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Bond Between Coach and Player Results in Unlikely Football Championship

The pairing of coach Sam Greiner with high school quarterback Braheam Murphy was as unpredictable as the path that led them to the North Carolina State Championship in 2017. In fact, when the two met a few years earlier, Braheam wasn’t playing football and Sam wasn’t even coaching!

“The first time I met Braheam, he was a freshman. The smallest kid I’d ever seen in my life. I mean, he probably weighed 90lbs,” remembers Sam.

It was Harding University High School in Charlotte. Sam was a Health and P.E. instructor and he noticed something different about one of his smallest students.

“Braheam was in my strength and conditioning class first period. Well, every day he would show up to school late. He had someone driving him to school every day. He couldn’t get to school. There wasn’t a bus for him. I mean, I didn’t know that he was homeless.”

“I went through a lot of tough things in life,” says Braheam.  “I lost my mom at the age of 5. I got through it, I was strong. My sisters and brothers and everybody we all had each other’s back.”

Braheam bounced around the homes of relatives and friends, but he had no permanent residence. Meanwhile his relationship with Sam was blossoming into a mentorship.

Sam recalls, “one day I just said to him, I said, ‘hey man, how about you just come have dinner? You wanna come have dinner at the house?’ He’s like, ‘yeah-yeah, I’ll come have dinner.’ It was just funny to see him, oh my gosh, he had never ate so much in his life. And he never left. That was the first day he was there and he never left.”

By this time, Sam had agreed to take on the unenviable task of coaching the disastrous Harding High football team. Both Sam and Braheam were about to become key players in one of the greatest program turnarounds in Carolina sports history.

“And it took a leap of faith,” says Sam. “This team’s been beaten down for twenty years barely winning a game…the laughing stock of Charlotte and it takes faith to walk out of the stands and sign a piece of paper to say I’m gonna play football for you. And if you have strong enough faith we were gonna move mountains, and that’s exactly what we did.”

It was Sam’s Christian faith that laid the foundation for change at Harding, his belief that with God, they could accomplish anything.

“Everything happens for a reason,” says Sam. “It was divine intervention why I was at Harding.  And it wasn’t just me. I’m just a tool. It’s like I said, nothing personally is special about me. It’s just what lives inside of me that told me to do it.”

Sam’s on-the-field leadership resonated with this group of young men, but more important, his desire to be an example of a godly man set a tone of greatness for the team.

“The people relationships, those kids are so smart, they know if I didn’t, if I wasn’t trustworthy or if I wasn’t meaning the best interest for them, or if I didn’t care about them, they’d see right through me," says Sam. "And they know that I love them. And I did everything I could like, for ‘em, and I think that’s where they’re like, ‘you know what, there’s someone that really cares about us.”

A mutual respect developed and the spirit of a champion was born. After two seasons of improvement, the Harding Rams advanced to the state final.

“That was one of the best days of my life,” says Braheam. “Seeing where we came from to where we ended. There was no way we were going to lose on that field. So, seeing that (other) team, I didn’t pay any attention to them. I just focused on what I had to do and what I had to do to make my team win.”

“For the first time we were down early,” remembers Sam. “Like, in the beginning of the game they went right down the field and they scored. And we had to buckle down and put our feet in the ground and say, ‘hey, we were meant to be here. Be great.’”

A close game was finally put out of reach by the heroics of Braheam.

“And this is what won the game,” says Sam. “We were on our own goal lines..”

Braheam remembers, “I just walked up to him and I said, ’28-0 and I’m gonna keep it.’”

“And I looked at him and I said, ‘run it.’ and I thought maybe he’d get a first down and he just kept running,” says Sam.

“And I looked to the right of me and there’s nobody there and I’m like, ‘oh, I’m going,’” says Braheam.

Same recalls, “Braheam Murphy. The 10, the 5, touchdown!”

Harding University High did the impossible by winning the state championship. But for coach Sam Greiner, the lasting legacy of modeling Christian character to a group of underprivileged youth far outweighs sports trophies.

“A coach doesn’t define who I am,” says Sam. “I’m a man that believes in Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior. He lives in my soul. And whatever his plan is, is perfect for me.”

Braheam is now playing at West Point as Sam begins a new chapter in his high school coaching career in North Carolina. Both men are grateful for the shared experience that continues to glorify God.

“It’s amazing to see how special it is to go through the ups and downs and see the glory in the end,” says Sam. “Like how in the world did we know Braheam was gonna go to West Point?  Greatness was made for him and I was just a small step for him to earn that.”

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