Chris Severio, star of the inspirational new film "Greater", opened up about how God used his experience playing Brandon Burlsworth, the "greatest walk-on in the history of college football," to renew and strengthen his faith.
"Greater", which hit theaters Friday, tells the story of Burlsworth, a young man who dreamed of joining the University of Arkansas' football team, the Arkansas Razorbacks, despite receiving little support from those around him.
Even his older brother Marty (Neal McDonough) doubted Brandon's abilities even though he dearly loved his little brother. Undeterred by those who told him he wasn't good enough to play professional football, Brandon took a risk and walked on in 1994.
Brandon's refusal to give up in the face of overwhelming odds eventually paid off, as the young man became the most respected player in the history of the program. In 1998, Brandon was a First-Team All-American, the Razorbacks' first such player in nine years.
Tragically, Brandon was killed in a car accident the following year, shortly after being selected in the third round of the 1999 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. But while his life ended all too soon, Brandon left behind a legacy of faith, determination, and perseverance.
During an exclusive interview with The Gospel Herald, Severio revealed that before being cast as Brandon, he was struggling with questions of identity and purpose. However, after spending months learning about Brandon, studying his habits and beliefs, and spending time with the late football player's family, something amazing happened.
"All the sudden it hit me - this is something I've been looking for," Severio said. "Through this film, I was able to find God again and go along the right path that I needed to in life. I learned not to give up, and not to quit. Brandon was a huge inspiration - he was this remarkable young man who made such an impact on everyone around him. He made me want to be a better person, and when people go see the film, they'll feel the same way - they'll be touched just like I was because his story is truly powerful."
The Louisiana native revealed that since starring in "Greater", he's adopted the motto "Do it the Burls Way", a saying that means never give up - even when the odds are stacked against you.
"Brandon stood there, and he kept his faith and kept his head down. He worked hard for what he wanted in life," Severio said. "I was paralleled with his life in a lot of ways; he faced a lot of adversity, and I did as well. He was bullied growing up, and I was bullied, and we were able to tie that in on screen, I truly felt his emotions because of what I had been through. I learned so much from Brandon - to never quit, to never give up."
Brandon's death was particularly hard on his brother Marty, who in the film is shown experiencing a crisis of faith as he struggles with why a loving God would let something so terrible happen to someone so good. Eventually, Marty came to grips with the cruel twist of fate, and founded the Brandon Burlsworth Foundation to help other kids overcome challenges in their lives.
"Through his life, Marty looking back on who Brandon was and what he did," Severio said. "They had a saying on Brandon's tombstone: 'Our loss is great, but our God is greater.' That's why this film is called 'Greater.'"
Determined to make Brandon's brother and mother proud and honor Brandon's legacy, Severio worked tirelessly to perfect the young man's mannerisms and even learned how to play football - which was no small feat.
"The hardest part was being able to play somebody who was such a remarkable human being. That was a lot of pressure on me," Severio said. "But I wanted Brandon's family to see the finished product and be happy with it, and they were, and that's all I could ever want. I want the story to touch other people, and it has and will."
After seeing "Greater," Severio believes that audiences, both Christian and non-Christian, will leave the theater inspired, encouraged and transformed - just like he was.
"if you're looking for something to touch your heart and kind of give you a sense of humanity, a sense of looking for your faith, a blessing in disguise - this film is it," he said. "If you see this film, you'll walk out of the theaters and you're heart will feel warm, it'll be lit up. You'll feel that you learned a little more about life. I believe it's gonna touch a lot of people in a great way."