Collected wisdom: Caesar Rentie, former Oklahoma football player

by Jason Kersey Published: March 23, 2013
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Age: 48

Residence: Arlington, Texas

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.

I have a good friend and mentor, Dr. (Brad) Luckett. And my high school coaches, coach Mickey Beare, Haskell Jennings, Johnny Bernardi. I think they saw something far more special in me than I saw. I think they recognized my athletic ability that I didn't really appreciate.

By the end of my 10th-grade year, I got an opportunity to go to summer camp at OU. Really after that year, I started getting lots of attention.

Mickey Beare was offensive line and defensive line coach. He was instrumental in shaping my work ethic and my habits, and how I went about practice and working out. He was a demanding coach, but he was fair, and he was a really good person. When I look back at it, I realize he saw it way before I saw it.

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.

When I got to OU and realized my dorm room was better than the house I lived in ... “I ain't never going back.” Winning the national championship. The OU-Texas games.

I'm at the hospital, and it's a huge health system. We have four hospitals and clinics and do a lot in the North Texas area.

Last year, the week of the OU-Texas game, I gave the prayer, and I took my OU helmet over to the leadership meeting. It was behind the podium. When I got ready to give the prayer, I took it out and I told all the Texas fans, “I'll be available for pastoral care issues for Texas fans after the OU-Texas game.”

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.”

I share my story, but most of the time I'm listening to other people's stories. As a chaplain working in the hospital, working in the medical field, one of the things that helps you enter anybody's room is when they see how big you are.

They go, “Wow, you must've played football.” I always tell them, “Yeah, I'm a recovering athlete.” They'll laugh. Then we'll go from there. That just leads to all kinds of other discussions. It allows me to connect with people, and it allows for an opportunity for things to relax so people can tell their stories. And a lot of times, they just end up talking.

Several days ago, I was called to a room to visit with a patient who was leaving the hospital. She was going to be discharged, but she was going into hospice care, which meant she was going home to die.


by Jason Kersey
OU Sports Reporter
Jason Kersey became The Oklahoman's OU football beat writer in May 2012 after a year covering high school sports and OSU recruiting. Before joining the newspaper in November 2006 as a part-time results clerk, he covered high school football for...
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