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Press ReleaseLOGAN, Utah - Homecoming. It is an annual celebration on college campuses this time of year, as alumni flock back to their alma maters to join in the festivities of football games, class reunions and the changing of seasons.
For some alum, the event becomes prosaic. A reoccurring walkthrough which gradually loses its luster; just another opportunity to reminisce on the same worn-out memories or watch the school's football team cast aside a carefully scheduled foe. Even the adoring cheers of the small towns represented by their beloved institutions are sometimes not enough to arouse the youthful spirit of these loyal sons, reducing the pageantry and splendor of homecoming to something altogether ordinary.
For former Utah State quarterback Eric Hipple, homecoming in Logan this year will be anything but ordinary. It will be extraordinary.
"Whenever I come back to Logan, it is a wonderful moment," explains Hipple, who will serve as Grad Marshall for Utah State's homecoming festivities this year. "My memories from [attending Utah State] are nothing but glowing. Utah State took me from a young man who was kind of insecure to a young man who was very secure, and took me into the professional ranks which was just wonderful."
Hipple has had quite a journey since his arrival in Logan in the summer of 1976. A four-year letter-winner at Utah State, Hipple rewrote the record books as an Aggie, finishing his career with more than 6,000 passing yards and 34 touchdown passes. He was first-team all-conference in 1979, and for his efforts was named to the Utah State All-Century team by The Logan Herald Journal in 1993.
"The experience that I had on the field there was fantastic and to be named to the all-Century team was fantastic," Hipple says in regards to the honor.
Things have not always been fantastic following Hipple's graduation from Utah State, however. While he was a fourth round pick of the Detroit Lions in the 1980 NFL Draft and played nine distinguished seasons in the NFL, Hipple has had to deal with the darker side of life, struggling to overcome periods of intense grief and depression after the bright lights of the NFL faded on his career in 1989.
Divorced from his wife, Jan, and splitting time between Michigan and California while managing a restaurant and insurance business, Hipple found himself depressed not long after retiring from the professional ranks. He turned to drugs and alcohol, and embraced a life of at-risk behavior. Life would not provide the former Aggie star with any saving grace, when in 2000 Hipple's teenage son, Jeff, committed suicide. Like his father, Jeff had silently struggled with depression for years. His death should have been a wake-up call for Hipple, but instead it was catalyst which sent his life further out of control. Unable to overcome his depression and contemplating suicide himself, Hipple hit rock bottom when he was handed a nearly two-month long jail sentence for failing to attend a court-ordered probationary program.
It was in jail that Hipple decided to take back his life.
The first step was to educate himself about the illness he had long battled, but never put a name to. Depression, says Hipple, often carries a stigma for young men and athletes, who too often "suck it up" without recognizing and facing the problems associated with the mental illness. Hipple became so immersed in his study of understanding his and his son's depression that he made helping others the focus of his life's work, taking a position at the University of Michigan as an outreach coordinator for issues of depression and suicide.
Today, Hipple remains committed to the struggle of helping young men overcome the stigmas long associated with talking about the effects of depression and suicide. Last year, he published Real Men Do Cry, an autobiographical account of his struggle with depression following Jeff's death. The book has been extremely well received since its publication, and was recently added to the United States Army's book list. The message expounded by the book has been therapeutic for the 52-year old Hipple, who says that when it comes to the fight against depression, the best medicine is often clear communication.
"My message is the idea of not being afraid to ask for help and to not be afraid of talking about things that are bothering you," Hipple says. "The best tool we have against issues of depression and bipolar disorder and all mental health issues is talking about them."
Hipple, who has worked closely in conjunction with the U.S. military in recent months in implementing a strategy of suicide prevention for servicemen returning from duty, will be speaking to Utah State University student-athletes during his stop in Logan. His message will be one of hope and encouragement and one which emphasizes the kind of language that has long been embraced by Aggie athletes on the field.
"What I'll be talking about is resiliency, the positive psychology," Hipple says. "The things that are good about this, and the way to challenge yourself to get past these ordeals if you are in trouble, the way in which to communicate that and get passed these ordeals so they don't end up in the tail-end of a suicide prevention model, where often it seems the only way out for the individual is death."
Hipple's journey back to Logan is not that of the prodigal son. He makes the visit on occasion to visit the site of his son's grave, which rests peacefully above Romney Stadium in the Logan City cemetery. Yet when he comes back to Logan this September, it will not be to mourn the loss of his son, but rather to celebrate and honor the one place he can truly call home."
"Utah State is a great place, not only to coach or go to school, but in terms of its enthusiasm and the pride of what Utah State is," says Hipple. "I go all the way back to when I was there and lived there and go OEthis is a place that I always wanted to be. Even though I had friends at Southern California and had friends at Ohio State or the University of Michigan, I had friends all over the place. Yet while I was [in Logan], it was the only place I wanted to be because I loved the environment."
Hipple's journey is far from over. He continues to travel across the country, speaking to youth groups, athletes and schools about the importance of recognizing the symptoms of depression and overcoming the stigmas, which left him feeling hopeless and alone. Wherever his trips take him, however, he holds a special place in his heart for Utah State, where the memories forged during his youth still hold special meaning some thirty years after his graduation.
(Courtesy Adam Nettina and the USU Athletics Department)