May 032013
 
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Assistant Athletics Director/Strength and Conditioning Jeff Connors speaks during an event honoring foster parents at the Immanuel Baptists Church Thursday, May 2, 2013.   (Aileen Devlin/ The Daily  Reflector)

Assistant Athletics Director/Strength and Conditioning Jeff Connors speaks during an event honoring foster parents at the Immanuel Baptists Church Thursday, May 2, 2013. (Aileen Devlin/ The Daily Reflector)

By Jim Gentry

Friday, May 3, 2013

Jeff Connors may be tough as nails on the football field and in the weight room, but a 5-year-old girl proved that East Carolina’s strength and conditioning coach can also be a softy.

Connors was on the golf course when he got a call from his wife Michelle with the news that a child was in need of a foster family.

“When I got home, I saw this little angel come walking into my house,” Connors said as he spoke at the Pitt County Department of Social Services Foster/Adoptive Parents Appreciation Banquet on Thursday. “And she had a little suitcase with not much in it. And she definitely had not had much sleep for a long time.

“It hit me hard. I knew we had a lot of work to do.”

Honoring those that do that work was the goal Thursday night. The banquet, which was held at Immanuel Baptist Church, was a way to show appreciation to the families that foster the 105 children in the care of Pitt County DSS.

“You guys are the real heroes,” Connors said. “I’ve been around a lot of great athletes and I’ve been around a lot of great coaches, but in my opinion you’re God’s people. You’re the true heroes.

“I want your autographs.”

Connors is in his second stint as head of the Pirates’ strength and conditioning program. After an initial 10-year run at East Carolina (1991-2000), he spent a decade at North Carolina before returning to the Pirates on Jan. 21, 2011.

Those in attendance were shown a highlight film of the ECU football team going through Connors’ legendary workouts before the coach delved into the parallels between coaching and being a foster parent.

While discussing spirit, Connors shared the story of the 1999 East Carolina football team that was stuck in South Carolina after the effects of Hurricane Floyd made it impossible for the Pirates to travel back to Greenville. The team spent the week away from home before traveling to Raleigh for a “home” game against powerhouse Miami. The Pirates upset the Hurricanes, 27-23, and later that year received ESPN’s Spirit Award.

“Spirit is extremely important,” Connors said. “It’s one of the things I look for every day in my coaching. And when you see a foster child, and you see that children has no spirit, you know you have your work cut out for you, and you know you have to invest yourself in that child.

“The way my wife invested in that little angel was amazing. That was an extremely rewarding experience.”

Now Connors has made it his mission to spread awareness of the need for foster homes.

“I have a passion for foster care, and I’ve made a decision,” Connors said. “I’m going to be a solider in Pitt County. I want to jump in your foxhole with you. I want to do whatever I can to promote foster care.

“This is something I’m going to be committed to. I’m going to give you that promise as well.”

Contact Jim Gentry at jgentry@reflector.com or 252-329-9594.

via The Daily Reflector.

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