OKEECHOBEE — Caleb Cornett’s father was a football coach for over 40 years in Georgia, and that is where Mr. Cornett’s love of the sport began. The family moved around a lot, and by playing ball, he could spend a lot of time with his father. After high school, he went to college in Knoxville and played football there, too. He moved into arena ball and was headed to play Canadian League when he broke his foot.
When that happened, he became very angry with God, he said. He believes the Lord was treating him as a sheep who keeps going astray. He said the shepherd broke the foot of the sheep to teach him something. During the healing process, he was near the Father and heard Him say, “Let me take your dream for my dream. Say yes, and I will blow your mind.”
Mr. Cornett got into coaching, and his first stop was the Martin County High School to be a receiver coach, but it did not work out, and he ended up at Okeechobee High School (OHS) in 2012. He worked with coaches Chris Branham and Ty Smith for a little while but then went back to Georgia to coach with his dad. He began to feel a burden to find a wife and settle down, but there was never any time to even meet anyone. However, on a recruiting trip he met the woman who later became his wife. She was the girl he went to recruit, and she had ties to Okeechobee, so he decided to make a move back here. They got married and have three children now.
He was approached about joining the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and did not want to do it. The last thing he wanted to do was to become a local missionary, he said. “I didn’t want anything to do with that.” The man asked him to at least pray about it. “He knew I was a Christian and knew I loved football. It was a need he had to fulfill. He was looking for staff,” he said. He discussed it with some Christian friends, and they led him to Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all His ways, acknowledge him and He will direct your path.” He decided he step out in faith and said yes to FCA.
At that time, he was working for Crop Production Services and credits that job with teaching him a lot of things that honed his skills for use later, but he decided to get back into football and coaching and was hired at John Carroll High School over on the coast. He began his career with FCA by doing the opposing team’s chapel service. One day his superior told him that eventually he would find himself coaching the entire Treasure Coast, and he did not see how that would happen, but he decided to just see where God led. He began going to different schools and holding a “Huddle Time.” A huddle is basically a club, he explained. First he would teach character building, and afterward, he would tell them he was going to step off to the side to talk about the Lord. If anyone followed him, he would tell them about Jesus; that way, if anyone did not want to hear it, they could just stay away from the conversation.
It got to the point that he was so busy, he decided to back out of coaching and devote himself full-time to his FCA activities. Officially, he was the football director of FCA on the Treasure Coast, but Okeechobee had a vacancy, and no one was doing FCA over here at all for five years. He called Ty Smith, who had become the head coach at OHS and told him he was going to “run” with him until a decision was made on what to do about FCA and Okeechobee. He began working with the high school and developed a leadership program with six athletes. He would meet with them once a month and disciple them and feed them. He would lead them so they would be better leaders for their team.
Rather than coaching one school, he now finds himself coaching seven schools and their coaches. He asks the coaches three questions. How is your heart? How is your communication with your wife? How is your communication with your team? His goal is to sharpen the coaches so they can sharpen their teams. “What’s the difference between a thermostat and a thermometer?” he asked. “One reflects the temperature of the environment. The other sets the temperature of the environment. Who are you going to be, as an athlete? Are you going to talk a big game or walk a big game?”
Not only does he work with the coaches, but he has groups of kids from the teams who have been appointed to serve as leaders. He has 72 athletes from the seven schools who are a part of the different leader groups.
In Okeechobee, he works with football, baseball, softball, basketball, girls’ weightlifting and girls’ flag football. Each sport is different, he said. “It’s important for the kids to learn to win well and lose well. There are always younger kids watching to see how the older kids handle things like that. Do you throw the bat when you strike out? Someone is watching you and will duplicate what you do.”
At Osceola Middle School, he meets with a 12-member multi-sport huddle, and they talk about character building skills. Terry Tubberville has been a big help with Osceola. In the spring, they plan to start meeting with the Huddle twice a month rather than only once.
He meets with the group at the Seminole Reservation charter school once a week. That group is run with the help of Diane Harrison and Chris Goodman.
He now meets with the OHS team on Thursdays.
They hope to expand to Yearling Middle School in the spring.
They were meeting at the Freshman Campus but had a conflict with meeting times and are trying to get that scheduled again. Aaron Hall was the person helping with that campus.
Another way they minister to the kids on the football team is by feeding them. After every game, the entire football team is fed. If it is a home game, the First Baptist Church of Okeechobee supplies a meal for them. If it is an away game, Jersey Mike’s supplies the food, and it is paid for with donations from local businesses.
Mr. Cornett’s goal is to help raise honorable men and women and to reach as many as possible with the Gospel.
Coach Ty Smith said, “Caleb has done a fantastic job. I used to be the only one out there talking to my students about God, but now, before I even get to practice, Caleb has already talked to them. He has been a good influence on the team. This generation needs to see living testimonies, and Caleb is that.”