Eric Prior: From Unknown to “Mr. STU”
2015-16 was a year of firsts for the St. Thomas University Tommies.
It was the first season that current head coach John-Ryan Morrison took over the team.
It was the first year Eric Prior donned the Tommies Green and Gold.
Prior was Morrison’s first recruit as head coach of the Tommies, and they have spent the past five seasons growing the Tommies soccer program together.
Morrison, a Fredericton native, has storied playing and coaching careers. He won seven provincial titles for the Fredericton District Soccer Association before playing for the UNB Varsity Reds and finishing off his collegiate career with the Tommies, leading the league in goals and being named the team’s MVP. As a player Morrison has also won two Provincial Senior B and seven Provincial Senior A titles. He has won a bronze medal at the CSA Eastern Masters Championship as a player/coach. His coaching resume includes: FDSA Premiership Academy, FDSA Premiership U16 girls, U14 Boys and U12 girls’ teams, the Wanderers Senior Women’s A team, the FHS Varsity Girls and Boys squads as well as Team NB.
Prior isn’t from the Maritimes. In fact, he had only been to the East Coast once, when he went to Prince Edward Island, and only knew Fredericton as the capital of New Brunswick. He hails from Gananoque, ON, a small town about an hour and a half outside of Ottawa.
“I had just taken over the job and Eric was one of the first people I emailed from an Ottawa Showcase he had attended,” said Morrison. “He was interested, so I drove to Kingston, ON and met him and his mom at a local Tim Hortons. We had a great conversation and I remember emailing Mike [Eagles] shortly after that meeting to say, ‘I think I found our future captain’. I knew I would need a strong character guy to help change the culture of the program, and he came from a good family with a good head on his shoulders with leadership experience.”
Eagles, St. Thomas’s Director of Athletics, had a similar first impression to Prior upon his arrival on campus.
“Respectful and enthusiastic,” Eagles said of Prior. “Those are the types of people you want around your university and your program.”
“It all comes down to JR’s passion for the game,” said Prior about why he decided to join the Tommies. “JR is a great recruiter. Yes, St. Thomas is a great school and has a beautiful campus, but JR’s ability to pitch what this school and this team can fully offer, is unmatched.”
In their time together Prior has been named to three ACAA All-Star teams, and was named this year’s Bob Coe Award winner, Morison has been named the ACAA’s Coach of the Year, and they have made the playoffs three time, twice making it to the ACAA Finals.
It isn’t just what Prior does on the pitch that makes him valuable, it is his involvement in the community that makes him an asset to the university as a whole. In his five years at STU he has been a part of: #StudentsLetsAct Social Movement, STU’s Bell Let’s Talk, STU’s Foodbank Collection, he has also volunteered at ACAA Volleyball Championships and each year during the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. He has also been heavily involved with STU’s Gameday Staff each year, varying between stats keeper, game day producer, commentator, videographer and admissions.
“Eric has continued to impress me with his dedication to the team, to the players on it and to the STU community,” said Morrison about Prior’s growth over the years. “He is Mr. STU. He has been my go-to guy for everything. Every recruit, every team issue, every time we need a big goal.”
One of those big goals Morrison is talking about came in last season’s semi-final against the University of King’s College, which propelled the Tommies to the ACAA finals. Prior looks back on this goal as maybe his fondest moment of Morrison.
“When the whistle blew, we started to celebrate,” said Prior. “I was walking towards JR and he grinned and said, ‘Of course it would be you.’”
Much like Prior’s ability to continuously impress Morrison, it works the other way as well, as Prior has been blown away by Morrison each year.
“My respect for JR has certainly grown since our first meeting,” said Prior on his relationship with his coach. “Obviously, I respected JR from the moment I met him as my future coach, but to see the work JR puts into our program is astonishing. JR in five seasons, coached us to three playoffs, two finals and a trip to Nationals. In this time JR rebuilt the STU soccer team almost every year as we lost a good chunk of players throughout our five years. We had two seasons in the middle of our success where we just could not connect our game, but JR was patient through these years. It was tough on all of us to see our hard work not paying off, but we trusted the process of our game and our team. The biggest thing would be that JR trusted us. Although I believe JR would agree with me that I wish our five years together with STU soccer could have ended with an ACAA banner, these five years have made a huge impact on my life, and it was an honour to play for JR.”
Prior’s university soccer career culminated this year with being named a 1st Team ACAA All-Star and receiving the Bob Coe Award.
“Receiving the Bob Coe award really encapsulated my STU career,” said Prior of the award. “I came into this league as an unknown kid from an unknown place, and to receive an award which recognizes a player for their sportsmanship and positive impact to the game, it just means that much more to me. I believe receiving this award is bigger than just me. Also, my team, the lads and coaches that I play with and some that I have played with for four years, they make me a better player. I could not say enough about how much I respect my team. I would go to battle with them any time, any day. The STU men’s soccer program has done so much for me as an athlete and as a person, I am honoured to have represented STU for the Bob Coe award.”