I heard 1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George of Ohio State speak this week at the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown South Bend as part of the Key Bank Gridiron Legends Luncheon Series.
When asked about a memorable recruiting experience, George chuckled as he thought back to when Ohio State was recruiting him. He had attended Fork Union Military Academy for the 10th to 12th grades. He stayed an extra year (13th grade, so to speak) which helped his recruitment.
When Ohio State brought him in for an Official Visit that winter, they had some of their most serious Buckeyes host him for his 48 hour visit. Their logic was that they thought he was a very serious guy since he went to a Military Academy. In reality, Eddie was an outgoing guy who was hoping to get out and at least meet some girls while on his visit to Columbus. He joked that at Military Academy he hadn’t seen girls in months.
The serious Buckeye players, however, took him back to their apartment. On a Friday night he said they watched old movies like “Yentl.” Eddie eventually asked them if they were going out since it WAS Friday night. They said they usually stayed in.
The next day while being shown around campus, Eddie ran into other recruits. They said that they had been up all night having fun with their hosts.
Despite his lack of fun on his Official Visit, Eddie signed with Ohio State. His story is one of overcoming adversity. As a freshman, he got off to a good start as he scored 3 TD’s over Syracuse. However, against Illinois early in the season he lost two fumbles.
He was relegated to the deepest part of the bench for practically two seasons.
“That was devastating,” he said. “I would be in the cafeteria and people would say, ‘Don’t drop your food.’ Some people voted me as the worst running back ever to come to Ohio State. I thought about quitting or transferring, but really that’s when I won the Heisman. I didn’t quit. I worked harder. I stayed in the weight room longer. I did extra film study. I stretched more. I even took ballet class. By the time I was a junior they had recruited other good running backs. People said that at 6’3” I was too tall and wouldn’t be able to get through the tackles and that I wasn’t tough enough.”
George’s resolve paid off. He had a strong junior season and then exploded as a senior, rushing for a school record 1927 yards and 24 TD’s. Against Illinois, the same team he had lost 2 fumbles to as a freshman, he rushed for 314 yards in 3 quarters. He went on to win the Heisman Trophy. “I had gone from two fumbles that sent me into a spiral of self doubt,” he said, “to becoming the best player in College Football. That’s how I knew God was with me the whole time.”
George had compelling insights about teamwork. In 1994 Ohio State was loaded with future NFL talent. Still, Penn State beat them 63-14. Can you imagine!?
“We could have spiraled downward or propelled higher,” George said. “That’s when we realized we had to play as a TEAM. We had guys who were thinking about pro football and about getting agents. Forget that crap. We made a decision to be a team.”
The next year, with their emphasis on team, Ohio State was almost unbeatable.
George said something young people can draw inspiration from as far as setting goals. In 1988 he watched an ESPN show on Barry Sanders, who won the Heisman that year. He said he taped it and watched it over and over. That week he made up his mind he would win the Heisman one day, and started practicing his speech as a kid. He visualized his future success.
Jerry Rice is going to be the next speaker at the College Football Hall of Fame Gridiron Legends Luncheon series on October 29th. For tickets you can go to Collegefootball.org