More than a game: GSU athletes manage school, fatherhood and sports

Isabella Zaliagiris

Being a student-athlete comes with many things, maintaining grades, going to practice, staying in shape and for some, raising their kids.

For two of Georgia Southern University men’s basketball players, they must be accountable as a teammate and a parent. Junior guard Jelani Hewitt and senior forward Eric Ferguson know firsthand how difficult time management can be when forced to split attention between basketball and family.

Ferguson knew before coming to GSU that he would be spending his collegiate basketball career as a father.

Instead of allowing the birth of his son to hinder his dream of playing basketball, he used it as motivation.

“Basketball is a tool that I’m using to get my education,” Ferguson said. Although he openly admits to the difficulties of having time to see his son, Hewitt speaks for both when he said, “it was a blessing in disguise.”

These factors often come together to give a misconception of real issues student-athletes must face. These issues are some the outside world never sees.

Both Hewitt and Ferguson have dealt with private matters that were never discussed publicly until now.

“A lot of people don’t know my situation. They know I have a son but they don’t know that I don’t see him a lot or how I have to go travel to see him,” Hewitt said.

“Having my son motivated me to be the father I never had,” Ferguson said.

Luckily, Ferguson’s son lives in the area and is able to come to most home games. He recalls looking into the stands and seeing his son yell “Go daddy!” right before shooting a game winning three-pointer. It’s special moments like these that make the challenging times well worth the added energy.

One thing both players can attest to is how they would not be the same man without their child. Hewitt said, “Everything I do all the decisions I make are for my son. I’m not playing for Jelani anymore, I’m playing for Zion.”

He continues by saying that the benefits of fatherhood have been tremendous as a player and a leader. When asked about his increased maturity since becoming a father Hewitt said, “It wouldn’t even be close; it’s like two different guys.”

Hewitt’s efforts have not gone unnoticed after recently being voted No.3 in The George-Anne’s “Top 5 Athletes at GSU.”

The stories of Eric Ferguson and Jelani Hewitt represent many student-athletes that are parents. The subject matter is typically considered taboo but it’s important to realize that athletes struggle just like anyone else. Although it can be hard to see past the athletic aspects of these players, it was nice to see a personal side to the life of a D-1 men’s basketball player.