Merril Hoge has faced plenty of adversity in his life.
The ESPN football analyst, former NFL running back, and cancer survivor found many sources for inspiration throughout his life, and he used sheer determination to achieve his goals.
At the Lutcher Theater in Orange on Tuesday night, Hoge shared his story of how he beat the odds in a speech titled “Find a Way.”
Part of Lamar State College-Orange’s Distinguished Lecture Series, Hoge told anecdotes about his childhood, his time in the National Football League, and his battles with chemotherapy. His goal, he said, was inspire the audience to apply his experiences in their lives.
“They’re life skills and lessons that I took from people,” he said. “Hopefully people can take that and use it.”
The event was paid for by the college’s student activity program through student fees. LSC-O President Michael Shahan introduced Hoge to the audience after thanking the employees and programs that orchestrated the event.
“Our purpose for doing this is to expose students and the community to individuals who are making a difference in our world,” he said. “None of us are too old for new ideas and new perspectives.”
Hoge began by talking about the first time he saw a football game on television when he was eight years old, and how he immediately knew he wanted to play in the NFL. He refused to take no for an answer and began posting goals to reach his dream on his bedroom wall.
When researching his favorite player, running back Walter Payton, Hoge stumbled across some unlikely inspiration. It was a quote from Aristotle: “ We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
“You don’t just stumble out of bed one day and suddenly become great,” Hoge said.
Hoge became a star running back at Idaho State University and was eventually drafted by his favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. He told the audience about how Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll scolded him after practice and the lasting impression it made on him.
“He didn’t talk to me about being faster or stronger,” Hoge said. “He said that if we ever wanted to be a champion it had to go beyond our skill set.”
Hoge became a starter for the Steelers during his second year and went on to play in 122-straight games, setting the NFL record at that time upon his retirement in 1993.
Many years later after his playing career ended, Hoge was diagnosed with cancer.
“It was a malignant tumor, ironically the size and shape of a football,” he said.
The one defining moment before his treatment started, Hoge said, is when his daughter crawled into his lap after a long discussion about what might happen and said, “Daddy, find a way.”
Hoge refused to quit his daily routine. He still exercised and played basketball with his friends. He still went to work at ESPN.
He turned a six-month cancer treatment into a five-month treatment. He beat cancer.
“I didn’t lose weight or anything,” he said. “The only difference you would have noticed was my bald head.”
Hoge said his most favorite thing above all else is being a dad, and he uses the “Find a Way” philosophy as a parent.
In closing, Hoge said everyone has the potential to be excellent.
“The mind is the most powerful thing you have, and the spirit is just as strong,” he said. “With those things, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish or overcome.”