WEST POINT — To say Monday was a special day for Houston Thrailkill would be an understatement.

State Legislature proclaimed the day as Houston Thraikill Day to honor the 14-year-old, who lost his home and all his possessions in a Feb. 13 fire.

The West Point Middle School eighth-grader received an even bigger surprise at his school when he was recognized at a tribute attended by former University of Alabama football standout Jeremiah Castille.

When the one-time defense back learned of Houston’s loss, he did more than replace the autograph he gave the youngster years earlier.

Houston was so impressed with a speech given by Castille at First United Methodist Church in Cullman that he asked him to sign his Bible.

Houston’s cousin, Bethany Sawyer, was moved to write to Castille after Houston told her the thing lost to the fire he missed the most was the autographed Bible.

“That Bible has meant the world to me,” Houston said.

Sawyer asked Castille to send her cousin a note so his autograph would be replaced. What Houston received was a surprise tribute attended by Castille Monday at the West Point Middle School gym.

“We wanted to be able to do a little bit more once we found out Houston was a real leader here in the school and in the community,” said Castille who completed his football career with a six-season stint in the National Football League.

Today Castille serves as the chaplain of the Alabama football team and has founded the Jeremiah Castille Foundation, an organization geared toward ministering to inner city youths and University of Alabama students.

Houston said he had no idea the assembly he attended Monday would be in his honor.

When he spotted several family members in the bleachers, he said his first thought was that he was in trouble.

Those who know Houston might find this hard to believe. Houston, who was elected to president of the school’s “Warriors for Christ” club this year, is an active participant in his school and church, Sulphur Springs Baptist Church.

It was because of Houston’s leadership that Alabama District 12 Representative James Fields asked the legislature to proclaim March 10, 2008 as Houston Thrailkill Day. Fields attended Monday’s event to present a proclamation to Houston.

“It was very easy for the House to recognize him,” said Fields who lauded the entire Thrailkill clan. “This family exemplifies what community is all about.”

Houston said he didn’t know who Castille was when he met him, but liked what he had to say and liked that he played football at Alabama, a team so beloved by the Thrailkills that Houston was wearing a shirt that said, “Hold on Bama, I’m coming” when he returned home from the hospital following his birth.

Castille, who played on the last Crimson Tide team coached by Paul “Bear” Bryant and served as a pallbearer at the historic coach’s funeral, was joined at WPMS Monday by his son, Simeon, another Alabama defensive end who hopes to follow the footsteps of his father, and older brother, Tim, into the NFL.

Simeon and Jeremiah brought with them a Bible, an Alabama jersey and autographed photos of Jeremiah, Tim and Simeon that were framed together.

“I thought it was so cool to see them walking in here with gifts and pictures and a jersey,” Houston said.

“We wanted to help in a small way to help cheer him up,” Jeremiah said.

“To see the smile on his and his family’s faces was awesome,” said Simeon.

Houston said, “It’s a real honor to be here today and have all these men come out here.”

Although a devastating fire would be a faith-testing event for many, Houston said, “You have to remember that even when things get horrible, if you look to the Man Upstairs, He’s going to be with you always.”

“God teaches us life lessons and sometimes they’re dramatic,” Houston added.

Fields added, “We grow from tragedies — we become stronger.”

When asked where Houston plans to display his framed photo, the 14-year-old joked, “I’m going to put it in a fire-proof safe, that’s for sure.”

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