Back in the ’80s, I was recruiting a young man from the Duluth, Georgia, area to play football at Georgia Southern College (now Georgia Southern University). I’ll call him Tim. At 6 feet, 3 inches tall, he was a 260-pound offensive line with all the skills to become a starter his freshman year.
I had been working to recruit Tim for the previous three years. Head Coach Erk Russell always wanted to know about the character of a person, along with his football skills. We usually contacted five people who knew the individual and asked each of them questions about who he was.
Tim would have been a true impact player for us if we could get him to sign a football scholarship. He was self-confident, possessed strong leadership ability and had the academic skills to graduate. Several other colleges wanted him to sign with them as well.
During the third official visit with a potential player and his parents, the head coach would come in and offer a football scholarship. So, I arranged a meeting with Coach Russell. I was excited about signing Tim because of all the hard work I had put in, and the time I had spent with him and his parents. We had become close.
We sat in the living room. Coach Russell extended the offer to Tim, and his parents were very excited for him to have the opportunity to play for a legend like Coach Russell. Tim’s answer was, “I need to think about it some more.” Essentially, he was saying no in a polite way. My mouth, along with those of his parents, fell wide open.
Coach Russell looked at me, wiped his bald head and said, “Mr. and Mrs. Jones, and Tim, I want to thank you for considering Georgia Southern. But you need to look for other schools to play college football.”
During the drive back, Coach Russell pulled the car to the side of the road. At that moment, I thought I would get fired. I was waiting for him to tell me to get out of the car and walk back to Statesboro, Georgia. Instead, Coach asked me to get something out of the trunk. If you knew Coach Russell, you know what kind of beverage that was. After replaying what had happened at the Jones’ house, the only thing he said to me was, “Coach, not everyone deserves the opportunity to attend Georgia Southern College.”
That early career experience made me realize the importance of leadership and a commitment to excellence that would inspire students. The Abbie DeLoach Foundation embodies that kind of spirit, encourages students to live an inspired life, and supports student athletes, nurses and missions abroad. I’m proud of the work we do every day, and of the students who are selected by the foundation as scholarship recipients.