- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - When Jason Thoren thinks of his old University of Kansas football teammate, Eric Galbreath, he recalls watching the fullback plow through Texas Christian University players during a game in the mid-1990s.

“He ran through like six tacklers against TCU one night, and it was really impressive,” Thoren told the Lawrence Journal-World (https://bit.ly/1Gv7m1y ). “And I remember watching that live and him going down the sideline and how great of a run that was.”

The old teammates haven’t seen each other in nearly two decades. And until recently, Thoren said, he was unaware that Galbreath had returned to Lawrence and taken the pulpit at Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church.

Although Thoren said he didn’t know Galbreath was coming back to town, learning his old friend is a pastor didn’t quite catch him off guard.

“It doesn’t really surprise me at all,” he said. “He was always very into religion as a player and the way he always treated people, he always treated people very well. He was always a good person who would figure out his way to help people in life. I think it’s a perfect fit.”

Galbreath, 40, said Thoren might not have been the only one who could have predicted his career in the church.

“All throughout football, people would call me ‘Preacher,’” Galbreath said. “They’d joke around with me, but I never was ashamed of my faith. Like when people wanted to talk or whatever, I was always that listening ear, kind of like a confidant.

“Of course, I wasn’t perfect. I was in college,” he added with a smile. “But for the most part people knew I cared.”

A Jefferson City, Missouri, native and son of a preacher, Galbreath said it’s possible he always knew he was meant to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“I’ve always had a passion for people, and some of those characteristics that are common of pastors: people-oriented, heart for the people, compassionate, merciful,” he said. “But because my father is a pastor I kind of shunned it, though. I didn’t want to accept it because I didn’t want to fit in the box.”

Along with those qualities, Galbreath also found a natural athletic ability within himself - another family trait, perhaps.

“Football was just something that I was good at,” he explained. “My uncle played for Mizzou and played in the NFL for 12 years. With my name, Galbreath, was pressure, like you’ve got to live up to the name or whatever.”

Winning two state football championships in high school, Galbreath accepted a full-ride football scholarship to the University of Kansas and came to Lawrence to play ball and study. He soon made friends and established a reputation for himself, Thoren said.

“Eric was always one of the nicest people you’d meet,” Thoren said. “Unless you were trying to tackle him. He wasn’t very friendly then.”

Galbreath also found the Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church while he was at KU. There he met his future wife, Renita, and the two were married in the church.

It was around that time that Galbreath began to come to terms with his calling rather than shying away from it. After graduation, he and his family moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where he taught.

“After football was over with and that came to an end, I had to face the reality of what God was calling me to do. And I accepted that,” he said. “I acknowledged it publicly, and ever since, I’ve been in ministry and devoted my life to it.”

Despite his success on the football field, Galbreath said, he didn’t have a difficult time letting the sport go.

“It was good during that time frame, but when it was over I could release it,” he said. “It served its purpose and I embraced every moment of it, but it was time to move on and I moved on.”

Living in the South, Galbreath worked as both a high school history teacher and a teacher within a youth correctional facility. At the same time, he was always teaching within the church.

Although he served as a minister for many years, Galbreath recalled, it wasn’t until 2008 that he officially became a pastor and head of a church.

At the pulpit, or wherever he may be, Galbreath can’t help but draw parallels between sports and faith, often using physical fitness as an easily-accessible metaphor for one’s spiritual fitness.

“The work ethic is carried over: In order to be successful you’ve got to have a work ethic. You can’t give up. Perseverance,” he said. “And even with the ministry you have to have a game plan to be successful, but you’ve got to make audibles, you’ve got to make adjustments. You’ve got external and internal forces that cause you to make adjustments.”

A few months ago, Galbreath was offered a position as the head of the Ninth Street church and jumped at the chance to return to Lawrence.

Within 30 days of receiving the offer, Galbreath and his family - which now includes three children, ages 7, 12 and 15 - moved back to Lawrence.

“This is home for us. This is where our family started,” he said. “We’re basically coming back home.”

Robert Shorter, a minister at the church, met Galbreath there when he was still in school. Now, the congregation of about 200 is happy to have him back.

“He has a passion for the people and wanting to help and do good, so I think he’ll be a good fit,” Shorter said. “I look forward to doing ministry with him and seeing the church grow and being a positive effect on the community.”


Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, https://www.ljworld.com

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