Josh Sanderson – From The Concession Stand To The Chapel

Nick Brown

July 03, 2024 at 1:45 pm.

Nestled in the Piney Hills of North Louisiana in Lincoln Parish is the village of Choudrant, such a small area it cannot even get a designation as a town, much less as a city.

Most Friday nights in Choudrant consist of driving down Highway 80, past the high school, making a right turn at the caution light near Parnell’s Service Station, then weaving your way back to Highway 80 and repeating this for hours. Notice there was no mention of Friday night football because Choudrant High School, home of the Aggies, doesn’t offer football.

Basketball and baseball are the top draws in the village. Basketball season begins in late October and runs through March. On most Friday nights, Josh Sanderson could be found running the concession stand for basketball. Sanderson is now the chaplain for the 2023 state champion Ruston High School Bearcat football team.

“I’ve always enjoyed football, but honestly I never spent my Friday nights watching it growing up,” Sanderson said.

How does someone with a limited football background become the team chaplain for one of the most storied programs in the state of Louisiana?

Ruston High School has won nine state championships, has been runner-up four times and was declared the National Champion in 1990, the first year the title was awarded.

Football rosters have been filled with former Bearcats. LSU’s Bert Jones, known as the “Ruston Rifle,” played 10 years in the NFL. Kyle Williams, Isaiah Buggs, Kenny Wright, Rodney Young and Kentrell Brice all prepped at Ruston High. The school can also boast of the last player chosen in the 2000 NFL Draft, Mike Green. Mr. Irrelevant went on to have an eight-year NFL career.

Sanderson was the youth pastor at First Baptist Ruston and was asked to speak to the team.

“Every year, I would speak to the team two or three times a season, but other than the players that were in my youth group (at First Baptist), I had no real interaction with the players.”

After speaking to the team several times, coaches met with Josh to ask him about becoming the permanent team chaplain. He would travel with the team, be on the sidelines at every game and have the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with the players. First Baptist Ruston and its pastor, Chris Craig, fully supported Josh.

The primary objective of any chaplain is to follow the Great Commission and lead others to Christ. Providing emotional support and mentoring are also part of this calling. In order for this to happen, relationships must be formed and trust must be earned.

To earn the team’s trust, Sanderson met with then-head coach Brad Laird and asked if he could run with the team. Of course, coaches were skeptical. He never played football; in fact his only activity close to being a sport was Frisbee golf. He asked the coaches not to cut him any slack and they didn’t.

”I did not want this to be a gimmick,” he recalls. “If I was slow on my run times, I knew it would affect the other guys. It made me push harder than I thought I could, and I believe it was the single most important event that set the chaplain program in motion at Ruston High.”

As the team chaplain, Josh has led many players and coaches to becoming Christ followers. “I’ve seen players and coaches give their life to Christ; there’s absolutely nothing better!”

As might be imagined, a coach’s trust can be a little harder to earn.

Each year the football team is invited to visit Sanderson’s home church, First Baptist Ruston. The team is recognized, then fed lunch after the sermon. One year assistant coach and defensive coordinator Hoff Schooler and his wife Pam joined the team at this service. They enjoyed the sermon, the friendly congregation and wanted more. After several visits with Josh and the church staff, they were baptized and became Christ followers.

One of the players that Hoff coached began to follow his position coach to church. “Squeegie,” as the young man is known, gave his life to Christ. He is now married; he and his wife have a child; all three can be found in church on Sunday mornings. Five new members of Christ Kingdom because of a team chaplain.

When asked about the importance of having a team chaplain, Josh was not short on words.

“During football season most players and coaches spend more time with each other than they do at home,” he said. “The trials of life don’t stop because it’s football season. Families divorce; injuries happen; tragedy strikes and girlfriends still break up with boyfriends. Having a chaplain gives the coaches a resource to use when they see their players struggling.”

Ruston High head coach Jerrod Baugh had this to say about Sanderson.

“Josh has been an asset for us as far as the coaches and players mental and spiritual health,” he said. “During the season his devotions offer uplifting words to players and coaches. We appreciate all he has given the football program through the years.”

A drawback to being the chaplain is time away from his own family. Josh would often return from away games to find his family, wife J’nell and daughters Addy and Ella, asleep by the radio.

But, his time away from the family will end this fall.

No, Josh is not retiring and his daughter, Addy, will not follow in her father’s footsteps to work in a concession stand on Friday nights. Instead, she will be a member of the Bearcat Belles, the school’s dance line, sharing the field with her dad, the chaplain of Ruston High.