In his freshman year at Southern University, Lenard Tillery III tried out for the football team. He was just a walk-on in 2012, with no promises to play.
Four years later, he finished his college career as the Southwestern Athletic Conference's all-time leading rusher with 4,837 yards, surpassing the likes of the great Walter Payton.
Now Tillery's underdog story is being told in a new documentary, "Overcoming the Odds: From Walk-On to All-Time Great."
The one-hour documentary begins streaming Saturday, Feb. 13, at swacedout.com, and is the work of producers Larkin "Doc Kno" Weber and Ron "Prism" Williams.
The two Baton Rouge natives have been working together for more than 20 years, during which time Williams and Weber have become the pastors of G Force Fellowship Church and have collaborated on several gospel projects (gforcemusic.net).
The documentary is their first project for the faith-based company SWACed Out (Sanctified, Wealthy, Authentic, Courageous), whose goal is to motivate people through digital media, books and apparel.
"It's OK to come from the bottom — no expectations," said the 27-year-old Tillery, who, after a short stint with the NFL's Los Angeles Rams, now coaches at Glen Oaks High School in Baton Rouge.
Weber, 52, and Williams, 46, can relate from their own improbable journeys and are hoping viewers will be inspired by the documentary's message of hope and the power of dreams.
"Doing this documentary really made us get even deeper into our own life stories and how we've overcome obstacles," said Weber. "We're all a part of this same story.
"It's all about Lenard's work," he said, "but also a story where we connect."
"It's just amazing what he had to overcome, and we see that in our life," added Williams, who wrote and narrated the documentary. "It was just a blessing to be a part of this project because we can relate to this story so much."
"Overcoming the Odds" features interviews with Tillery's former coaches and footage of him as a player from youth league football to McKinley High School, where he battled adversities and injuries, to the Southern Jaguars.
At Southern, Tillery went from the bottom of the depth chart to eventually take over as the starting running back as a redshirt freshman. Tillery had to ward off stiff competition year after year as highly regarded transfers from bigger schools joined the team.
"When you look back over my life … remember the fight and refusal to give up," said Tillery, a member of The Example Apostolic Ministries in Baker, where his father, Lenard Tillery Jr., is the pastor.
Williams said he's known Tillery since youth football, when he coached some of the player's opponents.
In 2016, Williams started the process of documenting Tillery's journey.
"I was moved by his accomplishments," Williams said. "I thought he should have had a lot more recognition than he received."
The producers also hope his story will connect with youngsters.
"So many kids have been put in situations where they've had to overcome and so often they might not play sports. Some of them just might just be living through a horrible situation in their own life. I came from a broken home environment. I was a statistic that was not likely to succeed. I made a choice not to let that affect me. I decided to overcome that myself. Even as a kid, I was feeling that I don't want to be like that, and I'm going to be different," said Weber, who also hosts with his wife a Christian television talk show on social media and YouTube.
Williams referenced the significance of releasing the documentary during Black History Month.
"God has allowed this message to reach worldwide," Williams said. "This is a documentary of hope. It is documentary of endurance, the power of courage and of people being determined. We hope to help people dream big. What Martin Luther King did — that's for everybody. We recognize him because he took it to the apex. But everybody's got a dream … It starts with us because our neighborhood, our community need to see people that look like us, that we can touch, that we can talk to, that we have the same type of experiences, where we can say "I can push through and do it, too.'''
The documentary has two accompanying workbooks for group discussions and videos. For more information on "Overcoming the Odds," call Shirley Weber at (225) 933-5816.