My Carolina Experience: Thomas Sperring
By Zoya Johnson, GoHeels.com
Thomas Sperring knew his whole life he wanted to be a surgeon. That desire made academics a priority during his recruitment process. Because he had a cousin already enrolled at UNC, becoming a Tar Heel was already on his radar. From there on, it seems the chips fell into place as resource after resource presented itself to Sperring in his quest to play college football and eventually pursue a medical degree.
When his high school assistant coach took a position as a graduate assistant with the UNC football program, he was able to put Sperring in contact with the right people to help him secure a spot as a preferred walk-on. Sperring then discovered that the team's physician was a close friend of someone in the medical world whom he had grown up admiring and would be able to learn from and shadow during his time at UNC.
It seemed that from the beginning UNC was the place for Sperring but his journey to success was still not an easy one. As a walk-on Sperring felt he had to work twice as hard to earn the same respect as his peers on full scholarships. That did nothing to slow the determined Florida native. He used the opportunity to push himself and eventually earned his own athletic scholarship by his senior year.
With the lofty goals Sperring had in mind to play all four years and to achieve his undergraduate degree, a looming concern of his was the time commitment that being an NCAA Division I athlete would require. Instead of hindering his academic success, however, football helped Sperring do more than he thought he could. "Football helped me succeed academically and in my professional career because the commitment and the dedication pushed me to be better," says Sperring.
"Being in medical school was like a full-time job but I felt like I had already been prepared because of the intensity of being a college athlete and balancing school on top of that. My education at UNC helped me get into a top tier medical school at Georgetown University and then thrive there and finish in the top third of my class. I feel like I could not have done that without my experience at UNC."
Now as a third-year orthopedic resident at LSU, Sperring has had his fair share of experiencing strenuous academic responsibilities but it was his UNC background that gave him the tools to make the transitions from UNC to Georgetown to LSU so seamless.
"I am thankful that my professors pushed me as hard as they did because it made me that much more prepared for medical school and a career as an orthopedic surgeon. When I went to Georgetown I had classmates from Ivy League schools, but I felt like I was right there with all of them, equally well prepared," says Sperring.
While the professors Sperring had at UNC prepared him mentally for medical school and all of its challenges, it was being a college football player that prepared him for the commitment he would need after graduation from Carolina.
"I am used to waking up at 5 a.m. to go to the hospital because I used to wake up at that time to be able to balance my football and academic load. I learned important lessons about accountability and being able to handle pressure and being composed under pressure. These are things I used every day playing football that I still use as a doctor now," says Sperring.
Though Sperring's athletic career may not have been the storybook one many athletes look forward to coming out of high school, his professional career is shaping up to be something many can look to for inspiration. His story was made possible by the resources provided by Carolina as well as the drive Sperring poured into everything he undertook.
"UNC is a very special place. I had high expectations because I grew up in a college town. What sets the place apart is that UNC takes pride in every aspect, even down to how well maintained the campus is. It's a cumulative thing. One of the nice things about UNC is that it is big enough to where you can have a public school experience but without an overwhelming large student body. Carolina has great athletics, academics, and a lot to offer socially," says Sperring.
"Whatever you put into it is what you are going to get out of it. You have amazing resources at UNC to do whatever you want so don't let anyone tell you that you cannot do well in the classroom and excel in sports as well," says Sperring in giving advice to potential future students. "I am not sure I would have been able to do it at other institutions without the support that I got at UNC so I'm very thankful and I feel very blessed to have been able to take that opportunity and just run with it."
Because Sperring grew up a Florida Gator and came in with the expectations he did, the fact that he holds UNC in such high regard as a university that delivers academically and athletically should say something to those who doubt what Carolina stands for.
Sperring is proud to stand as a positive reflection of the type of student-athlete that comes out of UNC.
"Tommy Thigpen, our linebackers coach when I was a senior told us, 'It's not just about your years as a player, this whole process is about turning you into men of good character.' At the end of the day, beyond your stats and what happened on the field that's what it's about. I use that every day and I'll always be proud that I went to UNC and played Carolina football," Sperring explains.
The shared vision of overall excellence is something that every UNC coach strives to instill in his athletes. The University as a whole shares a vision of molding athletes who will become productive and valuable members of society. When they coach they know that it is their duty to aid in the molding of men and women, not just players. Thomas Sperring is a stellar example of that kind of alumnus as his playing and professional careers can attest.