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August 27, 2012- -
Auburn is just one season removed from being atop the college football mountain top after winning the BCS National Championship in 2010.
One season removed from helping deliver a Heisman Trophy.
One season removed from an undefeated season and SEC Championship.
But it's what have you done for me lately this day and age, and the up's and down's of 2011 are front and center entering the 2012 season.
So, when world-renowned motivational speaker Eric Thomas had the opportunity to speak to the Auburn football team at the beginning of fall camp, his message was simple.
"I challenged Auburn's football team -- they are great, they won a national title just two years ago. My question was, 'how do you maintain greatness?' Greatness is already a part of the program, how do you maintain it? How do you sustain it," Thomas said.
"This is a great program. I challenged them to keep the legacy alive. What decisions do you have to make, what dedications do you have to have? What do you have to do as an Auburn Tiger to keep that legacy alive?"
Thomas, 42, is a native of Detroit and has been a motivational speaker for more than 20 years. A former high school dropout, Thomas since has graduated from Michigan State University with a Masters degree and currently is working on a doctorate in education administration.
By chronicling his days sleeping in abandoned buildings in the unforgiving Detroit winters, to his rise as a successful husband, father, CEO, educator and motivational speaker, Eric inspires the masses to reach greatness. An educator and minister, Thomas has developed his own website, etinspires.com. He's written a book called "The Secret to Success" and is making his mark delivering messages that encourage people to reach their full potential by breaking cycles of crime, hopelessness and despair.
Thomas is open about his struggles. Both his grandfather and father failed to graduate from college. Thomas' messages of preparation and work ethic were particularly relevant to the attentive Tigers.
"Many of them are first-generation college students," said Thomas. "First ones ever to go to college in their families, so what are they going to do to not blow it? What will they do to take advantage of it? Not just playing in the NFL, not just winning a national championship, but how will this thrust you into the rest of your life into what you will be as a husband, a business owner.
Junior defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker first listened to Thomas during his freshman year at Auburn. He still listens to his speeches to this day. He considered it an honor to learn from someone he considers a mentor.
"Eric Thomas is a great guy, he's a great inspiration to this world. He's one of those guys that is a blessing to have around," Whitaker said.
Thomas was brought to Auburn by assistant coach Trooper Taylor and head coach Gene Chizik. Taylor found a Thomas video entitled, "How Bad Do You Want It?" Thomas also produced an inspirational video using former Auburn quarterback and current NFL star Cam Newton as its focal point. The video highlighted Newton's resiliency through distractions and the Tigers' comeback at Alabama in 2010.
"I think Coach saw those videos and said: 'We have to bring him in,'" Thomas said. Weeks prior to his trip to Auburn, Thomas spoke to the Miami Dolphins and former Tiger Karlos Dansby along with the Carolina Panthers and Newton. Thomas was elated to speak with the former All-Americans and the program they called home.
"Excitement isn't the word," said Thomas. "You're talking about a team that was national champions just two years ago. The facilities are unbelievable, everything was excellent. You could see it was no accident that the title was won. All the coaches were stand-up guys. I really like the fact that they spoke to me as the national champion in my arena, talked about the inspiration they received from me. Coach said, 'I'm a motivator and Eric, you motivate the motivators.' For me, it was outstanding to hear that from Coach Chizik. It was phenomenal, it was first-class treatment."
Chizik said of Thomas' words, "the message was you have great opportunities here at Auburn and the standard that's been set here, there's a lot of expectations to live up to. When you have great opportunities and great expectations, that's a lot on your plate and you have to be held accountable for everything you do to be a great teammate and great Auburn man."
Thomas began speaking to exact change among young people. He was inspired by past speakers that made a difference when he was young, and Thomas simply wanted to make that same difference for his generation. Needless to say, the reaction from the Auburn team left him inspired.
"I think having those kids come to me and say, 'Eric I've followed you my whole football career. Every time I get weak, every time I need motivation, I go to your YouTube clips and watch those clips and you've been an inspiration'," Thomas said. "These kids are the stars on campus, and they wanted my information, wanted to stay in touch with me. That touched me."
Junior defensive end Nosa Eguae, echoed Whitaker's sentiments. Eguae heard the message loud and clear, and given recent off-the-field issues around Auburn's program, is working to put the words into action.
"Having Coach Chizik bring him in was awesome," Eguae said. "To have words that we can take with us, that's on my pre-game play list, I want to listen to it every single day. It pushes and makes you a better person, not just a better football player. He said, 'sometimes you have to give up to go up'. He kept preaching that to us.
"You hear about guys that get in trouble for this reason or that reason, and he really hit home that sometimes you have to give up the little things, the things weighing you down, to get the better things in life."
It may not be long before Thomas returns to Auburn. Chizik has invited Thomas back to give a pre-game speech, which tentatively is scheduled to occur before the LSU game next month.
"I'm excited that coach said, 'Eric, we want you back'," Thomas said. "I'm excited about returning for a big-time game. I left and they are saying they want me back. That's awesome."
Thomas presents powerful messages in his speeches like, "Don't cry to give up, cry to keep going", and "Start with the end in mind". There's one message, however, at the center of Thomas' speeches to college programs, Fortune 500 companies, teachers and students alike: "When you want to succeed as badly as you want to breathe, you will be successful".
"You have to want to succeed academically, succeed on the field, succeed off the field, all as bad as you want to breathe. That's it," said Thomas. "If there's one takeaway and one theme I wanted Auburn to remember, that's it."