2009 ACC Football Legends: Eddie Lee Ivery, Georgia Tech
Sept. 8, 2009
Long after the lights are out and the fans have gone home, former Georgia Tech running back Eddie Lee Ivery walks off the field like he's done many times before, only this time as a coach. It's been more than 31 years since Ivery last played for the Ramblin' Wreck, but he's still a part of the game he loves.
Ivery is one of this year's Dr Pepper Atlantic Coast Conference Football Championship Game Legends who will be honored at this year's ACC Football Championship Game weekend. They will appear at the ACC Coaches and Awards Luncheon at noon on Friday, Dec. 4, and will be honored at the "ACC Night of Legends" held at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay on Friday evening. They will also be recognized during pre-game ceremonies at Raymond James Stadium for the 5th Annual Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship, which kicks off at 8 p.m., Dec. 5 on ESPN.
Growing up in the small town of Thomson, Ga., Ivery knew from the time he was 9 years old he wanted to play football. Raised by his mother and grandmother, he remembers when his uncles came home with dirt-covered uniforms. After their games, he would put on the oversized helmets and shoulder pads and imagine taking the field, like his heroes did hours before.
Soon, Ivery got his own uniform and began his football career as a tight end. When he was too small to match up with defenders, his coach tried him out at quarterback. That experiment didn't work either. His next position change turned out to be his last.
"The coach said, `I'll put you at running back,' so they put me at running back and I just outran everybody," Ivery said. "I didn't run over anybody, but I just outran everybody. He said, `Yea, that's the position you're going to play.'"
Ivery played the position so well at Thomson High School, both Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia heavily recruited him. Ivery's hometown is located in Bulldog country, so naturally everyone around him wanted him to play there.
Against his better judgment, Ivery made a verbal commitment to attend the University of Georgia, but on the day he was supposed to sign with the Bulldogs, former Georgia Tech assistant coach Dick Bestwick came to his high school and called him out of class for a meeting with his high school football and basketball coaches. In that meeting they could tell something was wrong with Ivery.
"Coach Bestwick said, `Eddie Lee, do you really want to go the University of Georgia?' I just remember breaking down in tears when he asked me that question," Ivery said. "I said no sir, I want to go to Georgia Tech, and I busted out in tears. I was crying for the first time in my life and I became honest with my inner-spirit and how I felt. I was so much wanting to please other people that I was being displeasing to myself."
That was a defining moment in Ivery's life. He changed his mind about going to Georgia and told Bestwick that he wanted to attend Georgia Tech. Looking back Ivery says that one of the main reasons he chose Georgia Tech was academics.
Prior to becoming a Yellow Jacket, Ivery had never been to a big city like Atlanta. He admits that he was overwhelmed when he saw all the buildings and skyscrapers. Once on campus, Ivery fondly remembers finding the Varsity - a restaurant located right by the Georgia Tech campus - and making it one of his regular stops during his time at Tech. He also recalls how it felt when he put on his uniform for the first time and took the field.
"It was awesome, the most awesome feeling I've ever had in my life," Ivery said. "I had some great mentors out there that were there before me. They really paved the way for athletes like myself to come into the school and be successful."
Ivery went on to become one of the greatest Georgia Tech running backs of all time, setting single-game marks for rushing yards in a game (356), all-purpose yards in a game (367), and all-purpose yards in a season (1,879 in 1978) - all records that still stand today. During the 1976 through 1978 seasons, Ivery led the Yellow Jackets in all-purpose yards, and ranks fourth in the Georgia Tech record books for career all-purpose yards with 4,324. Ivery was inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 1983.
In his historic 1978 campaign, Ivery was named an AP and UPI All-American after setting a then-NCAA single-game rushing record with 356 yards against Air Force on a cold and snowy day in Colorado Springs, Colo. The conditions were so bad that Ivery didn't even think they were going to be able to play a game that day. The field was covered with so much snow it had to be cleared by a street sweeper twice, while the temperature outside was 20 degrees with a wind-chill factor of zero. Ivery says he was happy when the decision was made to proceed with the game because he had never played in the snow. Despite not feeling well, Ivery torched the Falcon defense for three touchdown runs of 73, 80, and 50 yards.
"After the first series we had the football, I thought every time I touched the ball I was going to take it to pay dirt," Ivery said. "My offensive line was coming off the ball so well it was like a bowling ball coming down the lane and knocking down pins."
In the 1979 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers drafted Ivery 15th overall. He went on to play for eight seasons with the Packers, finishing his professional career with 2,933 yards and 23 touchdowns.
After retiring from Green Bay, Ivery returned to his hometown and received a call from Bestwick, his former coach, who he had not talked to in nine years.
"He told me, `Eddie Lee, I want you to get yourself back up to Georgia Tech and graduate,'" Ivery said. "He had promised me that nine years ago he wanted me to graduate from Georgia Tech. That's why he wanted me to go there, to get an education."
With his playing days behind him, Ivery wanted to pursue a career in coaching and he knew that he would have to finish college to do that. In 1992 - more than 16 years after he first set foot on the Tech campus - Ivery finally got his chance to walk across the stage and receive his diploma.
"If you look at all the accolades and awards I received in my life or in my career, receiving that degree from Georgia Tech would have to stand at the top of any of those awards or accolades I've had in my life," Ivery said.
Ivery went on to serve as a strength and conditioning coach at Georgia Tech from 2000-08. He now resides in Thomson with his wife, Antoinette, and one-year-old daughter, Gabriella. Ivery currently works as the running backs coach at Thomson High School and as activities coordinator at the McDuffie Achievement Center.
"The satisfaction that I get out of life now is when I go out and inspire, motivate and encourage a kid to reach his full potential; not just on the field, but also the off-the-field decisions he's going to have to make in life," Ivery said. "It's the most satisfying feeling that you can get when you see a kid's life change because of the encouragement and motivation that you have given to him."