Nov. 16, 2010
SHSU Media Contact: Julia May
The adjustment to college life wasn’t easy for football legend Tony Dorsett.
Going to the University of Pittsburgh, which had an enrollment more than twice the population of the small steel town where he had grown up, Dorsett had to overcome a number of obstacles.
He was the first person in his family to go to college, and he was painfully shy.
“It was hard for me to ask questions in class,” Dorsett told a standing-room-only crowd in the Performing Arts Center at Sam Houston State University on Tuesday, as the guest for the 16th President’s Speaker Series.
“It was hard for me to talk to people in the classroom. I could make friends on the football field, but away from football, it was a real problem for me,” he said.
He talked with his mother and told her about the difficulty he has having at school.
“She said she understood how I felt, and college might be something I couldn’t handle,” he said. “But she also told me that I was her first child to go to college, and she wanted me to try. ‘I just want you to try,’ she told me.”
His mother said it would get better with time.
“’If you don’t get through college, it will hurt me. It will hurt me a lot,’ she said. "‘But the person who will suffer the most will be you.’”
Dorsett stayed in school, and looking back, he says college was the best time of his life.
He led the nation in rushing with 1,586 yards as a small, 155-pound freshman, helping Pitt to a 6-4-1 record and a 1973 Fiesta Bowl berth. By his senior year, Dorsett was an elusive, focused runner with three 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. With one of the most exciting careers in college football history, he captured the 1976 Heisman Trophy.
|Scoring big: Ten randomly-selected President's Speaker Series attendees received autographed footballs following Tony Dorsett's question-and-answer session with university President Dana Gibson. With Gibson and Dorsett (in the center), they include (from left) Kaylee Harris, Kristin Boykin, Jamie Walker, Sonny Sikes, LeAndra Taylor, Taylor Andress, Reed Burchett, Valerie Stefka, Melissa Cuarezma and Ashley Carroll. —Photos by Brian Blalock|
Dorsett told the SHSU crowd the advice he received from his college coach Johnny Majors is something he continues to live by even now.
“Coach Majors said, ‘You’ve got to do the little things. The little things make the big things happen,’” Dorsett said.
“That is so true — at home, at work, in relationships, and in life. The attention to details has always paid off for me,” he said.
He also had words for the SHSU athletes attending his presentation.
“If you are attending school on an athletic scholarship, it’s a two-way street,” he said. “You’re getting something, but you have to give something in return.
“You want to do well in your sport, but remember that you should want to do better in the classroom,” he said. “What I have learned though the years is they can take away my sport, but they can never take away my knowledge.”
Dorsett also spoke about the importance of teamwork.
“When I was recruited by the University of Pittsburgh, I came to a school where the football team had won only one game a year in the past 10 years,” he said.
“The freshman players made a pact,” he said. “We said before we left the university, we were going to win a national championship. We went to bowl games all four years that we played together.
“When our senior year came, we were ranked in the top five before the season started,” he said. “Early in the season, our starting quarterback got hurt, and we lost him for the season. So we went to our backup quarterback, Matt Cavanaugh, and he got hurt and had to be out.
“We had to go with a walk-on player who had never taken a snap at the University of Pittsburgh,” Dorsett said.
“But instead of getting down and giving up, we rallied,” he said. “We came together as a team. We all stepped up, our defense played stronger, and we were a better team. We played that way for three games. By the time Matt came back, we were national contenders.”
Pittsburgh went on to beat the University of Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and came away with the national championship.
“And I got a chance to win the Heisman Trophy,” Dorsett said.
“Teamwork is the reason I won,” he said. “Every person on that team had a part in my achievement.”
Dorsett also spoke about his professional career with the Dallas Cowboys, and his respect for coach Tom Landry and quarterback Roger Staubach.
Even with all the milestones he achieved as a professional football player, Dorsett said his college experience was still the best.
“I went to college as a young boy,” he said. “I left college as a young man.”
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