By Ann Cipperly
Snapshots of family, framed photos of Auburn Tigers praying after games, a National Championship football, signed helmet from days of playing football with Bo Jackson, and other items on shelves reveal the life story of Chaplain Chette Williams at the Auburn University Athletic Department.
On a round table are copies of Williams’s two books, “Hard-Fighting Soldier” and “The Broken Road,” published this past summer.
One of the most important photos leaning against the books on the shelves is a photo of a small white church, Old Mountain Top Baptist Church in Winston, Ga. Williams looks at this photo every day to remind himself of his humble beginning and where God got his attention.
It is the church he attended with his mother and six brothers, where he was baptized in the creek in back, where he buried a brother and spoke at his father’s funeral.
Williams grew up not far from the church. He never thought about being poor since his family raised a garden and had plenty of food. The sixth of the seven boys, he played football with his brothers in the yard.
On a summer evening when he was 9 years old, the family was sitting around the supper table, and one of his brothers walked to the back of the house to get another chair. Suddenly, he screamed. They all ran to the back to see him standing in the bedroom door looking at the ceiling, which was engulfed in flames.
They were thankful to all get out alive, but they lost everything. Williams was wearing a pair of slacks, no shirt or shoes, as he stood in the yard and watched the house burn.
Williams played football in high school with his brother and received a scholarship to play football at Auburn University as a linebacker under Coach Pat Dye. His brother, Quency, was still on the team his freshman year. When Quency graduated, he played for the LA Raiders.
As Williams was playing his second year in 1982, he was dealing with issues in his past. One day his life was crushed when Dye told him he was off the team because of his behavior.
Williams didn’t know what he would do. He had promised his mother he would graduate from college, and now he was no longer an Auburn Tiger. In his despair he knew he had to change his life.
He realized that God has planted seeds all his life, as he attended church every Sunday. Williams made the decision to turn his life around. He came to realize that he had religion, but did not have a relationship with God. “That is different. That came to a head when Coach Dye kicked me off the team because of a lot of things I was dealing with in my life.”
That night he found himself in Kyle Collins’s room at Sewell Hall. As he talked to his friend, Williams knew he had to change. Collins prayed with him, and Williams gave his heart to Jesus to have a relationship with Him.
The next morning he hurried over to Dye’s office. He hesitated for a few minutes because he knew the coach was getting ready for the Georgia Bulldogs and Hershel Walker that weekend. He felt he had to make it quick because Dye did not want to have to deal with a troubled player when the top-rated team was coming to town.
Williams knocked on the door and went in. He told Dye he was sorry for his attitude, that he had given his heart to Jesus and was ready to change his life. “Saying it out loud,” says Williams, “gave me an incredible lightness as if Christ was in the room, giving me the words.” Dye put him back on the team and said, “We will take this one day at a time.”
Many players looked at Dye as a father figure, which is how Chette looked at him. “He had a tremendous impact on my life. One of the reasons I gave my life to the Lord was because of Coach Dye’s influence.”
Williams stayed on the team and played in the 1984 Liberty Bowl. After he graduated, he went back home to Winston where he worked with the youth in the church. In 1987 he was an assistant minister.
He felt God had been dealing with him to go into the ministry. “It had been a process my whole life, as I was in church week after week. I would listen to the words of the minister and get chill bumps.”
He did not know exactly what to do next. He felt he needed to know more about the Bible but didn’t know anything about seminary.
Williams contacted Rev. Bob Baggott, who had been chaplain of his football team at Auburn. He felt close to Baggott and shared with him God’s calling. Baggott sent Williams to New Orleans to see a friend at seminary. In three years, Williams received a Master of Divinity from New Orleans Theological Seminary. He “planted” two churches, one in Mobile and another in Louisiana.
While at Baton Rouge, he met wife Lakeba, who was a student at Southern University. They began dating and were married when Williams was working with a church in South Carolina. They have three children, Lauren, Caitlyn and Chette Jr.
In 1999, Williams received a call from Coach Tommy Tuberville, who offered him a position as chaplain for the football team. Tuberville had a full-time chaplain for coaches and the team when he was at Ole Miss, which was the only one in the country.
When the coach came to Auburn, he wanted to continue having a chaplain. At the time, Baggott and Dr. George Mathison were serving as co-chaplains. Turbeville wanted the chaplain to be full time, as a spiritual coordinator for coaches and the players, to have an office in the athletic department with an open-door policy and to travel with the team.
“Brother Chette,” as the players call him, has served as chaplain with three coaches in 15 years. “I look at this as my church,” he says. His official title is Campus Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). He raises his support each year through FCA.
One of the things he started many years ago was praying with the team in the center of the field. The team always invites the other team to join them. While many teams no longer pray after games, Williams and the Auburn Tigers still do.
“I never realized the impact of the players’ private moments of prayer on the field until a freshman running back stood up in front of the team in the prayer room in 2006 and said, ‘You were my heroes in high school. I watched y’all every week, and my teammates and I imitated you on the field with hookups going onto the field and praying after you scored a touchdown.’
“He had seen the public response to a private and powerful time of prayer that began when one player said, ‘This is what we have to do.’”
Williams has taken players and coaches on mission trips. He has been able to travel around the country and world to share the gospel.
He wrote “Hard Fighting Solider” after the undefeated 2004 season. “The Broken Road” was recently released and looks at the 2010 National Championship season and the following two years.
“It is in those valley experiences that we really experience the hand of God in our lives,” says the chaplain. “It is not in those mountain-top experiences.
“It has been a blessing to know all these players and coaches, and see how their lives have been affected and transformed over the years,” adds the chaplain. “I have grown in my faith.”
“Brother Chette is like a father,” players say. “He’s always there for me.”