Dealing With Adversity, Part 1: Eric Wolford

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A couple of weeks ago, I was strolling through Dillard’s at the Southern Park Mall.  As I was trying on a new pair of dress shoes, the sales representative, a female in her thirties, commented on my YSU apparel.  Her comments echoed disdain toward the Penguins Eric Wolford.

“He is pretty arrogant and I heard his players hate him.”

That was the exactness of her wording.  Of course, I raised the defense on behalf of Wolford and said that he was a stand-up guy who cares for his players and has a lot on his mind.  There was not much conversation beyond that, other than me telling her I didn’t like the shoes.

I didn’t purchase any shoes. The thing I took away from that experience was the idea to contact Wolford, Kelly Pavlik, and others in the area who have had to deal with adversity.  Plus, I thought the saleswoman had issues.  Dillards has joined my small list of businesses that are now ‘closed’.

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During the season last year, Wolford made a comment about adversity and how everyone in the room would have to deal with an uninvited circumstance sooner or later.  I thought his addressing an issue that way was commendable and it stuck with me.

Kevin Watts, a YSU football player, recently lost his father.  Wolford commented on how he helps others when they face adversity such as the death of a parent.

“Kevin’s dad was obviously a very big part of his life.  Other kids have parents who are sick and not doing very well.  As coaches, we try to step in and provide a father-figure role to take them under our wing and encourage them to get through that part of life.  We will offer grief counseling if it is needed, anything to put their mind at ease and to know that they have someone they can turn to.”

It’s not just death and sickness, there is always something going on.

“These kids all have so many things going on at home.  Some of them send their financial aid checks home so that their parents can pay the car insurance or the rent.  It sounds crazy, but it is the reality some of these kids are faced with.”

“I live with adversity every day, and these guys know that”, added Wolford.  ”When I get home every night, I have to wonder if Stone will be there.  It is something that I live with every day and the players know my relationship with Stone.  The players can reflect on that relationship and see the degree of adversity that exists.  It helps them deal with something on a smaller scale sometimes.”

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Wolford, and his wife, Dr. Melinda, started a foundation called No Stone Unturned which helps families pay bills that our out-of-whack health insurance system hits people for.  Wolford has referred to it as ‘paying ahead’.

Dr. Wolford commented on Coach Wolford’s relationship with his players.

“Eric loves each and every one of those kids.  He has to handle how he coaches differently with each of them.  Some respond better to yelling, some are better with sit-down meetings.  One player was going to quit because he didn’t like being yelled at.  Eric found that kid after pursuing him for a couple of days.  They talked and worked it out, and you are always going to have that at every school.  A coach that seeks to resolve the problem, sends the message to the players that he cares.”

Wolford faced a different adversity earlier in his coaching career.  Dr. Wolford told the story of her husbands worst nightmare coming true.

“Eric was hired by Coach Stoops to be the line coach at Arizona.  He was helping with recruiting and found a lineman in Texas.  The lineman committed to come to Arizona and Eric was thrilled about the addition.  Early on during Summer workouts, the recruit died in Eric’s arms, collapsed at practice and never recovered.  Eric had to call the family and tell them that their son was dead.  He was so devastated, but he made his way to Houston for the funeral, and he even spoke there.  The next season, another recruit was shot in a separate incident and never was able to play football after that.  Eric still stays in touch with that young man and his family.”

Wolford is special, and he treats those who let him, as part of his huge football family.    I know Wolford will make mistakes, we all do, it’s just human nature.  However, the fact that he never turns down a speaking appearance to assist local charities, donates more money than you would ever know to causes he considers worthwhile, and has a unique home life where adversity is faced daily, he is a role model people could learn something from.  Far from arrogant.

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