By Dean Lollis
Talk about the movie, “Facing the Giants,” and those two words are undoubtedly going to come up in the conversation.
The “death crawl” is a pivotal scene in the 2006 film that tells the story of a struggling high school coach who makes a faith decision that changes his life and his team.
In that scene, the coach gives his team a lesson on leadership and perseverance when he challenges a player named Brock to crawl across the field with another player on his back. Brock is blindfolded and his coach encourages him and challenges him with every inch Brock crawls.
At the end, an exhausted Brock tears off his blindfold to see that he has crawled 100 yards — the length of the football field.
Jason McLeod, who now serves as youth minister and associate pastor at Chestnut Ridge Baptist church in Laurens, S.C., played Brock and says that scene continues to have an impact on his life 10 years later.
“It’s mind-blowing how God has used that [scene] the way that He has to present so many opportunities to me,” McCleod says. “God used it to soften my heart.”
McLeod’s unlikely route to Brock began with a decision his family made in 1990 to move from LaGrange, Ga., to Albany, Ga. The family joined Sherwood Baptist Church in the time before the church would launch its unique ministry.
In 2002, two brothers in the church — Alex and Stephen Kendrick — had a dream of creating a faith-based film. Sherwood Baptist was onboard with support and the Kendricks created their first film, “Flywheel.” The movie was created on a $20,000 budget using church volunteers and it was shown in local theaters.
The success of that film opened the door for Sherwood to do more films including “Facing the Giants.”
“The Kendrick brothers came before the church (in 2004) and said they had a passion to make more films,” McCleod said. “They wanted to continue to grow and do it with excellence.”
The Kendricks shared the premise of their next movie with the church. When McLeod heard it was going to be about football, he was interested.
“My brother and I went (to auditions) with really no expectation of landing a part,” McCleod said.. “We thought it would be cool to go and they were going to need football players. We thought we could dress up, run around and hit people.”
Instead, the Kendricks wanted McLeod to try out for a bigger role.
“I read for a part, had a couple of callbacks and they said they wanted me to play the role of Brock,” McLeod said.
During one of his callbacks, McLeod was introduced to the “death crawl” scene. The Kendricks asked him to try crawling across the floor with his brother on his back.
“It was awkward and weird,” he said. “I’d never done anything like this death crawl they were talking about. I had no idea that it would be such a pivotal scene.”
The most frequent question he is asked is whether he actually did the “death crawl” when the scene was filmed. McCleod answers, “Yes and no.”
The filming took place in the summer between McLeod’s high school graduation and the start of football practice at Georgia Southern University. The crew only had one camera so the scene was filmed in 10-yard increments. That five-minute scene took four hours to shoot, he said.
“We added it up and it was about 250 yards in the course of four hours,” he said.
McCleod was blindfolded during the filming and says that there were times when he would get off course or the person on his back would fall off.
The scene was also filmed on a near 100-degree day. It was a time when high school football players would not have even been able to wear pads due to the combination of heat and humidity, McLeod said..
“We called it the ‘death shoot’,” he said. “It was the hottest day in June.”
Those four hours of filming in tough conditions produced a scene that was even bigger than what appeared in the movie. It was also a metaphor for what McLeod was going through in his life.
“I could relate with Brock’s character in real life — not just as Brock but as Jason McLeod on so many levels.” he said.
In the death crawl scene and in the course of the movie, Brock is challenged by his coach to become a leader. Brock is searching for what he wants to become.
At the time he played the role, McLeod was doing some soul searching of his own.
“I was at the point in my life where I was trying to figure out what kind of man I wanted to be,” McLeod said.
Much like the character he portrayed, McLeod had accomplishments and awards but he was struggling with the reason and motivation for seeking those rewards.
“I felt I was working so hard to make people proud of me,” he said. “It challenged me to go, ‘OK, what am I doing this for?’”
In that season of his life, he says Colossians 3:23 was speaking to his heart. That verse reads: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…”
“My motivation for a long time had been to make myself look better, to be the good Christian guy that doesn’t get into trouble that makes coaches, teachers, parents and grandparents proud of me,” he said.
That scene, and the rest of the movie, became a “wake-up call” in his spiritual life.
“To be honest, it was one of the biggest, defining moments and turning points in my life spiritually,” McLeod says.
That movie scene would continue to make an impact in his life as started at Georgia Southern. His football skills had earned him a scholarship.
“I went there and worked really hard,” McLeod said. “I loved it. Georgia Southern had been my number one choice. It was a dream come true.”
This is where the journey for McLeod would take a twist and, in the moment, he struggled to understand why. McLeod was entering his junior year and Georgia Southern had a new coaching staff. He was making the switch from offensive line to defensive line and he had the opportunity for even more playing time.
“I went into spring football practice and I just sensed God was cutting my emotional ties to football,” McLeod said. “Through a Bible study I was doing at the time, I sensed that it was time to leave football and pursue ministry.”
He wrestled with that call from God and he did not understand it or what it would mean for his life. Yet, he could not escape the feeling that he needed to walk away from football.
“It wasn’t like everything was bottoming out — it was like everything was ramping up,” he said. “I put two years of hard work in. I was bigger, faster, stronger than I had ever been in my life.”
After a few days and a lot of prayer, McLeod talked to his football coach and informed him of his decision to leave football. He said his coach understood and freed him pursue this calling.
“It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done,” he said. “I’d never quit anything in my life.”
He cleaned out his locker for the last time, went out to sit in his truck in the parking lot and had what he describes as “an emotional moment.” For the next three months, he would continue to question giving up football and getting involved in ministry.
While he was in that period of searching, something else was happening that would give him an answer.
It was now fall of 2006 and the Kendricks had completed the long process of editing “Facing the Giants.”
“I know the Kendricks were believing God would do amazing things,” McLeod said. “To be honest, I thought it was just a church play we filmed and six old ladies were going to buy it from the church bookstore one day.
“I had no idea what was going to happen.”
“Passion of the Christ” was released in 2004 and after its box office success, more film companies were taking an interest in Christians movies, McLeod said. Provident Music, which managed some of the biggest names in Christian music, was creating a film division opportunity with “Facing the Giants.”
Provident contacted the Kendricks and wanted “Facing the Giants” to be the company’s first film, McLeod said.
“A lot of companies shut the door because they were sharing the gospel,” McLeod said. Provident, however, told them to not change a thing.
Originally, the Kendrick brothers saw the potential of opening in 40 theaters in Georgia and other Southern states, McLeod said. However, Provident wanted to open in 400 theaters and, eventually, “Facing the Giants” was shown in more than a 1,000 theaters, McLeod said.
That string of events led to a ministry opportunity for McLeod.
“I was literally in-between classes at Georgia Southern and I got a call from the Kendricks,” McLeod says. They wanted McLeod to get back home to Albany so that they could help to prepare him for public relations and marketing for the film.
“It felt like getting hooked on the back of a plane and it taking off,” he said.
McLeod was able to set up his college schedule so that he could take classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“Pretty much every weekend — for several months — we were flying all over the country to promote the movie,” McLeod said. “It just blew me away and I had no idea it was going to happen.”
Those months gave him an opportunity to reflect on a decision he had made entering his junior football season.
“I look back and quitting football was one of the hardest things I’d ever done,” McLeod said. “I knew God called me to do. I had no idea why he wanted me to do it, but now I understand. Now I see why it was time to let that go.”
The film promotion gave him the opportunity to talk about the “death crawl” scene in places he’d never dreamed of being. McLeod talked to the Green Bay Packers and he had the opportunity to talk to high school teams and to corporate groups.
“It’s crazy how God would use that and continues to use it,” McLeod said. “Even though football was gone, I still had the opportunity to be around football with a football movie.”
Today, that five-minute scene, filmed over four hours on a hot Georgia day, is still opening doors for him to share the Gospel with others.
It’s been 12 years since he filmed the “death crawl” scene and McLeod and his family live in Laurens, S.C. He still gets to combine his passion for football and ministry as he serves as the team chaplain for the Laurens District 55 High School football team.
His parents, his sister and her husband live still live in Albany today. His younger brother, who volunteered to help with the filming of “Facing the Giants” also saw his passion grow into full-time ministry. Today, he works to produce video for a church in Alabama.
When he reflects back on his life and his journey to get to this point, he thinks about investments. He said he often talks to the youth he works with about coming to the realization that there are only two things that last forever.
“The souls of men and women last forever and God’s word last forever,” McLeod said. “I want to invest my life in things that last forever.”