rentie played at Oklahoma, then spent time with the Chicago Bears before he answered the call to ministry. He’s currently a pastor at First United Methodist Church in Mansfield, Texas, and also works as a chaplain at Methodist Hospital of Mansfield.
Rentie spoke in-depth with The Oklahoman about his upbringing, college football’s life changing-impact and his career in the ministry.
When you’re growing up in poverty and both of your parents are handicapped, as a kid, you don’t really think anything is different. As an adult, looking back at it, I realize the huge disadvantages that I had, particularly in my education.
My childhood brought me blessings and curses. I’ve learned from both of them. I thank God for the gifts and I know the curses have shaped me in so many ways.
There were days when you were hungry. When there wasn’t enough heat, or when you just didn’t have enough. Those were hard times when we were growing up, but I didn’t recognize it as hard times.
I never really saw myself as poor. Compared to how I live today, I would’ve considered a person like me a very rich man.
My parents were raising four kids on $1,000 a month on welfare. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to work or anything like that, but my dad had disabilities with diabetes and his handicap. I remember I used to think $1,000 a month was a lot of money.
As bad as things can get, I always knew — and I learned this from my parents — they won’t stay bad forever if you stay hopeful.
Even if you’re dying. I watched both of my parents die, and even in their death, as sad as it was for me, there was still this hope — not about life itself — but that this goodness and wholeness was left. That’s what’s so amazing about it.
Everybody knows the story. Coach Switzer came from those same humble beginnings. For a lot of us who came to OU from very impoverished backgrounds, Coach Switzer offered a real opportunity for you to change your life if you took advantage of it.
There were tons of players who took advantage of it, and there were tons of players who didn’t. I was one of those players that should’ve flunked out. I was the worst student, and it wasn’t that I was lazy, I just didn’t have the things that I needed to be a successful student.
Reading, writing. Sentence structure, and all those things that I needed to succeed in college, I didn’t have it. But I took advantage of everything they had. Tutors, I took advantage of the tutors. When we went to study hall. I remember Dr. Luckett said to me, “Whatever you do, go to class.”
One time I remember looking on the syllabus, and it said 50 percent of the class was attendance. I was like, “Dang. If 50 percent of the class is attendance, I can do 20 percent.”
I not only think about how my life changed because I took advantage of the opportunity, but I think about how other people’s lives have changed because I’ve been in this position of influence. It’s almost like a ripple effect.
Coach Switzer was accessible. He’s so charismatic. He was cool. He always had the latest fashions.
If Coach Switzer was wearing it, we were gonna wear it. He was young.
Of course he had his demons; we all knew that. But I don’t think there was a player on the team who didn’t think Coach Switzer cared for him.
The first time I got cut by the Chicago Bears, I remember how disappointed I was. I remember talking to my high school coach. Mickey Beare said to me, “If you never play another down, thank God for what football has already given you. You got an education, and now you can really go do something with your life.”
After I retired from football, I took a graduate assistant position at TCU, and about the same time, I accepted the calling to ministry. TCU has a seminary on campus, and so I took seminary classes while I was coaching the football team, coaching offensive lineman.
After several months of coaching and going to seminary, it was almost like the call on my life was so strong that I had to let football go.
I talked to Coach (Pat) Sullivan and I talked to the administrators at TCU, because I didn’t know how I was gonna pay for school. The administrators made arrangements, and they paid for my school so I was able to walk away from football and go to school full time.
I always pray for TCU when OU’s playing them, so OU won’t beat them so bad.
One summer, I needed some extra hours. My professor came to me and said I should consider doing pastoral care and chaplaincy work in the hospitals. I started doing some research, and I figured I could pick up six hours.
That summer, there was a young kid who was murdered. I was there when his family decided that they were gonna do organ donation. I walked through that whole process with organ donation, all the different things they went through. It was difficult to be there, needless to say, but it was really where I felt like God was calling me to be.
Before the summer ended, I got invited to a recipient gathering that the Southwest Transplant Alliance put on. They had recipients get up and talk about what organ donation meant to them, and how blessed they were from it. One of the recipients received the heart of this young man.
He told this story, this amazing story. He was days from dying, and he got the news that there was a heart, and he realized how young the man was. He knew that he was getting a heart because somebody else had died. I remember him saying how he wept all night long before he went for surgery because he knew the person who died was a young man, and that he was about the same age as his son.
He eventually went to surgery, and he said after he went to surgery, he immediately could feel how healthy he was and realized how sick he’d been.
While he was recovering, he got a letter from the mother of the donor, asking if they could meet.
So they met at an IHOP. The story that he told was that when he saw her pull up, he knew immediately that it was her. He stood up in the IHOP, and she walked into the IHOP and didn’t even say anything to him. She just put her ear on his chest to listen to his heart beat.
From that day on, I was sold. To be a part of that ... to sit with somebody who went through something so tragic, and then to watch at the very end, reconciliation, hope. The continuation of life. All of these things happened in the midst of that. I realized that it was difficult for me to leave. You don’t get paid a whole lot of money to be a chaplain, but I just can’t leave it.
My faith has always been important to me. I guess when you grow up poor and you don’t have a lot, you do a lot of praying. Faith plays a bigger part in my life now because I realized how important it is. Not so much about right and wrong, but how to live life fully and in a way that is abundantly rich.
I was scared when I left Hartshorne. I remember being really homesick. I remember getting discouraged when I’d almost flunked out several times. I didn’t start, I remember getting discouraged about playing.
But I just always tried to maintain my focus on doing what it was I was supposed to do.
I look back at it, I feel so blessed. So blessed.
Former OU football player
Residence: Arlington, Texas