Victor Cabral was doing just fine.
Sure, the former Georgia Southern defensive end had wanted to pursue a coaching career, but there weren’t any openings after he graduated. He accepted that reality and moved to Atlanta where he was excelling at his first real job, a supplemental life insurance salesman. Business was good, but Cabral couldn’t help but feel something wasn’t right.
“It was kind of taking a toll on me because I was missing football, and I just didn’t really feel fulfilled,” said the Naples, Fla., native who suited up for the Eagles from 2000-04.
But it wasn’t until the Jan. 1, 2007, Fiesta Bowl - which saw Boise State knock off Oklahoma in fairy-tale fashion - when Cabral knew for certain things had to change.
“I’m not a fan of either school, but I was on the edge of my seat, yelling at 11:30 at night, just going crazy,” he said. “I was loving it, and I knew then that I had to make a move, do something else, get back into football. It was driving me crazy.”
His sudden realization brought him to a crossroads. The company he was working for was pushing him to open his own office in Statesboro, but he couldn’t ignore his overwhelming desire to get back into the game he loved.
“Do I go for football right now, or do I go and start this branch in Statesboro and make a lot more money, do my own thing and grow up a lot faster?” Cabral thought back in January. “Or I could take a huge pay cut, but do what I really want to do, what I’ve always had a passion for since high school.”
After talking it over with his former coaches, he decided to go with his heart and initially began working with the football team at Griffin High School, which employed former GSU assistants Scot Sloan and Chad Lunsford. Cabral was substitute teaching until he got fully certified and working in the weight room with hopes of becoming a full-time staff member in the fall.
Things took an unexpected turn when Lunsford was hired as the linebackers coach at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville and called Cabral to let him know about an opening there for a defensive line coach. Cabral was offered the job in March and gladly accepted the opportunity to coach the position he grew up playing. He’ll wear plenty of hats at the junior college where he’ll also assist as a strength coach, video coordinator and equipment manager.
As for influences on his coaching style, Cabral said he’s had a ton.
“I base a lot of stuff off (former GSU D-line) Coach (John) Pate – his toughness, tough love, old-school mentality and love for his players,” Cabral said. “He’s a guy I still talk to on a regular basis. It’s still a player-coach kind of deal, but we are friends more than anything now. I’ve seen his kids grow up. It’s one of those things where I can go to him anytime, and I’m welcomed just like a member of the family.”
Cabral’s also fond of former Eagle coaches Andre Curtis, Joe Tresey and Mike Sewak.
“I grab a lot of stuff from those guys, but you also have to be yourself,” he said. “You can’t fake anything. We are having a great time at GMC.”
GMC’s goal is to help its student-athletes get into four-year colleges, and its football team has enjoyed plenty of success, including a win in the Sea Island Co. Golden Isles Bowl Classic in Brunswick last year and a 2001 national championship.
“We are pretty blessed here to have great athletes come through,” Cabral said. “The ones who buy into the military and academic aspect of it and really excel, they’re the ones who go on to the next level and perform even better. It’s a great thing we’ve got going here at GMC, and that’s a credit to the whole school.”
Cabral got his feet wet this spring, working with a defensive line that was whittled down to three players by the spring game.
“Spring football was awesome,” he said. “It was my first time really being the solo defensive line coach. I was really learning on the run. The players were learning who I was, and I was learning who they were. It was fun, a blast. We learned a lot about each other.”
Cabral stays close to his Georgia Southern roots and is involved with the Eagle Football Alumni Association (EFAA). He’s currently working with former players and coaches to host the FIDO Invitational, a July 21 golf tournament in Dublin to raise money for the Erk Russell Scholarship Fund. For information on the tournament, contact Cabral at email@example.com.
“No matter what school I go to from here on out, I’m still an Eagle,” said Cabral, who is excited about the future of Eagle football. He came to this spring’s Blue-White game with a bunch of his former teammates and was thrilled to see first-year coach Chris Hatcher and his staff welcome them with open arms.
“It wasn’t lip service,” he said. “It was, ‘Hey, whatever you guys want, let’s get it going.’ Coach Hatcher gave a speech to the former players, and the fact that he’s bringing back all of our traditions is huge. One of the basic foundations of football is no one is ever bigger than the team and the traditions that we’ve always won with. The fact that he can build on our traditions and also make his own is huge and says a ton for him and his staff. Everyone I’ve talked to is really looking forward to the 2007 season as an Eagle.”
Like many GSU fans, Cabral said he’d love to see the Eagles jump to Division I-A football.
“I think moving to I-A would be a fantastic thing,” he said. “I think we have enough talent. I had the time of my life at Southern, we did things right and eventually, I would love to see Georgia Southern as a I-A school. I think we can compete with the big schools eventually. It would be really exciting.”
So with his insurance sales career behind him and GMC’s season opener 63 days away, was trading the higher-paying job for a whistle around his neck the right move for him?
“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, except for Saturdays at Paulson Stadium,” Cabral said. “I feel great. I wake up every day with a smile on my face. Life is good.”
Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.