GAINESVILLE, FL (FR) – He was called the “beer boogieman” in the Florida beach community of Bradenton. Bill Gunter would run into convenience stores at night and steal two to three cases of beer, along with some potato chips. “I did this every night one summer until I got caught,” he admitted.
“I was on my way out of this one store with a couple of cases of beer. It was the sixth time that summer I had done this … and it was in broad daylight. Before I knew it, I was arrested and charged with petty larceny.”
When he was 15-years-old, Bill was well-known around town in the bar scene – and was well on his way to becoming an alcoholic. “I would be sleeping in class and all of a sudden I would get a craving for a beer. I was a borderline alcoholic and came to school stoned all the time.” He was 15-years-old when he was arrested for the first time. The second arrest came at age 16. That began what he called a “three-week fight” with his parents. “Then everything went downhill,” he said.
Drugs and alcohol had been a part of Bill’s life since his childhood. He smoked his first joint when he was in the 5th grade. From marijuana, he went onto LSD, reds, valium and speed. Although he played football, he never trained or lifted weights, but stayed stoned most of the time. “My parents found pot and rolling papers in my laundry,” he added. “I smoked pot in my room, and pretty much did what I wanted to do because my parents were scared of me.”
Along with drugs, Bill also got into fights: “One night I beat up six guys and kicked in someone’s door. I went home and cried myself to sleep. I felt out of control because of my temper. I thought I was going crazy.” He would often “black out” after hitting the person the first few times. “One night I had a fight with this other guy, and I blacked out. I regained consciousness when they took him in the ambulance. My lips were busted and people told me that I kicked him. But I didn’t remember a thing.”
That year, Bill contracted pneumonia and went into the hospital with a 105 degree fever. While in the intensive care unit, a friend’s father brought a Bible for him to read. Bill began to read it through the ensuing years of drugs and violence.
The fights and drugs came to a climax during his senior year in high school when his friends would leave parties because he was there. “Everyone was afraid of Bill,” said Jim Smith, his best friend. “They would leave the party because of him. I told him I thought he was insane.” Bill began to get desperate: “People thought I was crazy, and I thought about suicide. One night I prayed, ‘Lord I need help.’”
A scholarship to play football at a major university was Bill’s dream. But if a scholarship didn’t work out, Bill had already planned his alternative occupation: to work with a cocaine dealer as a thug. “I was on my way to it already. I was hired once – I drove by and shot at a man’s house and broke his windows. I told the dealer that if I didn’t get a football scholarship, I wanted to work for him.”
Several scholarship offers did come, however. “I was committed to go to Miami University, but I changed my mind and decided to go to the University of Florida. I believe I was directed by God, even though I didn’t know it.” The month before he left for Gainesville, Bill pulled a gun on a man and told him, “I’m going to blow your brains out if you don’t quit messing around with my girlfriend.” Two girls jumped on him, and he beat them up. However, he says, “If it weren’t for them, I think I would have killed him.”
When Bill arrived at the University of Florida, his father had a stroke and went into the hospital. “My father was supposed to die,” he related. “I was really hurt because I remembered the way I treated him. I had never ever told him that I loved him. I got so sick that I could barely eat for a week.”
The emotional turmoil over his father’s illness, coupled with his own personal desperation, began to bring Bill to his knees. Two weeks later, he received a dinner invitation from a young man in the Maranatha Church at the University of Florida. After hearing about the love of Jesus, Bill became a Christian. “Out of the depths of my sin, God could answer my prayer!” he said. “And there was an automatic change. The Lord put me in the right place because I had worn out my welcome in hell. All I wanted to do was die.” After he became a Christian, he immediately returned to his dorm and shared with his best friend Jim.
“I flipped out when he told me he got saved,” admitted Jim. “I thought, ‘If God can change Bill, then He can change me.’” Before the day was over, Jim had also become a Christian.
A national racquetball champion, Jim said that he and Bill then decided to return to Bradenton for a visit: “People just sat there and shook their heads when we told them that we loved them and we loved Jesus! When we walked into the parties our friends would try to put a beer into our hands. But we always walked in with milk and would share with them about Jesus. Now they’re calling Bill a ‘Christian Weirdo,’ and expecting it to last no longer than a month. But I know it’s going to last for life.”
Today, Bill Gunter is a new man. Besides playing defensive tackle for the University of Florida Gators, he preaches open-air on the campus about the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. He tells students passing in front of the Turlington Hall classroom building, “I would have killed myself if I hadn’t found God. I praise the Lord for snatching me from hell!”