When former Crimson Tide All-SEC defensive end John Croyle was planning to take the next step in his football career into the NFL in 1974, he first went to his coach, the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant, for advice.

Croyle said his plan was to play professional football for a few years and use the money he earned to start a young men's ministry camp.

He recounted his conversation with Bryant during a recent episode of "1819 News: The Podcast" and how Bryant's guidance led him to pursue a ministry that's helped thousands of children in need.

SEE ALSO: Former Crimson Tide star John Croyle: Bear Bryant 'died of a broken heart' after retiring from coaching

"I said I'm going to get the money from pro football, and I'm going to start a home for children. And [coach Bryant] looked at me and he said, 'Don't play pro ball unless you're willing to marry it. Go build that ranch you've been talking about," Croyle said. "I walked out and never looked back. That moment was pivotal."

Croyle founded Big Oak Ranch in 1974 after graduating. Now in its 50th year, the ministry still offers a safe, supportive Christian home for abused, neglected and abandoned children.

"We've been doing this for all these years, and God's been faithful," Croyle said.

Even with the ministry's success, Croyle said he'd been asked a few times if he regretted not going pro when he had a chance all those years ago.

"Have I ever looked back and said what if? Never," Croyle stated. "Because I don't take it lightly that I found out early what I was put on Earth to do… We've had over 2,000 children call the ranch home, and there's never been a day of regret."

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email daniel.taylor@1819news.com.

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