Falling in love with Jill was easy.

I'll never forget the day I met her. It was the first day of math class at Southern Mississippi, and I remember telling my buddy Mark that I hoped the class would have a pretty girl that maybe I could go out with. Moments later, Jill walked into the classroom and sat next to me. With a big grin on my face I turned back toward my friend and gave him a nudge.

I didn't know what my future might look like with her, but I sure wanted to find out. I had been scared about the idea of a long-term relationship in the past, but I knew if there was anyone I wanted to try it with, it was her.

I was serious about dating her, but the bigger hurdle was getting Jill to believe me. I was such a jokester back then that when I invited her to church one day and told her I was going to be speaking, she thought it was an attempt at a pickup line. But when we got there, and I walked up to speak, she realized I wasn't kidding. About speaking or about us. Shortly after that day at church, I remember taking her to a fair in Louisiana, and it was that night at the fair that I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

A few years after that night, we got married. I can honestly say that 26 years later, even after everything we went through, marrying Jill was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.


Not only was she encouraging, she never doubted my aspirations. During our honeymoon we snuck onto the field at Neyland Stadium in Tennessee, and it was there that I proclaimed one day I would be an SEC football coach. At any given time there are only 14 people in the country who get to do that for a living, and back then it was only 12, but Jill believed in the dream even more than I did. Even after I had already settled into my job as a high school coach, Jill wouldn't let me forget what I told her on that football field.

I should have known she was right, because being married to Jill was a daily reminder that dreams come true.

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Thomas Hager