Alumni Spotlight: Eric Shorter '94
July 22, 2014
Written by Reid Oslin
Few student-athletes anywhere have faced the daunting roadblocks that stood in Eric Shorter's path to Boston College.
Eric Shorter '94, grew up in a single-parent home where his mother often worked three jobs to provide for her two sons. He lived in a series of public housing apartments in Hartford, Conn., neighborhoods that were rampant with street crime. He played football for a high school team with so few candidates that he was forced to play almost every position at one time or another. And, finally, he learned that Boston College - his top choice for both higher education and the opportunity to play major college football - did not have any athletic scholarships available to offer to him.
But thanks to the encouragement and support of his mother, Linda Stills, and a Christmas Day telephone call from BC head coach Tom Coughlin, Eric hurdled over every obstacle in his way. He became an All-East strong safety and co-captain of the 1994 Eagle football team; winner of the Scanlan Award as BC Football's top scholar-athlete; and, in addition to his bachelor's degree in political science from the College of Arts and Sciences, he earned a dual master's degree from BC's Graduate School of Social Work and Carroll Graduate School of Management. Today, Eric Shorter is vice president of real estate and business development for OMNI Development Corporation in Providence, R.I., continuing his professional career of helping to provide affordable and suitable housing for American families in need.
Here is Eric Shorter's inspirational story:
When accepting the Scanlan Award at the annual Varsity Club football banquet in 1994, Shorter stunned the audience with a startling self-revelation.
"Our family had lived the life of a normal middle-class family until I was eight years old," he said. "Then my father was sent to prison."
Robert Shorter, who had a daughter and two sons, had been drinking heavily when an argument among friends turned into what Eric today terms "a bad situation. He had spent the night drinking, and as you know, the first thing to go was his judgment." The elder Shorter opened fire with a handgun, killing two persons. "He was taken away, charged with manslaughter, and then he was gone," Eric recalls. "To this day, I have never taken a drink."
Eric's mother relocated her two sons to Hartford seeking a fresh start in life. Her daughter, the eldest of the family's three children, was left in the care of her grandparents in Florida.
"It was a struggle," he said. "My mom worked three jobs to put food on the table. She made the sacrifices that she had to make. My mother did not graduate from high school, but she is the smartest person I know. She taught us not by telling us what we needed to do, but doing it with her own actions."
It was not an easy environment in which to raise two sons.
"I grew up in the crack era that was just destroying urban neighborhoods," Eric said. He started playing Pop Warner youth football on a team that lost only the three games in five seasons, but by the time he got to high school, academic problems and the lure of street crime took a lot of the promising athletes out of the picture.
"Kids in the inner city, many of whom had come from broken homes, could not play sports because they did not have the grades," he exaplained. "A lot of kids got caught up in the drug trade. I watched my mother working three jobs to make ends meet. If we had dared to get involved in those things what a disappointment it would have been to her."
The lack of players on the Hartford Public High School team was a back-handed advantage for Shorter. "It probably helped me," he said. "I became a decent player because I had to play at almost every position. We had to. I like to say that we had a football `team', not a football `program.'"
Shorter was mostly overlooked when Division I colleges scouted for potential players.
"I went to the BC football summer camp one year," he said. "I always had the confidence that I had the ability to play at the Division I level, but because of our high school situation, I didn't get the same kind of look. [BC assistant]Coach Kevin Lempa, who was responsible for the Hartford area at that time, came to my school, but he told me that BC had already awarded all of their scholarships. He told me that I would be welcome to come to BC - that I had good grades - and `walk on' to the football team."
Eric says that he had liked Boston College from the beginning.
"I knew with my learning style that I wanted to be on a small enough campus where I could have a rapport with my professors. BC fit the bill. It was big enough but it was still small enough where you could have that relationship with your teachers. You couldn't hide in the classroom - I wanted that," he said. "And, it was a Division I football school and I always thought that I had enough talent to play at that level."
Shorter says that he vividly remembers watching the 1988 Heisman Trophy presentation program on television with his mother. "She told me, `One day, you are going to be there.' Now here's a kid who as a senior in high school didn't have a single Division I scholarship offer and she's telling me that I am going to be a Heisman Trophy candidate," he recalled. "She just said, "Trust me, sometimes people get overlooked for some things, but, to whom much is given much is expected.' I knew that I had to deliver. There was no way I was not going to succeed."
Shorter enrolled at BC through the Opportunities Through Education (OTE) program, which offers financial and academic support to promising students, although his family was still required to pay some $4,500 of annual college costs.
"I knew that if I did not win a scholarship, I would not be able to finish because we just did not have the money," he said. Unfortunately, football did not go well for Eric at first, and he left the squad in frustration midway through his first year.
When Tom Coughlin took over as BC's head coach in January of 1991, he told Shorter that he was welcome to come back out for the team. "He told us, `I don't care if you are a senior, a freshman, a walk-on or a scholarship player, I am going to play the best 11 players that we have,'" Shorter recalled. "When he said that, it was music to my ears."
The following Christmas Day, Eric received a telephone call from Coughlin informing him that he had been awarded a full football scholarship.
"My driving force was to make my mother proud," he said. "She wanted me to go to school and do well, to be a good citizen, and to become the best player and man that I could be. I just wanted to do that. I knew I could never repay her for what she had done for us. I could only repay her for doing the right thing."
BC football soared through the Coughlin years, with the Eagles winning 28 games (along with two ties) and participating in three post-season bowl games during Shorter's four varsity seasons. The highlight of the era was BC's stunning 41-39 victory over No. 1 Notre Dame in 1993, although Shorter says that is not his top college football memory.
"I will always remember the prior year, when we lost to Notre Dame [54-7]," he says. "In the third quarter, when they were up by 28 or 30 points, Coach [Lou] Holtz called as fake punt. Afterwards, when we were in the locker room, before we even took off our equipment, Coach Coughlin got us together and said, `I don't care what you read in the papers or hear on TV about me going to the Giants or whatever, I am not going anywhere. We are going to be right here next year and we are going to kick their a--es,'" Shorter says. "That was the moment for me. I'll never forget it. We learned how to practice, how to focus, how to get things done.
"The next year, we came in there knowing that we were going to win that game," he said. "There was no way we were going to lose." Shorter was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated following the monumental victory, a photo that showed him making a bone-jarring tackle of an Irish running back during the game.
As a fifth-year senior, Eric was a co-captain of Coach Dan Henning's Aloha Bowl championship team. "We were often told that we didn't have a lot of guys with much athletic ability," he said. "But, I think of the other co-captains in my senior year - Stephen Boyd, Michael Reed and Pete Mitchell - all of them, except me [laughter] went on to play in the NFL."
In addition to his All-East laurels and winning the prestigious Scanlan Award, Shorter was also the first recipient of the Jay McGillis Scholarship, an honor established in the memory of the well-liked BC football player who had died from leukemia after the 1991 season.
As some of his BC teammates headed into professional football, Eric launched his graduate studies in the School of Social Work and Graduate School of Management.
"I chose social work because I wanted to understand the decisions that I had made and it would also give me the tools to perhaps come back to Hartford and make it a better place. When I was younger, my family had moved five or six times, all within a two-mile radius each time in search of a better apartment," he explained. "I gravitated to that field. I knew the struggle that people have looking for affordable housing. I know how my mother struggled."
Armed with the dual degree in social work and management, Eric accepted professional positions in community development, property management, asset management and consulting, eventually working with housing developers on a national level. With his management skills and planning expertise, Shorter then branched into the private investment side of housing development - again with his sights trained on improving housing conditions for a population in need.
"You have to understand numbers, you have to understand all of the different financial sources," he said. "No two deals are alike. Every one is challenging."
Eris is married to fellow BC graduate Taren Shorter, whom he met on his first day as a Boston College student. "Right after we met, I told her, `You are going to be my wife,'" he rememered. "She said, `What?' - she had no interest in me," he laughs. "But I was persistent. We just celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary."
Shorter admits that he enjoyed success in his professional field as well as his family life. "I have made a very good living," he says. "We have been blessed with a beautiful home, multiple cars, great vacations, a good bank account. But we also have two beautiful daughters - ages 15 and 17 - and they don't care about those things," he said. "They only care about how much time they spend with their Dad. I can't get this time back. So I said to myself, `Slow down,' and I took a job in the local area where I can still help transform communities and give opportunities to families in a regional setting.
"Now, I am looking forward to participating as my daughters start to select their own colleges.
"My mother continues to be the inspiration of my life," he said. "When you look back - how can a kid from Hartford, Conn., only 5-foot-10, not being fast enough to play Division I football ever make it?" he asked.
"What you have to measure is the heart. They never measured the drive I got from my mother."