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The University of Georgia exhorts its enthusiasts to "Commit to the G", and certainly many have, but at least one young man committed long before the phrase came into prominence ... and before he had ever set foot on campus.
Eric Hart, a senior associate athletic director at Delaware State University at present, was born and raised in Stoneville, North Carolina, a town of about 1,000 residents north of Greensboro near the Virginia border. As a youngster he made Thanksgiving trips with his family to Knoxville where his uncle would treat everyone to a Tennessee – Vanderbilt football game. That introduction to the SEC hooked him.
However, it wasn't UT or Vandy that won his heart.
"Going to games in Knoxville and learning about the SEC was great, but watching Herschel Walker play on TV ... that won me over," Eric said. "There was something about him wearing the Georgia G, and the red and black that just captivated me."
A record setter in the discus at his high school, Eric got a NC Teaching Fellows scholarship to attend Appalachian State where he also walked on the football team.
"The North Carolina Teaching Fellows scholarship provided me with the opportunity to go to 'App State'. I suffered a knee injury during my freshman year, so I decided to focus solely on track and field. I was big enough to play college football, but not good enough," he says with a laugh. "Having a chance to be a student athlete was really important to me and getting to compete on the collegiate level in the discus was very rewarding."
It was a launching pad for Eric.
"I aspired to become a school guidance counselor and perhaps one day, a high school principal. I worked, as an undergraduate, for a gentleman by the name of Dave Robertson whose wife was a counselor in North Carolina," he said. "His wife was friends with Dr. Pam Paisley a professor in UGA's Department of Counseling and Human Development Services who during that time, had recently transferred from Appalachian State to UGA where she still teaches today.
"My supervisor told me that UGA had a superb graduate program in school counseling and made a call to Dr. Paisley on my behalf.
"I was told that admission to the School Counseling master's program that year was limited to only 12 and the process was very competitive. Knowing this, I drove from North Carolina to Athens to hand deliver my graduate school application.
"I still remember this nice woman in the graduate admission office saying, 'baby, you didn't have to do this, you could have mailed this application.' I said 'I want to be a Bulldog and to be absolutely certain you got my application.' Needless to say, that persistence paid off because I got one of the 12 slots."
He graduated from UGA with a Master's in Education and embarked on a career that included a job working for the UGA Athletic Association as an Academic Counselor for Men's and Women's Track and Field, Equestrian, Softball, and Men's basketball programs, respectively. However, he returned to Appalachian State to be closer to family when his sister, with whom he shares a birthday exactly two years apart, was stricken with cancer that would claim her life nine years ago, however, there was a silver lining in that darkest of clouds.
"I was on the way to the 2005 FCS (Formerly Division I-AA) Football Championship Game in Chattanooga on a shuttle bus with a friend. I didn't know Erin at the time, but I asked some folks I knew from App State about this woman I saw.
"I said, 'That woman is beautiful ... who is that?' I wanted to know.
"Even though it was only in passing that day, I remembered her very well. When I returned to work, she was coming home from a Rotary International trip to the Czech Republic. Friends had a welcome back party for her, and a welcome back to North Carolina party for me. That's when I decided I was going to pursue Erin," he says with wide grin.
The two began dating, and that included trips to Athens for UGA vs. Tennessee football games and other sporting events.
"It's fitting that the first time my dad met Eric was at a UGA basketball game versus Southern University in Athens," Erin said.
Erin's father Earl Hill is a former Men's Basketball coach and current associate athletic director at Southern and a 2015 inductee of Southern University's athletic hall of fame. The apple apparently didn't fall far from the tree. Erin was recently appointed as associate vice provost for enrollment management at a university in North Carolina.
That first meeting between her father and his future son-in-law must've gone well because the couple soon would marry and continue to share a happy life with their son, and to this day are lifelong members of Bulldog Nation. In fact, they recently designated a deferred gift to the University of Georgia Foundation. This gift is to be split equally between scholarships for Counseling and Human Development Services and a fund honoring legendary UGA Women's Golf Coach Liz Murphy that supports women's athletic scholarships.
"I admire the strong value my husband places on his experiences at The University of Georgia, both as a student and as a former employee in the athletic department," Erin said.
Eric echoes that sentiment. "I believe we are commanded to give and that was one of the reasons our planned gift to UGA was a 'no-brainer'. We get it back in more ways that just monetary return. We get it back in blessings that come in so many different forms.
"Gifts that are earmarked for students have great impact and provide access to higher education for young people that might not otherwise be able to study at UGA. We're one tiny piece of a donor puzzle at UGA and collectively we're helping to catapult tomorrow's leaders by giving them opportunities to do great things," he stated.
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