Ed Gadson is one of the first people I spoke to about writing this book. First and foremost, I wanted his and Paula's approval before I wrote about their son. He has been supportive, encouraging, and extremely helpful in making this book a reality. I spoke with Ed a number of times before making this interview a reality. 



Did you and Eddie have the same name? Was he “Eddie Junior?”

The only difference was that Eddie had a middle name and I didn’t. He wasn’t quite a junior, but everyone thought he was.

Can you describe young Eddie growing up? What was he like as a young man?

You know, pretty much what you guys saw when he came there to Charleston Southern, was what he was like. Any sport the kid played, he poured it all out and he was just an athlete. He loved the spotlight, he loved being the star, he loved shining. He knew that me and his mom both took so much joy in watching him play. When he started playing football for the first time, it was flag football but they played in full pads. The first year he was playing football, I was actually stationed in Korea and when he went out for tryouts, one of the coaches wanted him on their team so bad that he actually recruited Paula to be one of the assistant coaches on the team so they could get Eddie with them.

When he got out there, he was super rambunctious and energetic and as a matter of fact, the first year he played, he scored 28 touchdowns as a little tailback. He was pretty far above the other kids on the team as far as skill.

So did he get that competitive side and love of sports from you?

I probably have to take most of the credit for the sports side. He grew up watching me play sports. Of course most of my sports were played in the military. I played basketball, played volleyball, softball, whatever. He just watched his dad, so I would have to say he got it from me. Our greatest joy when he was a kid, whenever we would win tournaments and stuff was that, he would always want to go collect my trophies for me. And I let him go. That was probably his early introduction to sports when he got hooked.

I’d tell him that I was going to go collect his Super Bowl rings for him one day!

How did Eddie choose CSU and what did you feel about his decision to go school there?

Eddie had offers from one or two small colleges, but they weren’t Division 1. And Eddie wanted to play Division 1 football. One of the smaller schools actually offered him a full scholarship. He said no, he wanted to play Division 1. He walked on at CSU and thought he could earn a scholarship. My thought about why he didn’t receive any offers from Division 1 schools is that he only played one year of high school football in the states. He never had a chance to be seen.

I forgot who it was that came to the school. But they recruited Nick and I don’t know if it was Coach Mills that asked the question, but they asked if there was anyone else on his high school team that they should look at. The high school coach said you need to take a look at Eddie.

I love hearing the different aspects of this story. I asked Coach Mills about Eddie and how he got to school at CSU. You know how thorough Mills is… He went all the way back and told me everything about how it happened. How he got Nick’s name from Harvard recruiting list, then how he came to Union Grove and he was talking to the coach, and how the coach wanted to show him all the different players. The high school coach said, "We’ve got all of these guys. So and so can play so and so position..." Mills stopped him and said, "Coach I've got time for one unsigned guy. Who is that one?" That one was Eddie and obviously he was great a great fit. It was perfect.

Yeah, and we were prepared to send Eddie to school wherever he wanted to go. And so when he said, ‘Hey I want to try Charleston Southern,’ I had no objection. Of course, that’s my home state, only 70 miles from home. So I definitely had no objection. In the early days I actually used to, when it was called Baptist College, play pickup basketball there. So I thought that was a little ironic as well.

While Eddie was in school, when he came home and he talked to you or Paula who did he talk about? Was it all about football in those days?

No, it was never ‘all about football.’ It was about life in general, of course football was a part of it. It was all the regular stuff that kids and parents talk about. How were the grades, just the normal stuff that people talk about. What classes he was having trouble in, what classes he excelled in, what girls were in his life. [laughing] That was probably more so between me and him than him and his mom. The normal stuff, but of course the first year Eddie played we were in Japan.

Both of you were in Japan?

Yes. Paula’s military as well, you know. We were both over there. So I think it was 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning and we were listening to the football games over the internet. But you know when he had his breakout game at Presbyterian [in 2004] and Coach Mills got on the radio post-game show and they talked a little bit about Eddie, Coach Mills said, ‘We gotta get this kid on a scholarship.’ And of course Paula and I thought, ‘OK, that money we set aside for his education, now we can use that for other things.’

So you guys stayed up in the middle of the night listening to the game over the internet?

Ohhh yeahhh, every game. I don’t think we missed a single game while we were over there. Of course the first couple games I don’t think he got in but one or two plays, but he did during his breakout game at Presbyterian. Then after that PC game, that was when he got hurt. He went out and played pickup basketball and fractured his face.

What was that conversation like when he called to tell you about the fracture?

First of all, I had to convince his mom that she was NOT going to fly home. But we have some friends there that live in Charleston. You’ve probably seen the guy that hangs out with me at most of the ball games, right? Mitch and Peggy Jenkins live there in Charleston. They were able to go check on Eddie after the surgery to make sure he got back on his feet. That gave us peace of mind while we were over there.

And how did y’all meet?

He’s retired Air Force as well, we met in the military. I met them in 1979 and we’re still friends today.

What was it like to watch your son play at such a high level of football?

The greatest joy of my life. I used to tell him that my most enjoyable experience was watching him play sports. Basketball, football, whatever. Some people call it living your life vicariously through your kids.

And at the same time, even though that was my greatest joy, watching him play, one of the things that I would never hesitate to do was keep an eye on his grades. I almost pulled him off of his high school football team one year. I pulled him out for a game just because his grades were not where they were supposed to be. And even though he knew that it was my greatest joy to watch him play, the important thing was his eduction. Making sure that he was ready to be an independent young man no matter what happened outside of sports.

Man, that’s tough love.

It is! It is, but I would always tell him, ‘This is what you’re up against.’ Eddie was an A/B student and I would accept nothing less from him. And I went out of my way to make sure he realized he was an honor roll student.

The time that I pulled him off the football team, the coaches were a little bit upset because Eddie was one of their key players. Then the parents were upset at me, too. Eddie knew what he was up against. And if he didn’t deliver, he knew the consequences up front. That was the only time I had to do that.

Only had to do that once. He got the message, eh?


When was the last time you saw Eddie?

Let me put it this way, the last significant thing that Eddie and I did together was play a round of golf the day before I left to go to Idaho to visit one of my friends. I can still see that picture almost plain as day. The sun was setting and we were going down the 18th fairway trying to make it in before the sun went down… Yeah, we walked… That was my last favorite memory of him… You know, we got in the car afterwards and we drove home and stuff like that. But I remember us walking down that 18th fairway trying to beat the daylight to get in that last hole. And that next morning I went to Idaho and never saw him again.

Did you and Eddie play golf a lot together?

Yeah, a whole lot. Pretty much anything I did as an athlete, Eddie did as an athlete. I played basketball, Eddie played basketball. I played softball, Eddie played softball. Volleyball, everything. We actually both started playing golf in Charleston, when I was stationed there in 1996. When I started playing ‘96, I got bit by the bug and I was playing every day. He started looking at me like, ‘Well Dad, you know I can probably play.’ So I got him some clubs. We lived in King’s Grant subdivision off of Dorchester Road and there was a golf course within walking distance. And back then, they let kids play for free. Every time I’d go play, he’d look at me like, ‘I got clubs, too!’ That was one of our favorite things to do together. We used to play on basketball on teams together, played volleyball together. Competitive teams together, you know?

That's really special that you guys got to play golf together. Some sports, especially the team sports, you have a lot of people involved. But golf is really just you two out there for a long time. That's awesome.

But I still think our favorite together was playing basketball. We were a heck of a combination. He was about 12 or 13 years old playing basketball out there with the big guys. And I would always have him on my team because I could always make up for his shortcomings. [laughing] Which his shortcomings didn’t last too long out there!

He was pretty good from what I understand.

When we sent Eddie back from Okinawa, our main purpose for sending him back was basketball. I thought basketball was his strongest sport, personally. Even overseas, in Okinawa, he was just crushing guys. As a matter of fact, I coached our base team. Our base had a team that competed against other bases. And at one time, he played on my adult team as a teenager. And not just played, he played at a high level. Excelled.

Was his passion basketball or football because he obviously played football quite well?

I think he had an equal passion for both. Because the year that we lost him, that next year, going back, Coach Mills was going to afford him the opportunity to try and make the CSU basketball team as well.

So did they already have a spot for him or was he going to have to try out?

He was going to have the opportunity to tryout. He was going to have to earn a spot. When I came to visit later that year, a couple of his buddies were actually on the team and I remember them saying they were looking forward to possibly getting him onto the team. Some of them passed that along to me afterwards. In my opinion, he was an incredible, all-around athlete.

He definitely was. It’s funny because you mentioned volleyball a couple times and I don't know if I told you this, but I have a story about CJ [Hirschman], Nick [Ellis], Eddie and me playing volleyball against some regular students. We were crushing them, 20-4 or something, and Eddie was in this guy’s face on the other team because he didn’t want them to score any more points. He was so competitive! He was so good, anything he picked up, he was a natural at it.

That sounds like him!

Do you remember the letter you wrote to Eddie that was read at the funeral?

Oh yeah. That was… That took me a day or so to figure out what I wanted to say. I talked about him and his mom and the effect I knew it was going to have on her. Because, you know, that was HER KID.

It’s tough going back and looking at a lot of things. It’s hard to watch the tribute videos, and reading the letters, and reading the obituary. It’s so emotionally draining for me… That’s probably why parts of it are escaping me at the moment. But I mean EVERYTHING in that letter was from the heart. I mean, I was crushed. I was crushed…

Author’s Note: Ed found the original letter and sent it to me, which is used in the book in it’s entirety.

What was it like when you first came back to CSU?

The first time I came back to CSU, it wasn’t even for a game. I came back to a couple practices. And, oh my goodness. It was… One of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do in my life was build up the courage to step out there on the practice field and know I wasn’t going to see Eddie. Whenever I came to town, I used to come to practices. But just to walk out there and know that he’s not out there anymore. And then coming to the game and seeing the ‘EG21’ on the field and everything CSU, and especially Mills, did to make sure that everybody realized the type of kid that we’d lost. I owe a great deal of gratitude to him just for keeping Eddie in the headlights like that. It would have been real easy for Eddie to fall through the cracks and for Mills to just ‘Well, we lost another athlete. Dang, this happened. So be it.’ Coming back was tough, Mike. Coming back was real tough.

I don’t know how I did it, personally. I don’t know how I did it or why I did it. I think part of why I did it was I wanted to show you guys and Coach Mills that we really appreciated the fact that you guys chose to dedicate your season and made sure that you kept him in your thoughts.

What made you gravitate towards our team?

I think it was part of the healing process. There was no way I could have stayed away, especially knowing that the season was dedicated to him. Knowing that you guys were just trying to get that championship in his memory. There was no way I could stay away. And I felt I had to go. Paula never came to any games and trust me, I totally understand. She never got any pressure from me for not going. I think the only time she came to a game was the year he was supposed to graduate because they were honoring him. Even to this day, she really doesn’t watch football, basketball, any of that stuff. Because she would always be in the stands. Whether it was track, basketball, football. Whatever he was involved in, we were there.

Think about the Coastal Carolina game, the final game of the season. Before the final score was up on the scoreboard. What were you feeling that day?

When it looked like Coastal was going to win the game, I was heartbroken because I knew you guys tried so So SO hard to bring that championship home. And I actually left the stands and was making my way down to the field to console you guys. I was gonna say, ‘I know you lost, but you tried your best. You have nothing to be ashamed about. Don’t hang your head.’ I thought about some of the things that I wanted to say to some of the guys. Guys like Nick, Darius [Jackson], Jonna [Lee] and Collin [Drafts] the guys that were real close to him and the guys that I interacted with when I came in for the games. I was going down to try to and provide a little comfort.

And so one thing started changing around a little bit and my attitude changed again. Back when you guys caught ‘em deep again… I sort of felt that you guys could pull one out. I just felt that it was all meant to be. I still think Eddie pushed Jerome Simpson out of bounds! I think it’s one of the greatest sports stories that never truly caught national headlines and I don’t know why. There have been a lot of great sports stories out there. And the game ending on the 21 yard line! Come on. I am not a deeply religious guy, but sometimes things happen that make you believe that somehow He helped pull the strings for that story to develop.

Who else was with you there at the game, was Mitch [Jenkins] there with you? 

Yes, Mitch was there. None of the rest of my family came because it still caused a lot of heartache for them. It just absolutely crushed my mom and dad because Eddie was just one of those kids that just brought joy to their lives. He was a kidder, he would always kid around with them. It wasn’t like they were Grandma and Grandpa, he was like, ‘Y’all are my friends!’ So they couldn’t make themselves do it, and I totally understand.

Did you ever feel that coming to the games was an obligation?

I felt I needed to be there. I felt I needed to be there for you guys, for the team. I felt I needed to be there for Coach Mills. Because that guy did a heck of a lot in helping with the healing process. The eulogy to Eddie’s funeral was… When I talked to him right after we lost Eddie, I told him, ‘I need other people to hear what you just told me, if you wouldn’t mind, I need you to eulogize him.’ He said of course.

What did that conference championship mean to you?

I don’t know if you remember my little speech after the game, but I think it meant a lot for my entire family. As far as helping to heal. Even though they were not at the game, they knew what you guys were going for. I think it did a whole lot as far as, I don’t know, just helping to ease the pain a little bit. Just a little bit...

But just seeing you guys out there playing your hearts out for more than just a win. It was more than just, ‘Let’s go out here and win this conference championship.’ Somebody said it later, ‘We want to win a championship for Eddie’s dad.’ And I know that they wanted to win it for their part as well. But I think because they saw me at the games and in the locker room and stuff like that, they thought of me. It definitely wasn’t all about me, it was about my family.

You were the symbol of your family. We saw you, we connected with you, we could put a face and a name and a voice with your entire family. A lot of the guys never met anybody besides you. I had the opportunity to meet Paula and Mitch and I remember seeing family members from all over place. A lot of guys, all they knew was you. That’s how we viewed it, we wanted to do it for you but we knew what that meant for the rest of your family. It’s humbling to hear you say all that and to hear your perspective on all the things that happened. Powerful stuff. What do you miss most about Eddie?

Mike, there is no way to put my finger on that. I miss him. I miss his smile, I miss his laughter, the companionship. ‘Miss’ is way, way too mild. There’s not one thing I could ever single out. I miss being Eddie’s dad basically. I miss being his dad. I miss not seeing how the story was going to play out. I guess the story has played out. But I wanted to see more of the movie, I wanted to read more of the book, I wanted more. I still want more… There’s no way I could ever put one thing to that.

If he was still here with us today, what would he be doing?

He’d be a grown man now, and I’d be looking to have some little grands running around. I know he would have been doing something productive. He was always talking about possibly going back to his old high school, sorta like Nick is doing now, coaching and all. You know what I find interesting is that even though he had ambitions of playing in the NFL, he did not let that consume him. He knew that was a long shot. He knew that if he couldn’t make it to the NFL, there was the CFL, and if he couldn’t do that he could teach and coach high school. He didn’t lock himself into one little path and make that the only thing he was going for. He even talked about possibly following in me and his mom’s footsteps and going into the Air Force. I would love to see how that story played out... It’s like somebody just stealing your book from you. You were reading a book and that was the only copy of it, and somebody took it. Now you can’t finish the rest of the story. You don’t see what’s going to happen with the rest of the story.

I know you can’t see it, but you have had me in tears at least 2 or 3 times today. I want to do nothing more than to give you and your family justice in this story and to share how great of a young man that you and Paula raised. Ed, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this for me today