Brodie and Reagan Croyle

Passing Down the 4 Promises: Siblings Brodie & Reagan Croyle Take the Lead at Big Oak Ranch

Special Feature


Growing up on the Big Oak Ranch in North Alabama, Brodie Croyle and Reagan Croyle Phillips were trained in compassion from a young age. They helped their parents—former University of Alabama football defensive end John Croyle and his wife Tee—welcome in abandoned and abused children with the following four promises: We love you. We’ll never lie to you. We’ll stick with you until you’re grown. And there are boundaries; don’t cross them. Celebrating the Ranch’s 40th anniversary last month, the Croyles have given nearly 2,000 hurting children a chance at a new life in a Christian home. And now John is passing the leadership to his children.

Raised on the Ranch. Whether it was fetching Band-Aids and medicine or watching her brother pull pajamas out of his own drawer for the new children his father brought home, Reagan says that while her childhood was unique, she did not know it. She simply followed her parents’ lead. “If they’re hurt, fix them. If they’re hungry, feed them. It was just a family affair. Just jump in,” she says. “Mom was always cooking huge meals because we never knew who was coming.”

“I’ve heard my sister say before that growing up we never knew that there was anyone else outside that didn’t have all these brothers and didn’t have all these sisters and weren’t raised the exact same way we were,” Brodie adds. “So to us, it’s just a way of life, the way we grew up. We always knew where we stood as our parents’ biological children, but we also knew that there was a bigger picture and that there were 140 hurting boys and girls that also looked to them as somebody special in their life. We just thought this is what everybody did.”

While he also has memories of his father seeking out homeless children across town, grandmothers dropping off grandchildren they could no longer afford to support, and fathers abandoning their sons for life with a new girlfriend, Brodie says growing up with so many siblings was a blessing and adventure. “I’d have friends say, ‘Hey do you want to come spend the night? We can play basketball in the neighborhood.’ I’m like, ‘Man I have 60 brothers with 200 acres and cows and horses and chickens and gyms and everything under the sun. Why don’t you come hang out with us? It’s a whole lot more fun here.’”

Reagan’s Return. Reagan played basketball at the University of Alabama and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling. She married former Alabama Quarterback John David Phillips in 2001 and worked at Brewer Porch Children’s Center in Tuscaloosa before returning to Big Oak Ranch in 2003. She became Director of Children’s Care in 2009. Much of her time is spent reviewing case plans and meeting with social workers and educators to discuss how each child is doing. “Every child’s goals look different. But my biggest goal would be that they would break the cycles that they’ve come from. Whether that was a cycle of addiction, abuse, or dysfunction. That we would alter the course of their life and their children’s lives and their children’s children’s lives,” she explains adding, “For them to be introduced to Jesus while with us is our biggest success.”

As a mother, Reagan says she hopes to mirror the example of selflessness and servant hood modeled by her parents. “My husband and I have three boys, and we try to be very intentional about raising them. They are future men. They are not just children. [We are] raising them up to be men who are going to bind up the broken hearted and take care of the orphans and the widows.”

Brodie’s Return. After playing quarterback for the University of Alabama from 2002 to 2005, Brodie Croyle married wife Kelli in 2007 and played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs until he retired in 2012. He was working in Tuscaloosa in a land and timber real estate business when a conversation with a coworker made him realize his heart was back in North Alabama. “For two months I just prayed about it, and I just felt the conviction that this is what God put us on earth to do. My wife had just come down from putting our little boy to bed and we were sitting down for dinner and I said, ‘Baby, I’ve got to tell you I really feel God’s calling us back to the ranch.’ And she broke down crying. Like crying crying. She said, ‘I’ve been waiting on you to say that for five years. Your dad and I have spent countless hours in prayer, countless hours in conversation, but we knew it had to be on God’s time and we knew it had to be on your time. Tell me when and I’ll have the bags packed.’”

Since then Brodie has been shadowing his father as associate executive director and will eventually take over as executive director, handling day-to-day operations of Big Oak Boys’ Ranch, Big Oak Girls’ Ranch and Westbrook Christian School. “When Brodie and I drive up to the Boys’ Ranch and he hops out of the truck, I see 20 boys come running to his truck just to hug him or shake his hand or hit him or punch him like boys do when they interact,” John says of son Brodie. “The joy in their eyes and the love and respect they have for him and Kelli, living on the ranch with them, there really are no words.”

Reagan adds she has the utmost respect for her brother’s leadership skills. “Dad has always said that great leaders know where they are going and know how to persuade people to go with them,” she says. “I think that really sums up my brother, and I think he learned it by watching my dad. He has a very clear direction of where he wants to go.”

To Brodie, where he wants to go is down the same path his parents have paved for the last 40 years. Inspired by the Scripture the Ranch is built upon—Isaiah 61:3—he will continue to plant seeds of hope to the glory of God. John, who will remain in a supportive role at the ranch, couldn’t be prouder. “I know not only are our children doing what God called them to do but all the ranch children have got protectors and enablers. They have a secure future because our two children are taking them there.”

-Camille Platt 

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