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Christian Living

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24 Counter: How One Play Changed T.C. Stallings' Life

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

You may know T.C. Stallings from a host of popular faith-based movies he has appeared in including the 2015 smash hit War Room and the 2011 Kendrick Brothers release, Courageous.  But what you may not realize is that prior to his acting success, Stallings was an at-risk youth from Cleveland, Ohio who seemingly beat the odds to play big-time college football at the University of Louisville.

It is these earlier years of Stallings life that are the subject of a new documentary that released this week called 24 Counter: The Story Behind the Run.  The film which is available for streaming on Stallings' website, chronicles his early years of struggle and dogged pursuit of a football scholarship.  But most importantly, it powerfully details the events that led to his eventual salvation in Jesus Christ. 

Honest and forthright throughout, 24 Counter proves to be a credible evangelistic tool, perfect for viewings in church services, youth events, and in athletic venues.

I recently spoke to Stallings about the recent passing of his mother and grandmother due to COVID-19, the spiritual wake-up call that turned his life around, and how faith and football can be intricately linked.

What was the the catalyst for making 24 Counter?

It was just a deep desire to tell my testimony to the world. We live in a time now where there's so many platforms to be able to share. Being a Christian, it's all about living your life so that people can get to know Jesus. I look at 24 Counter as a way to sit down, have a cup of coffee, and explain how I came to know the Lord and what it truly means to follow Him. And when I tell people that, when I do one on ones, whether it’s somebody I just met or when I'm on stage speaking, just in whatever I'm doing, I know the impact that that I can have. My testimony of how I came to know the Lord just so happened to come at a time when I was playing college football. The Lord used football as a way to let me know what it truly means to have Him as Lord.

For those who don’t know, what does 24 counter mean and what is it symbolic of?

That's a great question. The reason I chose that as the title is because I played my college football at the University of Louisville. I'm known for making one of the biggest runs in Louisville Cardinal football history. It was the game winning run in overtime against the University of Kentucky. I will never forget that when the quarterback came into the huddle he said, ‘All right, let's go Tony. Ace right. 24 counter.’ So, we ran that play and we won the game. To this day, I’m known for that play. But what people don't know is the story behind that run. The documentary starts from when I was born and walks everybody all the way up to that moment. You will see why that moment was so significant. It put me on a national stage where everybody knew my name, but it gave me an opportunity to tell people about how I even got to that point.  

Did football sort of create an identity for you as you were growing up?  What helped you move away from being T.C. the football player to being T.C. the individual?

Football for me, wasn't just an identity. In fact, it was more of a way out for me. I grew up in a rough part of Cleveland and it was just really tough. So, my goal was to go to the NFL and take care of my mom, get out of poverty and all of that. I grew up without my dad. I had a lot going against me. I was just seeing on TV that football could do a lot for you. The problem was rather than leaning on prayer and trusting the Lord to be the head of my life and for Him to lead, I just put more energy into football.

Football became Lord. It was idolatry really. That’s what it was for me. I felt like God used football to guide me. It's almost like it was my Damascus Road moment. I'm using football for years as the top priority in my life, even over Him. And when the time was right, He showed me that He needed to be first place. So, football was Lord for me, and Jesus needed to take that spot. And He did so when I was in college, around my sophomore year.

What was the spiritual wake-up call for you in your life that sort of turned your life in a new direction?

I grew up in church. My mother would take me to church. That was one of the best things she ever did for me. So, at least I had a foundation, a holy fear of God. I had the base there, but like I said, I didn't know how to make Jesus the Lord of my life. When you go through years of just being a habitual type of Christian, you just kind of go through rituals. You pray over your food. You pray when you fly. You do all these types of things out of habit. But when I got to college, I ended up running into someone who actually knew what the Bible said about being a sold-out Christ follower, where Jesus is more. And so, at the right time, the Lord had me run into this person.

We sat down at a Bible study and we really just went through Scripture after Scripture, figuring out what it truly meant to follow Jesus Christ. I determined that compromising is not going to work. We went through all the Scriptures, especially Matthew 7:21. Compromising isn’t going to work. After I had this encounter in this Bible study, I prayed about it. And over several weeks I just started asking the Lord to show me what it truly meant to follow him. And I started putting that into action. And then everything just kind of took off from there in terms of me just really living a life where you sat in front and I was guided by the Holy spirit

Paramount to your story is the relationship you had with your mother. If you don’t mind could you share a bit about the loss of your mom recently to COVID-19 and the role she played in shaping your life?

When it comes to my mom, she grew up rough herself and was an only child. She had a lot of difficulties. It hurts. So, it's not like she was taught how to be the most responsible mom ever. She had to learn that stuff on her own. Most of the time she spent as a single parent raising six kids. I was the youngest of six. But the one thing that she always did was make sure that I had everything I needed to survive. The great thing about being the youngest is she had made a lot of mistakes leading up to me that she had learned from. I got the best of her, but at the same time, it never was easy for her. But she never stopped pushing to make sure that I had a chance to succeed.

She was always my biggest cheerleader, always my biggest fan, always wanting to see me do well. And so, having that fire in my heart to please her in everything that I did, kept me out of a lot of trouble and kept me setting goals. The best thing she ever did was when I got bored with going to church. The church I was going to as kid took out everything they were doing for the youth. So, we went church hopping until she found one that I would want to go to. And we went there together. That church in Cleveland, Ohio is Blessed Hope Missionary Baptist Church. That (church) just changed my life because it was exciting again. That's just a small example of how she would make sacrifices (for me). That's why I dedicated the documentary to her.

Why a documentary as opposed to a full-length feature film?

Man, I'm glad you asked that. What people don't know is an organic testimony that came out of this. I had all kinds of ideas about what to do with my story. In February, when his pandemic really hit, as an actor, my whole career got shut down because you can't do anything around people. I'm a speaker as well and that got shut down. Everything that I did got shut down. You're not making any income at all on any level. And then, I'm sitting here and I'm saying to myself, this is tough. Then I lose my mother (to COVID-19) and I'm like, ‘Wow, this is tough.’ It's just one of the toughest moments of my life. And at this moment, this is where the Holy Spirit really held me up.

We hope to show people what it truly means to have the peace that surpasses all understanding. Because it was at this moment that I got the idea to actually turn my story into a documentary. And the reason I chose documentary is because you're not allowed to film. You're not allowed to do anything. I put aside my own goals of one that's big, amazing, in theaters feature and all this stuff and asked myself what's the what's the quickest, but still high-quality thing that I can do that can impact the world. And a documentary became what the Lord led me to.

But now when people ask me the question you just asked me, I can say the Holy Spirit held me up so I can show the world what the peace that surpasses understanding really looks like. Going the documentary route allowed me to not be held back by anything. I can just trust God, hear what He wanted me to do and just go.

After people have seen 24 Counter, what would you like audiences to take away from the viewing experience?  What is your greatest hope for the film?

I hope that people will be able to see that TC showed us, how, in his life he put everything that he had into a sport. He made that sport lord of his life. That was his top priority. He even shoved God aside. We tend to do that in our lives as well. We take that thing that we want, that thing that we're after and we will put that ahead of God. We think that we're doing right because we may even pray about it. We may say, Jesus, this is what I'm going to do. And help me do it. Instead, you need to get in the position where you're not in front of Him like that. You're behind Him. And you're like, Lord, what do you want me to do? And give me the strength to do what you want me to do.

When people see in my life, how I actually flipped that around, I traded in my will for God's will. He got my attention and simply said, ‘Listen, I have to be out in front of your life. I have to guide.’ That's what it truly means to be a Christian. That's what I want people to say to themselves. I have to look at where am I putting my effort? People will see in my story that I put everything into football and the Lord saw that I knew how to do that. He basically posed this question to me, ‘You're a great player on this football team, but what kind of player are you on my team?’ That's what I want people to ask themselves.

Watch a Trailer for 24 Counter:

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