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WAXAHACHIE, Texas — Jesse L. Godding has experienced a measure of satisfaction during his 21-year tenure as head football coach and now athletic director at Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU).
The football program began at the school in 1996. Six years – and four head coaches – later, Godding accepted the post, bringing both stability and respectability to a state where the rust stands alongside piety in many places. As Godding oversaw a better-resourced program, he won a Central States Football League championship and was named 2013 CSFL Coach of the Year.
“Football is the lifeblood of many communities in Texas,” said Godding, 57. “People move to certain places just to get their sons into the football program.”
SAGU initiated a football program with the attitude that if an athlete wants to go to college, it might as well be in Waxahachie.
“Athletics is a medium, a tool for spiritual education,” Godding asserts. “Exercise is an opportunity to reveal character, become more Christlike, and grow in grace.”
Godding had previously coached football at Crown College in Minnesota and AG’s Trinity Bible College in North Dakota before joining SAGU in 2002.
In 2011 he also assumed responsibility as sporting director and held this dual role for four years. He remains athletic director, and in his 12 years in that post, the number of athletes at SAGU has exploded from 185 to 465 across softball, women’s cross-country and esports. Godding has been honored as the highest conference athletic director three times, including 2021 and 2022. Last year, SAGU women won the National Christian College Athletic Association’s national softball championship.
A NEW LEVEL
For several reasons, Godding believes the football program will enter a new phase of success. One is the new multi-phase plan launched last year to transform the current sports complex and eventually develop an on-campus football stadium. The Lions are currently playing their games at a local high school.
Having a stadium on campus will benefit SAGU in a number of ways, Godding said, including a reduction in travel expenses, the ability to practice at school at night, and a stimulus to interest from the student body and alumni. Phase one, already completed, included the installation of an artificial grass pitch and running track with lighting, as well as practice pitches for football, soccer and field programs. Future phases will include grandstands, a press box and scoreboards.
But Godding is equally enthusiastic about head coach Greg L. Ellis, a 1998 National Football League first-round draft pick who won 7-3 in his first season at SAGU last term. Ellis, who is 6ft, 6 inches tall, played as a defensive endman and linebacker for the nearby Dallas Cowboys for 11 years. In 2007, Ellis was named Comeback Player of the Year and went to the Pro Bowl after injuring his Achilles the year before. During his Dallas career, he had 377 tackles, 77 sacks, 20 forced fumbles and four interceptions. The North Carolina native, who was the victim of a salary cap in 2009, played one final season with the Oakland Raiders.
With the opening of a head coach last year, Godding hired the former NFL player. Ellis, 47, jokes that he didn’t impress Godding with his initial foray into college coaching. In his year-long stint at conference competitor Texas College, Ellis went 0-11. But Godding saw something unusual.
“Greg is a good fit because he understands who we are as an institution and he represents the values,” says Godding. “He brings a wealth of football acumen to the job.”
Certainly not many know football as well as the gregarious, good-natured Ellis, who often worked at mini-camps and summer camps after his playing career.
“I studied film a lot when I played football,” says Ellis. “A scientific approach is better than leaving things to chance.”
Former Cowboys coach and mentor Bill Parcells encouraged Ellis to become a coach, and indeed a trio of NFL teams called to offer him a position on the staff. But he declined, citing the workaholic demands of professional sports. He didn’t want to be separated from his wife, Tangie, and their children: Tyann, now 23; Geremiah, 19; and Taliah, 14. Greg and Tangie, high school sweethearts, have been married for 27 years.
SAGU is everything he wants at this stage in his life.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” says Ellis over lunch in the cafeteria. “It is a school that encourages people to put God at the center of education. We are best when we please God, and it takes faith to please God.”
Ellis says faith has been paramount in his life since 11th grade, when many classmates thought he might become a preacher.
“I hope the football program continues to grow and not just in terms of wins and losses,” says Ellis. “I want our boys to grow into more godly men.”
His philosophy aligns with SAGU President Kermit S. Bridges, who is personally involved in hiring all head coaches and ensuring that they are fully committed to the school’s mission and values.
“I’m much more interested in whether the coach is a man or woman with a heart for God than in knowledge of their sports and past accomplishments,” says Bridges, 64. “And we won’t compromise on recruitment or expectation athletes enter to live up to university standards.”
Fitness is now the number one priority for all students. The Garrison Wellness Center on campus features a recreational gym, weight lifting room with treadmills and elliptical machines, indoor walking track, racquetball rooms and an aquatic center with sauna and hot tubs. Students can participate in 18 intramural sports.
When it launches in the fall, Joseph D. Reed, associate professor of health and science, will be the director of SAGU’s new kinesiology program. First, the program allows students to go further into sports training and learn how to manage a sports team. New course offerings that will become part of the curriculum include exercise physiology, biomechanics, exercise psychology and medical terminology. According to Reed, the existing on-site teachers and associate teachers are academically qualified to teach all future classes.
Later, SAGU hopes to offer degrees in occupational therapy and physical therapy, Godding says. Ultimately, Reed hopes SAGU can ease the path for students to become physical therapists, nurses, and even doctors.
“Our world is getting darker, and we want more Christians in those areas,” says Reed, 62. He says seven of the 14 students he currently teaches who are currently studying anatomy have indicated they plan to switch to kinesiology in the fall.
PHOTO: Sporting director Jesse Godding (left) is delighted to have Greg Ellis as SAGU football coach.