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Ham joins football's elite
Former GSU QB heads to Hall of Fame
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HAM FOR 6.19

Tracy Ham comments on his induction to the Hall of Fame.
    Less than three decades ago, late Georgia Southern coaching legend Erk Russell began a success story unlike any in college sports since. Playing a starring role in the fairytale history of Eagle football was quarterback Tracy Ham, one of the greatest players to ever wear the Blue and White.
    Ham, who led GSU to its first two national championships, will be honored this weekend when he’s inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame Divisional Class, which recognizes players and coaches who competed outside of Division I-A.
    With minimal financial support, the bald-headed Russell and his athletic signal caller resurrected an Eagle football program that had been dormant since World War II. In its second year of competing at the I-AA level, Georgia Southern won its first national championship in 1985 and repeated the following year.
    “I’ve had some pretty wild dreams, and I would have never, never have imagined that,” Ham said. “We were just glad to get clean uniforms. It’s amazing that some of the things we really enjoyed were staples at other programs. If a guy got a new pair of cleats, it was like, ‘Wow, he must be playing well.’ You could tell your status on the team by the type of shoes you wore.”
    Ham and his family will travel to South Bend, Ind., this morning for four days of festivities honoring the 2007 induction class of Ham, Joe Kendall (QB, Kentucky State, 1934-36), Frank Sheptock (LB, Bloomsburg, 1982-85), Jessie Tuggle (LB, Valdosta State, 1983-86) and coaches Jim Christopherson (Concordia College 1969-2000, 218-101-7 and William “Billy” Joe (Florida A&M (1994-2004), Central State (1981-93), Cheyney (1972-78), 237-108-4).
    Activities will include a reception, golf tournament, autograph sessions, beach party, flag football game, parade and culminate with the induction ceremony Saturday evening.
    “We will enjoy ourselves,” Ham said. “It’s a humbling experience because you spend your whole career trying to fit in with the team, not be singled out and just to play your role on the team. Then, at the end of your career, to be recognized as a Hall of Famer is certainly a humbling experience.”
    Ham currently holds 20 game, season and career records as well as 21 playoff game records. He is Georgia Southern’s all-time leading passer (5,757), and ranks first in total offense (8,969) and passing touchdowns (34). Ham has 3,212 career rushing yards, good for sixth in the Eagles’ all-time rushing ranks.
    A First Team All-American in 1986, Ham was the nation’s ‘Top 20’ in passing efficiency, scoring, total offense and rushing during his senior year. He was drafted by the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams in 1987 and played 13 seasons in the Canadian Football League, winning the league MVP and two Grey Cups.
    “What you saw on the football field during Tracy’s day was the rebirth of belief in the possibilities of this institution,” Georgia Southern president Dr. Bruce Grube said in a press release. “It spread from the football program into every aspect of the university, and we still have it today. This is a great honor for Tracy, and we’re all incredibly proud.”
    Ham learned he was elected to the Hall of Fame this spring when received a FedEx package while he was home alone. Dying to share the news, Ham unsuccessfully attempted to get in touch with his wife and eventually started calling his siblings.
    “It’s such a testament to all the people I’ve played with or who coached me, my family and the university,” Ham said. “The magnitude of it from my perspective is enormous because I’m a kid that (went) to Georgia Southern with no program. I’m really excited about it. There are so many emotions. It’s just somewhat unreal.”
    The relationships he formed with his teammates, he said, have been the best part of it all.
    “When you talk about teams and coaching staffs that were assembled, you really get an appreciation for what it took to organize (Georgia Southern football),” Ham said. “Think about the guy that said, ‘We want Erk as our coach.’ It took so much gaudiness and so much confidence in what you were doing. When I think back on the mindset that (former president Dr. Dale) Lick and (former athletic director) Bucky Wagner had when they said they were going to get Erk to be our coach. Erk was an icon of football already and to say, ‘I’m going to go get him,’ lets you realize that nothing gets done unless you pursue it.”
    Ham’s fondest memories of his playing days are the 1985 playoff run. As the new kids on the block, the Eagles learned right away they’d have to fight for respect, particularly after a banquet with Jackson State, GSU’s first-round playoff opponent.
    “They were the most disrespectful group,” Ham said. “They had never heard of us, obviously, and I think that made us realize that we weren’t going to get any respect. So we decided we were going to play for respect. That changed our whole mentality. After the disrespect in that banquet, we picked up things along the way that made us a really tight-knit group.”
    A second-round win over top-ranked Middle Tennessee, a team that knocked off GSU earlier in the year, was a highlight of the improbable run, Ham said.
    “Guys just really rallied around each other, and we never really thought about ‘if we lose,’” he said. “That’s what I loved about all those teams. Then going on to play Furman (but first facing) Northern Iowa, a team (whose fans) had already bought tickets to the championships. Everybody always had a real level of disrespect for us as a team, and we had to earn respect.”
    With 120 chapters and 12,000 members nationwide, The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame, a non-profit educational organization, runs programs designed to use the power of amateur football in developing scholarship, citizenship and athletic achievement in young people.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.