2005 was supposed to be Ernest Smith Junior's breakout year. As a high school junior in New Orleans, college football programs had flooded his home with letters of interest. Then just as the season was to start a storm named Katrina came calling.
Ernest left for his mother's home in Missies. Thinking the storm would blow over, Ernest Smith Senior sought shelter at the Superdome.
"Well I wasn't really worried because I knew God was directing my path," says Ernest Smith Senior, "and where He sent me I knew I was going to be okay."
Ernest Senior spent five days in the Superdome. Ernest Junior was in hurricane-ravaged Mississippi. With no power he had no idea how his father was, priorities began to change.
"It was hard, stressful," remembers the younger Smith, "with everything going on in the Superdome, I was worried about that."
When the evacuation from the dome started, Ernest Senior knew he had to leave. What he did not know was where he was going.
"They were putting people on buses," remembers Ernest Senior. "Sending some to Houston and some to Tyler, Texas. In fact I had never heard of Tyler, Texas until that."
Ernest Senior was dropped off at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler. Carye Gillen, a volunteer at Green Acres heard the story of how Smith's son was missing his chance at a scholarship. She contacted Rev. Jerome Milton, who in addition to leading a Tyler church was also a high school coach.
"And I met Mr. Smith and I could see in his eyes his pain and his hurt but his deep concern for his son. And God touched me then and I told Mr. Smith at the shelter of the Green Acres Baptist Church and guaranteed him under the auspices of God that his son would receive a scholarship," says Rev. Jerome Milton.
Rev. Milton worked to get Ernest Junior moved to Tyler and enrolled at John Tyler High School. It took some time to get the paperwork done, but three weeks into the season, Ernest suited up with the JT Lions. His talent was evident to everyone, especially to the college scouts who Rev. Milton convinced to look at the Louisiana transplant. And in a matter of a few weeks, the scholarship offers began to come again. Then just this week Ernest decided he would accept a full scholarship to play football and attend class at Baylor University.
"Well they gave me the right advice, the Christian advice," says grateful father Ernest Smith. "They said we'll try to get him here immediately and so he could continue his education and so he could play. And God really came through. God really worked through those beautiful people right there."
The Smith's spent Thanksgiving with Rev. Milton. While they are not sure what the future holds, they believe that coming to East Texas was an answer to prayer. And with all that has happened this year Thanksgiving takes on a whole new meaning for all involved.
"I'm gonna be thankful for everything that God has done," says Ernest Junior. "He put me in a position to play. And I haven't been injured this year. Last year in my junior year I was injured in the second game of the season. Sat out the rest of the year. For the scholarship He has given me and the chance to advance in the world."
"But Clint, we're thankful too," says Rev. Milton. "We're thankful to them because we had the opportunity to do what God has commissioned us to do. What we have been nourished and nurtured to do all of our lives."
"We are thankful to have God in our lives and these beautiful people, its really a blessing," says Ernest Smith Senior.