Lifelong relationships forged on and off the field
September 01, 2017
By Angye Morrison Connect Statesboro
Tracy Ham is a former Georgia Southern University quarterback, and a Georgia Sports Hall of Fame member. He is the first player in college history to run for more than 3,000 yards and throw for more than 5,000 yards in a career. Ham was the first All-American for Georgia Southern, and the school retired his jersey – No. 8. He’s a member of GSU’s Athletics Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as well.
But the thing he’s most proud of? The relationships he has forged along the way.
A native of High Springs, Florida, Ham first walked onto the football field at what was then Georgia Southern College in 1983. He had been recruited elsewhere as a defensive back, but GS coaching legend Erk Russell took a chance on him at quarterback.
Ham became a dual threat because he could not only throw the ball, but he could run it as well. He went on to lead the Eagles to consecutive NCAA Division I-AA championships in 1985 and 1986. His 13-yard pass to Frankie Johnson in the last few seconds of the game gave GS the win over Furman for the Eagles’ first national championship.
After graduation from GS with a bachelor’s degree in sports recreation, Ham was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the ninth round of the 1987 NFL draft. He decided to play in the Canadian Football League as a quarterback. He held the position for 13 seasons, from 1987 to 1999 with the Edmonton Eskimos, Toronto Argonauts, Baltimore Stallions and Montreal Alouettes.
While in the CFL, Ham was a member of two Grey Cup championship teams – Edmonton in 1987, and Baltimore in 1995. He won the league’s Most Outstanding Player Award in 1989, and was the Grey Cup Most Valuable Player in 1995.
These days, Ham serves as Associate Athletic Director for Internal Relations at Georgia Southern. He serves as the oversight for game day operations, facility coordination, the men’s and women’s basketball programs, the track and field programs, and the strength & conditioning and equipment offices.
Prior to his current role, Ham oversaw the sports marketing efforts for Georgia Southern athletics through a partnership with Learfield Sports, as well as the Hall of Fam, Championships Committee, Student-Athlete Mentor Program and Student-Athlete Internship and Career Services. He is an active member of the Eagle Football Alumni Association, and has been a part of numerous projects with the EFAA, and was instrumental in helping raise funds to support the student-athletes.
He is also an ambassador of athletics to the university and community, a role he relishes. He says the EFAA seeks to “return the favor from what was given to us.”
“Statesboro has certainly been a good place to grow up and mature. We feel like we are a part of this community, inside and out,” he said.
Ham and his wife, Valarie, also a Georgia Southern graduate, have two sons, Tracy II and Caleb. Tracy II is 24, and is stationed in Buffalo, New York with the Coast Guard. Caleb is 21, and is a senior communications major on a football scholarship at Fordham University in the Bronx.
The Hams encouraged their sons to be well rounded – both boys were also in the orchestra, in addition to their involvement in sports. Ham says they were careful to teach their sons to respect the game, whatever game they played.
“I think sports gives young men and young women the opportunity to operate in an environment where you have to depend on someone other than yourself. Whatever position you play, you have a responsibility. It’s no different than having a job,” he said.
Ham is proud of the unique community he has continued to be a part of at Georgia Southern.
“I think every school has its own uniqueness about it, and that’s what makes different students go to different institutions, because of the uniqueness of that town. I’ve always had a great love for Statesboro since the day I got here,” he said.
He points to the history the football program has had as proof of that uniqueness.
“It was started from a 41-year hiatus, and then to have the people come back and support it, and to see the enrollment grow from it. That’s a very unique environment. Most schools we compete against, they have far more history than us. But we have a rich history, even though it’s short. It makes us unique in that sense, in how quickly it rose in prominence in such a short period,” he said.
He also says the fact that Georgia Southern was able to lure Russell away from the University of Georgia also says something about the university and the community it calls home.
“One of the most influential coaches to ever come through left Georgia to come here. He had to see something unique about this place,” he said.
“This place” wasn’t even on Ham’s radar when he was growing up. But he’s come to love it, and is glad to call it home.
“To come here and to have one of my sons born here, and have lived here for years, and have now become an integral part of the community, I am proud of all the relationships I’ve been able to forge from sports, and from Georgia Southern,” he said, adding that this is what he’s most proud of throughout his career.
“When you come from a small town like myself, you’re just really intrigued by and proud of all the people you’ve met along the way. Some of them become lifelong friends. I learned how to establish relationships with people from my time here in Statesboro. I’m just really happy about that,” he said.
When asked what the Eagles’ season will be like this year, Ham laughs.
“That’s the million dollar question. Obviously, it’s a young team. We lost quite a few seniors from last year, and we’ve got some good student-athletes on the team. It depends on how quick we can get our young quarterback up to speed, and how quick the team gets together. I think they’ll be competitive in our conference, and we look forward to what we always expect. We expect them to be competitive in the conference and get a bowl bid,” he said.
Photo Courtesy of Connect Statesboro