When did your involvement in the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) begin?
"When I walked on here (as a football player) for (former MSU head football) Coach (Jackie) Sherrill, Matt Wyatt, Barrin Simpson, Reggie Kelly, Ed Yeates were having prayer meetings. It was pretty small at that time, probably 15 to 20 students. They got me involved.
"Those guys really helped me through a tough time in my life. Barrin, Reggie and Ed really stood by my side. I actually ended up being the best man in Barrin Simpson's wedding."
What led to you decision to work for the FCA?
"When I first got (to MSU) I was majoring in Biological Engineering and was going to go to medical school. But due to the support I got from those guys and just loving being part of the team, I went to (former MSU assistant) Coach (Jim) Tompkins and told him that I loved football and wanted to be a coach instead of going to medical school. This was right before Christmas. He told me to go home and reconsider because I had good enough grades and should go to medical school. But I came back very strong in my decision to be a coach and asked him if he could help me get started. So, he went to Coach Sherrill with me and Coach Sherrill gave me a graduate assistant spot.
"When I left State I went to Indiana University where I was going to be the offensive GA (graduate assistant). The first day I got there Antwaan Randle El, who is a wide receiver with the Washington Redskins now, introduced himself. We talked for just a little while about some of the things that had been done at Mississippi State - about the encouragement that Reggie and Barrin had been to me and about how we would meet for bible study. Before I knew it we were in some deep conversation about things going on in his life. And he made the comment that. 'God sent you here to help me because I needed somebody, somebody that I could lean on'.
"Then, Anthony Thompson, who was a very, very good running back that ended up being a second round draft pick, and I ended up getting together and doing some bible study things with our coaches (at Indiana University). He also wanted me to help him with a bible study with our football players. It started small, then a bunch of them started coming. Then, some basketball, soccer and other players from other sports asked if they could come. Before we knew it, we had over 100 people. It wasn't FCA at that time, just a meeting that we were doing. I loved it and looked forward to it every week.
"After awhile the players would come by the office and meet with me. They might be down in the dumps and simply want to share their problems with me. I loved meeting with them and trying to help them through those things.
"But we wound up going 5 and 6 that year and they had just hired a new athletic director, so we got fired. Cam Cameron, who was the head coach at that time, and I got really close. He called me and said that he was hired as the offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by Marvin Lewis who was going to be the head coach. He wanted me to be his offensive assistant and help him with quarterbacks. I was so excited because I was getting to move up the career path. But despite that excitement I just felt inside of me that something wasn't right. Then, Cam called me back and told me that they had reneged. They ended up going after John Grudon.
"I went into my church with my head down after that. I was thinking about a scripture that was really on my heart. And I was telling the Lord that I had gotten out of medicine to go into football because of the spiritual aspect of it that I had with guys like Reggie and Barrin. But when I went into church that day they had taken off the picture of the church (from the church bulletin) and put the word GO on it and a message. The title of the message said to get off the fence. During that time, Bill Buckner, who was the FCA regional director of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, had called and told me that they had a fulltime director at Ole Miss, Wes Yeary, the first ever in the country. He ask me if I would be willing to come (to Mississippi State). He told me that it wouldn't be fulltime on Mississippi State's campus just yet because they didn't have the money available. It would be working with high schools and Mississippi State, then, hopefully, it would evolve into me just doing Mississippi State.
"I remembered Wes back when I was a walk-on at State due to college retreats that we attended at Lake Forest Ranch. We would take our little group of 15 to 20 and Ole Miss would bring a bus load of people that were brought by the school bus. Wes was in charge of it. I would give Bill a hard time about it. I asked him how they were able to have somebody work fulltime with them and we were just trying to organize ours as students. He explained that we were waiting on the right person and the right time and a lot of things needed to come together for that to happen. Little did I know that he would later call during the time we got fired (at Indiana).
"I was scared to death of it at first, but when I heard that message - GO, get off the fence - I left Indiana and came back to my parents home in Amory. I called Bill and told him that I do the interview. I went and interviewed with Joe Gillis from Columbus. He owns the Sprint Marts and was one of the guys who was going to put up money to start it. I met with him and Joey Henderson and Jerry Lavender and a pastor in Columbus named Randall Gotto. Bill Buckner got me together with Coach Sherrill. And we put together a dinner for 22 people. Coach Sherrill spoke and kind of endorsed me. We raised enough money from those 22 people to get started."
When you say it got started, what exactly was your title at that time and what were your duties?
"At that time I was Director of District 4, which includes a 12-county area. I was given a list of 66 high schools and junior high schools. My task was to start or develop an FCA huddle at each campus with the help of a coach at each school. The other vision that we had was to have somebody fulltime on the Mississippi State campus. It started out as just me - no computer, no office, really not anything. I would get in a car that was provided to me by Mike McGill of West Point and go to each school not knowing anybody in any of the schools.
"As I doing all of those things, on the side I was having to deal with funding, so I am trying to develop relationships with different businessmen and churches. You need that funding because you really need at least one person for every 30 schools. So, you need two staff members working the high schools, one person fulltime at Mississippi State and one person to deal with all the paperwork associated with those jobs.
"Eventually, we were able to hire Ed and Barbara Yeates in part-time positions while they were in graduate school. Ed helped me by going to a lot of schools which freed me up to work at Mississippi State.
"When Coach Croom came along I told him what we had been doing. After he got to know me a little better, he wanted to see it happen where I could stay on campus fulltime. So, he introduced me to a few people who could help financially. Coach Croom has done everything that he can to help me."
What are some things he does that helps you on-campus.
"Coach gives me 25 minutes with the football team every Friday night. It's not mandatory that they come. In years past, we might have 20 to 25 people come when we were having those chapels. But with Coach Croom's teams we probably have only had 5, 6 or 7 people who didn't come.
"Something that is exciting to me that happened prior to our first late game was when a couple of players came to me and asked me if they could just meet with me the next morning and pray together. There were about 10 to 12 people who met that first morning. Then, the next thing I know they were wanting to do it even when they had an early game. They were getting up really early to meet together. We probably had 25 to 30 coming to that even if it was an 11:30 game."
Describe what happened at those early meetings.
"All the guys would circle around in a group. The first thing that would happen is each guy would tell what they wanted their prayer request to be. Then, each guy would pray for the guy on his right. Things on their minds range from family situations to financial situations, even girlfriend situations. The first thing it did was help them not worry about it so much. The second thing was allow the guy on the right to get to know the person better and give him the chance to encourage him."
Do you do similar things with the other sports like basketball, baseball and all the other sports?
"With baseball, (MSU assistant baseball) Coach (Russ) McNickle is more involved in helping. We have a Monday night team bible study. I go to it, but Coach McNickle is the one who does the actual teaching. We also have a Sunday chapel which (MSU assistant) Coach (Tommy) Raffo is responsible for. And Coach Polk likes for me to go to the games with him. When I was single I went to every game, but now that I'm married I'm not sure if I can go to every game.
"Another thing we are going to begin this year is a chapel with basketball. And Whitney Mathis, the lady that helps me with the administrative work, is helping me with women's tennis and volleyball. She's also trying to start things with soccer and softball. My wife is also going to start helping me with a few things.
"I also try to go to as many practices as I can just to let the knows that I care about them. I also meet with Coach Croom once a week and we just talk about a lot of things. There might be something that he knows about one of his kids that I don't know about or I may know something that he doesn't know about. It might help me or him help that kid.
"I also speak at churches, civic clubs and high schools. I even can do marriages.
"We also have a FCA meeting each Tuesday night in the fall and Monday night in the spring. It's from 9:45 p.m. to about 11 o'clock. We normally have between 60 and 120 people. Not all are athletes because I made it so that they can bring a friend, but about 80% are athletes."
Do you do much meeting with the players one-on-one?
"Jerious Norwood is an example of that. He and I talked one day about his early childhood. After talking with him, I, basically, gave him that full day. I read him a scripture. As we talked, his faith went from crying to smiling. We then had a bond. In fact, from that point on we would meet at least once a week for about an hour to an hour and a half just to talk about things going on in his life.
"Jerious joined our leadership meeting that we have at my house every Sunday night. I try to get at least one representative from every sport that kind of becomes my point person for each sport. In football, it was Jerious, Deljuan (Robinson) and Jamar (Chaney). I spent a lot of time with Jamar. I really care a whole lot about him. He is going to be a leader on the team and not just FCA-wise.
"By joining that group, Jerious got to meet other players from other sports like (baseball players) Justin Pigott and Andy Wilson. They were an encouragement for him and cared about him.
"Another example is Deljuan Robinson. He called me 11:30 one night last week after he found out that his brother, who has cystic fibrosis, was just diagnosed with lukemia. And on top of that Deljuan's trying to make an NFL team and he hurt himself during the morning practice and wasn't able to practice in the afternoon. Everybody is fighting for a spot and he's not able to practice. He was in the dumps so he called me. Deljuan knows a lot of scripture, so we shared scripture together which encouraged him a little bit. He was so gracious and thankful.
"Other examples includes (former MSU football player) Brad Horton coming by and asking me if I will do his wedding next June. I am honored to do something like that. And Antwaan Randle El, who I met at Indiana, will call me either once a week or every other week."
We talked about things you are currently doing. But what are your long-term hopes for the FCA at Mississippi State?
"The first thing I would like to do is stabilize our budget so that I'm not always having to worry about it. I want to get our budget to the point where it's not always so tight. And I would like to get to the point where kids like Brad (Horton), who are in graduate school and who are interested in things like the FCA, could be graduate assistants for the FCA. Having enough interns so that we could cover all the sports would be a dream come true."
How do you generate funds for your budget?
"It started with the group I mentioned earlier. I call them my Leadership Board. It started with four guys, now it's up to fifteen guys. They hold me accountable and help me come up with what the budget is going to be. They use their contacts to try and help generate money through a pool of donors.
"We have a dinner every December at the Columbus Country Club that Coach Croom speaks at. Coach Polk and Coach Fanning are also usually there. We call it the Major Investor Dinner. Anybody who gives $500 or above in a year or we believe will give that amount is invited. It doesn't matter if they give it through monthly deductions or once a year. This dinner is where we generate most of our connections.
"The only other thing we do is the golf tournament at the Columbus Country Club which we have in April."
If an individual would like to contribute to the FCA at Mississippi State how can they do that?
"We have a website - www.msufca.com - where you can contribute with a credit card or a debit card. And there is paperwork on the site where you can set up a monthly draft which can come out of your checking account or credit card. You can also mail a check or call me and I'll talk about it with you."
FCA chapters cannot be funded by universities, therefore private support is their one means of support. If you would like to support the MSU chapter of the FCA, a link is provided below. Please help this very worthy cause if you are financially able.
CLICK HERE to find out how to donate to the MSU chapter of the FCA.
You can contact Josh by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How has Josh and his FCA staff helped Mississippi State athletes? Former MSU athlete Jerious Norwood, current MSU head football coach Sylvester Croom and current MSU women's basketball coach Sharon Fanning explain how.
"If it were not for MSU FCA meetings and my one on one meetings with Josh, I don't know where I would be right now. FCA helped me find God's will for my life and get into His Word so that He could guide me."
Jerious Norwood, MSU's all-time leading rusher and tailback for the Atlanta Falcons
"FCA under the direction of Josh Gilreath has significantly impacted the lives of student athletes at Mississippi State. Many of our athletes have found FCA to be a source for positive encouragement and motivation in their lives. I have seen first hand, the life changing effects that this campus ministry produces."
Sylvester Croom, MSU Head Football Coach
"Whitney (Mathis) and Josh are mentors - they nurture our student-athletes in such a special way. The demands of a student-athletes and coaches sometime conflict with the balance of faith, family, and friends; Whitney and Josh teach, encourage, and challenge all of us for the much needed balance and perspective in our lives. Their support is a very important part of our success."
Sharon Fanning, Head Coach MSU Women's Basketball
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of Dawgs Bite: Powered by GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at email@example.com.