Scott Woerner, Terry Hoage, Champ Bailey, Eric Zeier, Garrison Hearst, David Pollack, Hines Ward, David Greene, and of course Herschel Walker. Those are the biggest names among many that I have seen roam between the hedges at The University Of Georgia. Last Saturday, I got to see one of my own roam between the hedges, but she wasn't there to score touchdowns. Ashley Elizabeth Walker graduated with a bachelor's degree in education, and I sure was proud.
Ashley is not the first to graduate from UGA, nor will she be the last, but she was the first one of mine to do so and, for that, I beg your indulgence for being just a little bigheaded this week. A big deal for me is that Ashley made it through college without being redshirted and, thanks to the HOPE scholarship, we never paid one dime of tuition to UGA.
Ashley and Gene Walker pose for a picture following her recent graduation from the University of Georgia.
September 13, 1986, was Ashley's first trip to Athens to watch the Bulldogs play Duke, in football, not lacrosse. We had to ride all the way from Sylvania and at the tender age of two years and two months, she was in the training mode, potty, not football. Without the security of a diaper, the stops were frequent, and I thought we'd never get to Athens that day, much less to a college graduation almost 20 years later.
Her mother, my father and I never mentioned during that trip that we hoped one day Ashley would be making the same trip but high and dry as a college student, or at least I don't think we did. As the years went by and we went to game after game, I guess it started to sink in for Ashley. "Mom and Dad went to college here, and these buildings must be for more than just using the bathroom during tailgating," she must have thought.
It was inevitable that if Ashley would indeed ever graduate from college, it would be from UGA. With her parent's diplomas hanging by her room door in the hallway and ousr faithfulness to the Bulldogs, she was determined to keep the tradition going. Even her freshman year detour to junior college didn't stop her. For that I am thankful, too.
During his years at Georgia, Herschel Walker became known as "the goal line stalker." When Ashley recently accepted a teaching job, I started calling her the paycheck stalker. When she started naming all the things she was going to buy with her first check, I began to think we better give ole' "cousin" Herschel a call. She's gonna' need his loose change as a supplement.
As for graduation day, the weather, just to put us in our element, turned out like a late October Saturday. Several references were made during the program to the football team, and everybody cheered. The graduates, sitting on the field, were having a good time waving to their family and friends as if they were at a game, or even a rock concert. Among the many that came by afterwards to give Ashley a hug was our own football friend Danny Verdun Wheeler.
On our walk back to the car Ashley's grandmother scolded me when I half-kiddingly said we'd be back in three months for something really important. "That's OK grandmother," Ashley said. "I know I just graduated from a football school, and proud of it."
Ashley's mother and I said the same thing back in the day. I'm sure we were both equally as thrilled as Ashley is now, but not as proud of ourselves as we are of her. All that's left is to get her brother to where she is now. Thanks to Ashley, Wesley has an even greater incentive, one more ticket stub, uh, diploma on the wall.