OXFORD, Miss. – When he was 7 or 8, Sean Tuohy Jr. was sidelined by chickenpox on the day he was scheduled to be baptized. Now 20, Tuohy – the young son portrayed in “The Blind Side” movie – was baptized in mid-August by family friend Hugh Freeze, the University of Mississippi’s head football coach.
Freeze has “been a family friend since as young as I can remember,” said Tuohy, who goes by “SJ.”
“His wife and my mom [Leigh Anne Tuohy] are good friends. I’ve looked up to him as a role model in faith,” said SJ, who was baptized at North Oxford (Miss.) Baptist Church where Freeze is a member.
The Tuohy family of Memphis also includes husband and father Sean and daughter Collins – as well as adoptive son Michael Oher, an offensive lineman with the 2013 NFL champion Baltimore Ravens. Oher’s adoption into the family and his rise to one of college football’s top recruits is told in The Blind Side, a 2006 book and 2009 movie. Freeze was Oher’s football coach at Briarcrest Christian School and is mentioned frequently in the book, while the movie includes a character named Coach Cotton based on Freeze.
SJ, a basketball player, also was a sought-after athlete out of Briarcrest. He’s starting his second year at Loyola University Maryland where he’ll play as a redshirt freshman in the Greyhounds’ upcoming season, their first in the Patriot League. Basketball skills run in the Tuohy family. Sean, a restaurateur and broadcast analyst for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, played guard at Ole Miss and holds the all-time record for assists in the Southeastern Conference.
SJ said Loyola Maryland was the best college that offered him a scholarship. And it didn’t hurt that “it was close to Mike,” SJ said, referring to Oher, who lives in the Baltimore area.
Leigh Anne said, “I personally don’t believe in coincidences. That SJ looked at so many colleges and so many looked at him…, this has to be 100 percent God-driven. For him to have landed there was a miracle.”
It was in Baltimore earlier this year, Leigh Anne said, that SJ determined he’d waited long enough to be baptized.
During a visit, Leigh Anne attended church with SJ and Oher. After the sermon, she said the pastor “called on people who wanted to get baptized to come on up.” Leigh Anne said SJ turned to her and said, “Mom, I’ve never been baptized.” For a moment he considered walking forward, she said.
“He had always been a superstrong Christian,” Leigh Anne said, “and he’s really felt convicted that he hadn’t” been baptized.
Nevertheless, Leigh Anne said she told him, “I hate to stifle this, but your dad will be so mad if you get baptized and he’s not here.
“What if we let Hugh [Freeze] baptize you,” Leigh Anne suggested.
“Mom, coach wouldn’t do that,” SJ replied.
Leigh Anne then said, “What if I make Coach Freeze baptize you?”
Leigh Anne contacted Freeze last spring and he agreed to work out the details with North Oxford pastor Gary Richardson.
The Tuohys have strong ties to Ole Miss and attend North Oxford when they’re in town, SJ said. His mom and dad met as Ole Miss students in the late ’70s. Sean was a star basketball player, Leigh Anne was a cheerleader. Their daughter Collins, also an Ole Miss graduate, also was a cheerleader.
SJ said having Freeze baptize him was “an obvious choice. I grew up with his daughters as sort-of sisters. He was such a good influence on me growing up.”
Just before the baptism, SJ said he and Freeze “talked about the journeys that Christ had led us on” and “just that he was proud of me as a brother in Christ.”
Freeze also baptized his three daughters, the Ole Miss coach said during a news conference on Sept. 23.
“I’m thankful that my parents were people of faith,” said Freeze, who came to Christ and was baptized when he was 7. “My faith is everything to me. I’m pretty clear and open about that. I was grateful to have a great family that introduced me to that.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Tune is a writer in Fort Worth, Texas.)