He opens the weight room between 5 and 6 every morning and doesn’t go home before 6 or 6:30 p.m. He creates fitness plans for all 14 of ACU’s competitive sports teams specifically structured to each sport’s needs. He has the lofty task of ensuring the athletes are fit and ready for their coaches.
Eric Overland joined ACU Athletics as head strength and conditioning coach in the summer of 2011, moving from Winona State in Winona, Minn. His Christ-driven passion plus his focus on helping others find their purpose and passion fit exactly what ACU looks for in staff members.
But rewind a few months and the 1,075-mile move seemed highly unlikely.
Overland’s wife, Marsha, a native of Minnesota, didn’t want anything to do with Texas. Overland recalls two restrictions his wife put on his job search: “She said, ‘Eric, I don’t want to move out East’ and ‘I’m not moving to Texas.’”
Overland grew up near St. Paul, Minn., with his parents and two brothers. Overland was a sports-inclined kid. “My parents played on a church softball team, so all the kids would go out and play when our parents had a game. That was my first taste of a sport. But curveballs turned me to track.”
A two-sport letterman in high school, Overland found his niche in football and after considering numerous offers took the field as a linebacker for the Winona State Warriors in the fall of ’98.
Marsha Merrifield caught Overland’s eye in the spring of 2001 where they met at a local church. “We dated for nine months and even though I’m not typically that quick of a guy, I proposed to her,” Overland says with a grin. The two married nine months later.
As a recent graduate of Winona State, Overland signed to play for The Lacrosse Night Train, an arena football team thirty minutes from Winona, but ended his career with an injury.
He received another offer to play in South Dakota, but declined.
Instead, Overland went to work for an organization that changed his life in high school – Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
“My freshman year of high school, I went to my first FCA event,” Overland says. “I grew up Lutheran and we went to church on Sundays, but I first heard about Jesus at the FCA Event. The speaker asked the question, ‘if you died tonight, where would you go?’ I didn’t know.” That one night ignited his faith and he eventually led others to Christ as an FCA leader.
Overland worked for three years building an FCA program for Southeast Minnesota. Simultaneously, Overland worked as a personal trainer in his spare time. That passion soon became dominant in his life. “God tugged at my heart and I knew he wanted me to get back into fitness and training,” Overland says.
While training an athlete at a sports club in Winona, a local hockey player approached Overland at the gym: “You really like working with athletes, don’t you?” he asked. Overland replied with a nod. “Well, let me know if you would ever be interested in an internship with Notre Dame.”
Overland barely let him finish his sentence before saying, “I’m interested.”
Overland landed a graduate assistant position at Notre Dame. He and his wife moved into the basement of an Indiana couple they found through church that were willing to host their family – Bill and Susan Gates (not to be mistaken for Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft).
After his voluntary, five-week internship ended, Notre Dame offered Overland a paid internship. He interned for nearly a full year, working 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. and earning a meager $650/month to provide for his wife and young daughter, Abby. Thankfully, Notre Dame Head Coach Charlie Weis offered Overland a full-time training position at the end of his internship.
For the next three and a half years, Overland worked for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish who currently hold 13 national championships. However, after an unlucky losing season (Notre Dame lost six games by an average of four points), Weis and his coaching staff were fired. “It was a surreal moment,” Overland recalls.
Overland bounced back quickly and landed a strength and conditioning job at his alma mater, Winona State. In his second semester with the Warriors, Overland received an interesting email from a colleague with a link to apply for a job at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas.
Looking at the email, Overland recalled a linebacker from his time at Notre Dame who had transferred to ACU, Kevin Washington. Overland contacted Washington via Facebook, asking about the school. “Kevin responded saying he loved the school and ended the message with ‘Why? You going to move here?’”
Washington played a vital role in getting Overland to Texas. “After I realized we were looking for a new strength coach, and that’s what he did, obviously, I was pumped,” Washington says. “I did as much as I could to talk him up to Coach Thompson who was still here and Jared Mosley, just to let them know what I thought of his character and ability.”
Overland found himself and his family on a plane to Texas for a visit a few weeks after speaking with Washington. Overland interviewed on a Wednesday morning while his wife walked around the campus with a few women in the athletics department.
Post-interview, Overland went to check on his wife. He found her with a smile. “She looked at me and said, ‘Eric, I really like this place.’” Her distaste for Texas had subsided. Good thing, too. The following Monday, Mosley called to offer Overland the job; four weeks later they moved.
Ask any athlete who trains with Overland to describe him and descriptions are guaranteed to include words like respected, motivating, focused, intense and goofball. “Why do I push my athletes? Simple. Because I don’t want them to email me in five to ten years saying: ‘I wish I would have done something differently,’” Overland says. “The reality is, if you push yourself to the point that you can push yourself, you aren’t getting better.” That is where Overland and his training staff come into play.
Madelyn Robinett, junior volleyball player and family studies major from Amarillo, trains with Overland three times each week. Robinett admits to being intimated by him at first. “But, as we’ve gotten to know him better, we realize that if we just focus and work hard, he’s quite enjoyable and really motivating,” she says. “We know he pushes us hard to help us reach our potential. He loves to see us succeed.”
Although he’s tough, Overland doesn’t desire a negative impact on any player. “I never want to beat someone’s spirit and I never want to hurt someone physically,” he says.
John David Baker, a senior football player and exercise science major from San Angelo, sees Overland three times a week at 6:30 a.m. and still describes him as a goofball. “He’s all business and then out of nowhere, at the most inopportune time, he tries to tell us a story when you’re trying to focus on taking your next breath,” he says. “He’s a really good man with great intentions – and he’s a goofball.”
Overland sets high standards for his athletes, but he also sets high standards for himself.
In a small, cluttered office in Powell Fitness Center filled with workout programs and inspiring books, Overland eyes his personal mission statement underneath the glass atop his desk. “It serves as a reminder of my purpose and passions in life,” Overland says.
The statement reads: “My purpose in life is to live a life devoted to God by using the passion that he has given to me. My passion in life is to do whatever I can to help others find their purpose and passion in life as long as it doesn’t interfere with my helping my family find their purposes and passions.” Overland often speaks about his mission statement, even providing others a copy for inspiration.
This mission statement was part of what set him apart from other prospective hires, according to ACU Athletic Director Jared Mosley. “I was immediately impressed with Eric’s passion not only for the profession but for the opportunity to impact the lives of the young men and women that he works with,” Mosley says. “When he sent me his personal mission statement for life, I was completely blown away.”
Tacked on to his mission statement, Overland lists 13 ways he will daily fulfill his purpose, including: being a teacher, managing those under my authority well, loving my family and striving for perfection. However, at the end of his 13 points, Overland describes the perspective he intends to maintain throughout his life: “I will never be able to accomplish all of these things, but I will try. I would rather strive for perfection and fall short than strive for nothing and achieve nothing more than mediocrity.”
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