A Cuban-American’s Testimony on Main Street - Greenville, SC

I had just stepped out of the Hyatt for a personal call. Main Street on a Thursday morning in Greenville is bustling. To folks not from Greenville, this spot on Main is significant. It marks the beginning of the remarkable renaissance of Greenville. In fact, one of the major architects of that amazing recovery is honored with a statue directly across the street from where I stood. Max Heller, who escaped Nazi persecution in his native Austria, is honored for his life’s work in making Greenville a wonderful place to live. I was on Main Street that day as a part of a group organized by Trevor Gordon, the CEO of Sandlapper Securities. During the past three days, we had been networking with some of the greatest folks I’ve ever met. In fact, the collective team from Sandlapper is highly talented and skilled. Their new building, and the overall growth in Greenville, is something Serrus appreciates and supports. The reputation of one of these winners, Orlando Fernandez, had preceded my meeting with him. Orlando is an American who currently lives in Denver, Colorado, and I knew that his father brought him to the United States to flee Castro. I saw him smoking a cigar as I turned to walk back into the Hyatt. Introducing myself, I was encouraged to hear how much Orlando was interested in Serrus and our efforts. After we had talked for a few minutes, I asked Orlando about how he came to America. The story was powerful. You see, Orlando’s father had been a successful businessman in Cuba when the Castro-led communists took over the country and killed men, women, and children who resisted. The Fernandez family, however, fought and wouldn’t give in. Orlando’s father actually had his gas and oil distributorship exploded rather than to have it given to the communists. For their resistance, the family suffered. Maybe the most searing moment of my conversation with Orlando was when he described his cousin urging him not to turn his head at their uncle’s execution. They wanted to remember and to tell others. Orlando’s father brought him to America, forced to leave other family members behind, to be safe from the killers who took over the government. Orlando embraced his new country. He even joined the Army and served in Viet Nam. He is grateful for freedom in America and is adamantly against anything that stifles free enterprise. The growing government in our country—and our citizens’ dependence on the government—have him concerned. His passion for this country is gratifying to see. Standing on Main Street across from Max Heller’s statue, I was struck by the similarity of these two men, both immigrants who were forced to flee their native countries because of oppression and who came to America with nothing. As Americans, they both worked hard to achieve the American Dream and give back to their adopted country. As this Cuban refugee wiped tears from his eyes and told me how much he loved and appreciated this great country, I was reminded that freedom is something that we tend to take for granted. The Heller and Fernandez families sacrificed to protect this freedom, and their stories bring a message that is painful to tell and important to remember: Freedom is not free and must be protected. Thanks to Orlando Fernandez for the reminder.


Recession failure put life back on track

Greenville investor Leighton Cubbage: Recession failure put life back on trackBy Angelia Davis of One thing Leighton Cubbage hopes other entrepreneurs will learn from his life is that if your dreams are big enough, you’ll be driven to your knees. For Cubbage, a Greenville investor and entrepreneur who made a fortune in telecommunications, that moment came during the economic downturn in 2008. Times were tough, he says. Champion Communications, an Internet telephone company he had co-founded with investors, was going through a lot of stress. “It was just horrible. I knew I was going to close it after the first of the year,” says Cubbage, who had been honored as South Carolina Entrepreneur of the Year in 1993. Meanwhile, he was searching for relief. He found it at his church, in his pastor’s sermon. “I thought my wife had gone to the preacher to tell her what to say to me,” Cubbage says. “She assured me she didn’t.” But the next day, Cubbage says he told his wife Tammy they needed to have a business meeting about God. That business meeting evolved into daily devotionals, during which the couple began listing their blessings in a journal. The practice, says Cubbage, changed his life. “He’s a great Christian man now,” says Jim Ness, Cubbage’s former Clemson University roommate, best friend and business partner. “He’s got a big heart and he wants to help people in a big way. He learned that over the years of business, in failing and being successful,” Ness says. A former Clemson University football linebacker, Cubbage has had involvement in a number of companies, including Serrus Telecom Ventures, New South, NuVox, Upstate Automotive, Ionosphere, E.C. Transportation and Greenville First Bank. He also founded Corporate Telemanagement group, an INC 500 company. Cubbage had a really good run with success as well as a couple of failures, Ness says. When he and others were going through the downturn, Cubbage kind of stepped back and focused on what really counts. He went back to the influences of his dad — work hard, get through it, and get close to God. “Then, things turned around,” Ness says. In 2009, Cubbage co-founded Simpsonville-based Serrus Capital Partners with another former Clemson University football player, Steve Mudge. The real estate investment company primarily buys distressed residential housing and mixed-use properties, redevelops them, and then either sells or leases them. It was ranked last year as one of the state’s fastest growing companies. Cubbage, who recently turned 60, says he’s happier now than he’s ever been because finally, he has some balance and peace. “I’m not all about work. I’m not all about some image that has to define me. I’m me,” he says. “I like where I’m going. I like where I am.” Persistence A native of Sumter, Cubbage says he probably got into entrepreneurship because “I didn’t think I could make it in the corporate world.” He went to college with dreams of either playing pro football or becoming a dentist. “The only reason I picked dentist is because my brother is a dentist,” he says. “It was just a great answer to tell people.” But football was what he’d always dreamed of doing, he says. In a small town like Sumter, “it’s just something you do.” He believed he had the skills, abilities and the enthusiasm to make it in football. And he worked hard. “When I was young, I’d go out to the field many times before dawn to work out. I was pretty driven and focused like that,” he says “I ran track to get faster and was lucky enough to play on a team, when I was 16, that won every game,” Cubbage says. “It sort of gave me the feeling that if you get enough people together, and have a lot of love and enthusiasm and momentum, you can have big, big success.” Cubbage was “blessed” to attend Clemson on a full scholarship. “I earned my way,” he says, but he didn’t get much playing time during the football games. “I didn’t deserve it. I wasn’t good enough,” he says. “Everybody can’t be Tajh Boyd or whoever the superstar of the day is. You’ve got to have role players.” The greatest lesson he learned through that, he says, is “I wasn’t the gift to the world.” “I had to get out there and make it happen and it’s served me well in persistence,” he says. Persistence, he says, is part of entrepreneurship. “There are devastating things that happen along the way in an enterprise. The first thought is to throw your hands up,” he says. “But the ability to get up and fight another day is one of the most critical functions of entrepreneurship.” “You can expect adversity. She’s coming,” he says. 'Carried away' Cubbage was an entrepreneur even during his college years. He sold sandwiches in dorms. He and Ness bought football tickets from players from northern states for about $5 and resold them for $25. He cut grass and delivered pizza. He even put on events like boxing matches between Clemson fraternities. “It was very, very successful,” Ness recalls. “Everybody was trying to get tickets to get in. People were wearing tuxedos to sit at the front. It was something else.” Cubbage also helped start two pizza restaurants in Columbia. After graduating at Clemson in 1977, with a political science degree, Cubbage attended the Advanced Management Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He had been in the business of selling carpet to builders when he got a job offer from a company called Tel/Man Inc. in 1981. It was one of the first companies to buy large blocks of long-distance time at a discount and resell it. In 1989, he and Greenville businessman Charlie Houser formed Corporate Telemanagement Group, a long-distance company. They built it into a $100 million-a-year company and sold it in 1995 to LCI International for $164 million. The following year, at the age of 42, Cubbage retired. “I didn’t have anything to do. So I bought a beach house and I was miserable,” he says. Cubbage became the PTA president at Wade Hampton High School, where his two daughters were attending. He said that was harder work than serving two terms as chairman of the Greenville Hospital System’s board. He also served as a volunteer football coach at Wade Hampton for a year. Gary Kirby, who now works at Serrus Capital, first met Cubbage as a student and a football player at the school. “He was always the one giving inspiration, and adding energy, enthusiasm and a positive attitude to whatever we were doing,” Kirby says. As an entrepreneur, says Kirby, Cubbage has taught him that “you’re going to have challenges and adversity, but you’ve got to face those with the same attitude that you faced the good days with.” Kirby says he also learned “the importance of inspiring others to believe in the vision you see and think can happen. That’s people outside your team as well as inside your team,” Kirby says. After a year at Wade Hampton, Cubbage says he got back into “entrepreneuring things” and “got carried away.” “In 2008, when the bottom fell out, I was stretched,” he says. He says when Champion Communications was starting to fail, he kept the company alive by funding it. “That would be from ego, trying to keep the company alive,” he says. “Even at the end, there were other stockholders that threatened to sue me. I lost all the money I put in it.” Cubbage calls that a good example of “everything I touch doesn’t turn to gold.” “I’m not ashamed of that either. I’ve talked to a lot of people that will say we failed more than we succeeded,” he says. “Some things don’t work no matter how hard you try.” Back to basics Looking back, Cubbage believes his biggest setback was probably in wasting time with the pleasures of the world. “I’ve bought everything for myself except a train, and none of it makes you happy,” he says. He says his biggest mistake was getting away from his upbringing in the church. “I think that hurt me in a lot of ways,” he says. “Entrepreneurs kind of put themselves in situations where they’re crying out to God sooner or later. You realize who’s really in control.” Adversity also brought back to mind those who influenced him the most — his parents. A Sumter County farmer who was also a forest ranger, the late Ladson G. Cubbage Sr. was 50 years old when Leighton Cubbage was born. He was also a self-taught engineer, an entrepreneur and a Sunday school teacher. His greatest gift to Cubbage was “love.” “He was a big-hearted guy and a tiny man,” Cubbage says. “When I’d go back to Clemson, his eyes would water and he’d have to run into the house. So I had that unconditional love. You want to give that to as many people as you can.” Cubbage described his mother, the late Margaret M. Cubbage, a kindergarten teacher, as a steel magnolia. “She was very tough, very demanding, very intense.” In an earlier interview with Cubbage said his mother is the one who inspired him to “excel and attack life.” Cubbage helped establish the Ladson Gentry Cubbage Sr. Memorial Scholarship at Greenville Technical College. Greenville Tech renamed its teaching and child care college in honor of his mother in 2002. He now has a task force assembled that’s working to set up a series of classes taught by different entrepreneurs, on different subjects. “I love being on a team. I love being able to help create. I love being able to help people grow,” Cubbage says. *To read original article by, CLICK HERE.


Bo Knows: Reaching Back

One of our Serrus Advisors, and a great friend, taught our family a lesson this week. Bo Aughtry is a leader in real estate as both a developer and investor. Bo’s superior real estate efforts have made a huge impact on South Carolina (and beyond). My personal favorite is the Courtyard by Marriott, which is located across from the Peace Center, with its open-air plaza. This hotel is strikingly beautiful and has access to everything downtown—including the great restaurant Nantucket and a winter skating rink—and has an incredible tower of Class A office space. Initially, we became friends because of our similar lack of sophistication and propensity to crack a joke about anything. Our friendship lasted because we share so many of the same interests. Having lived in Greenville and being a part of some teams like Serrus, young people sometimes reach out to me for opinions and direction. Many times, though, we get blinded to others in need because we are so busy in our own lives. My dad—and Bo’s—taught us to reach back and help others, as we were helped when we started in business. This is a story of how Bo did just that for someone in my own family: Our boy Tyler’s life has been in a rock-solid climb for the last decade. In high school, Tyler had the courage to transfer to a private school and hold himself back for a year. Then he got his grades and test scores up and was accepted to Lander University in Greenwood. Taking another step, Tyler transferred to the University of South Carolina and is going to graduate with a degree in hospitality. Part of the curriculum at USC requires students to secure an internship to graduate. The pressure for a college student to achieve this requirement is enormous, and with my background as a college student, I would have had very little chance to accomplish this. Tyler, however, persisted by calling potential employers for over two years. Through this struggle, he learned some hard and tough lessons that will serve him well in the future. Bo was one of the folks Tyler contacted, but at the time, no positions were available for an intern. Later, though, Bo contacted me and said, “If Tyler is still looking, we can put him to work.” Bo immediately set an appointment with Tyler for the very same week. Tyler had a new suit, shoes, and shirt ready for the meeting. He said he tied that tie 20 times to get it right. The meeting for Bo and Tyler went great. Not only is Bo putting him to work, but now Tyler wants to be “like Bo.” Not the Nike ad Bo, but a successful business man who takes the time to reach back. That night at dinner, I’ve never seen happier eyes as Tyler told his mother every single detail about Bo, his assistant Shelley, and every step of the interview. Bo, and the others involved, reminded me of an important lesson. After we climb high, we should remember that the critical first steps for a business person can be devastating or exhilarating. We can play a major role in a person’s life by taking a little effort and time to reach back. We are glad to have winners like Bo Aughtry advise us at Serrus. And I know Bo would also join me in giving credit to another special carpenter: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12. Leighton


What makes Serrus an “Outlier"?

One of my favorite contemporary authors is Malcolm Gladwell due to his ability to introduce the reader to fresh ways of thinking through various stories. I recently finished his 2008 bestseller, Outliers: The Story of Success, which conveys the story of why certain people or groups of people (the “outliers”) have been extraordinarily successful - from the great industrialists of the 19th century, to the 20th century titans of Silicon Valley. Gladwell comes to an interesting conclusion, in that aside from the superior work ethic of these “outliers,” they were all extremely opportunistic. For example, in the 1860s and 1870s, Gladwell points out that the American economy went through perhaps the greatest transformation in its history. Wall Street was born, railroads began to take off, and industrial manufacturing skyrocketed. Now, if you were born in the 1840s, you missed it because you were probably too young to take advantage of this time. If you were born in the 1820s, you were probably too old and jaded by the toll of the Civil War. This leaves the 1830s as the time period to be born if you were to be the ideal age to take advantage of the opportunities of this time period. Gladwell also did an analysis, based on relative wealth in today’s dollars, of the wealthiest people in the history of the world. The two richest people in the history of the world were John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil, and Andrew Carnegie of Carnegie Steel Company. The wealth of these men in today’s money is 318.3 and 298.3 billion dollars, respectively. When were these two men born? Rockefeller was born in 1839 and Carnegie was born in 1835. The point of this story is that there are opportunities in every market, whether it is the Industrial Revolution or the housing meltdown of that occurred just a few years ago. In order to capitalize on such an opportunity, you have to time it correctly, make a plan, and execute it before you window closes. Rockefeller and Carnegie saw a window of opportunity in the American economy and seized it. This is what our founders did at Serrus, and it is what we continue to do as we grow. We don’t expect to be Standard Oil, and we don’t expect to be worth 300 billion dollars, but we do expect to create value for our stakeholders and for the communities we are in. We started at a time that many people were closing their doors, and because of this, we are now positioned to take advantage of the opportunities any market – bull or bear. We continue to achieve success by placing capital in the hands of experience, and strategically applying that capital in the marketplace. This is what makes Serrus an “outlier,” and why I could not be more excited for the future of our company. David White Controller


Second Ecoplosion Summit Sold Out

Draws industry leaders in Entrepreneurship, Real Estate and Economic Development January 21, 2013 | Greenville, SC –The second annual Ecoplosion summit, scheduled for January 24, 2013, at the Clemson University ICAR Campus, is now sold out. The event will be available to the public via live stream at, providing insight into our community’s plans for a robust, sustainable future. With over 325 guests, ecoplosion will create a lasting, positive impact on the community – promoting collaborative ideas that build strong communities and foster more livable environments. Randy Dobbs, who has led three companies valued at over $1 billion, will be the featured keynote speaker. After beginning his career as an hourly employee at General Electric Company, he excelled and became one of 150 corporate officers directing the global entity. Dobbs currently serves Welsh, Carson, Anderson and Stowe in various business capacities, and published Transformational Leadership in 2010. Dobbs provides leaders concrete steps to improve the internal structure of their companies and adapt in the changing and unpredictable economic climate. The summit will also host three industry expert panels that provide unparalleled experience and insight in entrepreneurship, real estate development and executive management, as well as class-A professional networking opportunities. Ecoplosion is presented by Elliott Davis, Serrus Capital Partners and Wells Fargo. The inaugural Ecoplosion event, held in January 2012 ignited collaboration across industries to create economic momentum. “We were overwhelmed by the response to ecoplosion in 2012. The people attending are willing and eager to improve our community, and can make a tremendous impact,” said Leighton Cubbage, co-founder of Serrus Capital Partners. “Ecoplosion 2013 stands at that intersection of entrepreneurship and real estate development – providing civic and business leaders a common platform to collaborate, build stronger communities and foster a more livable environment,” said Dave Wyman, Clemson Associate Director of the Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Ecoplosion is hosted by the Clemson University’s Richard H. Pennell Center for Real Estate Development and Arthur M. Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership. *To download the PDF version of this release, please CLICK HERE


Building stronger communities

By: Steve Mudge and David Wyman In 2012, the Upstate saw an uptick in annual per capita income relative to the US average for the first time in over a decade – reversing a downward growth trend sustained since 1999. While positive, the long-term trajectory shows that we, as a community, are losing economic ground when compared to other regions. Economic initiatives launched through public-private partnerships – including the Greenville Chamber Accelerate program, the GADC and the Upstate Alliance – have taken steps to benchmark key performance indicators and our progress against peer regions, but we can do more. An influx of foreign direct investment from Michelin and BMW over the last 25 years has created a robust automotive cluster, increasing quality of life while sustaining job growth. Still, we must work in cooperation to prepare our workforce, our infrastructure and our regional mindset for a new generation of economic advancement. Collaboration across industry sectors to solve the challenges of educational advancement while fostering an entrepreneurial environment that rewards innovation is imperative as we seek to build a sustainable community. The driving force behind wealth creation today, entrepreneurial-based companies provide the greatest opportunity for the Upstate to grow and prosper. Their recent growth has generated an increasing number of knowledge based, high-impact jobs averaging $36,485 more annually than current wages. Further, our Upstate cities are working hard to drive plans for a new generation of real estate developments that both attract and sustain innovative companies. Ecoplosion 2013, scheduled for Thursday, January 24 at CU-ICAR in Greenville, stands at that intersection of entrepreneurship and real estate development – providing civic and business leaders a common platform to collaborate, build stronger communities and foster a more livable environment. The second annual summit is a partnership between Upstate leaders, The Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership and The Richard H. Pennell Center for Real Estate Development that will inspire change while highlighting our responsibility to the community. Frank discussion will center on initiatives to promote entrepreneurship – creating jobs that stabilize real estate markets and in turn fuel further economic development. Featuring keynote speaker, Randy Dobbs, and industry-leading panel discussions, Ecoplosion will promote action as our region makes progress towards an inclusive community that inspires creativity, fosters collaboration and supports sustainable growth for all people. For more information on Ecoplosion 2013, panel topics and speakers, please visit


Top 50 Most Influential People in 2012

With the new year just beginning, Serrus continues to grow and our growth is being recognized by the Greenville community. For 2012, Leighton Cubbage and Steve Mudge, co-founders of Serrus Capital Partners, were honored as a part of the Top 50 Most Influential People in 2012 by Greenville Business Magazine. The article distinguishes Serrus Capital Partners by its successful community relationships. Greenville Business Magazine says, “Serrus has attracted a “who’s who” of the city’s real estate and business leaders as advisors to its two investment funds.” So, thank you to our investors and advisory board members who continue to guide our company as we grow in 2013. Click Here to read the whole article from Greenville Business Magazine!


Trust me: You don’t want to miss Ecoplosion on January 24!

My partner Steve Mudge had a bold creative idea. Wait!  I’m the wild thinker, but this time Steve was the innovative one. In 2011 he started a conversation with Clemson’s Dr. Elaine Worzala about his idea. Specifically, he wanted to gather entrepreneurs, real estate folks, Clemson leaders, and government leaders; then, they would put all these influential people in a basket (with the event being held at CU-ICAR), with an audience, and stir things up.  The result would be an explosion of thoughts and relationships to create something different and substantial.  This is my cup of tea! Last year was a rousing success. This year will be even better because it is loaded and ready to blow wide open. The reason why...because of the people. • First, the keynote speaker is Randy Dobbs. He is the only friend I have in which I literally take notes when he is talking and keep them.  Randy started under horrible life circumstances, overcame failures, and rose up to build a CEO career at General Electric. His stories will affect you like that hit Jadeveon Clowney put on the Michigan running back.  They will surprise, inspire, and amuse you, and you will never forget them. • Another in the category of “A Person I Would Walk an Hour to Hear" is Andy Monin, a former Clemson baseball player who has hit two entrepreneurial home runs. We were on a panel once together, and when my time to talk rolled around, I couldn’t make a comment because I was so engulfed in what Andy was saying. People who know me are right now doubting that statement, but I promise it was true. • Then real world winners like Stewart Spinks, who started with a small ESSO station and turned it into a dominating brand—Spinx—will be there. • Paul Trinder may be my favorite of all. Paul has an incredible business record that might outshine everybody in the room, and his sense of humor is even more bizarre than mine. Paul is an Englishman who has built enterprises all over the world, loves entrepreneurship, and has selected our area to live from a global perspective. He’s pouring his time and resources into our community and is a huge player who is making an impact.  Paul’s English wit alone is worth taking the time to attend. In all, I’m pumped about Ecoplosion. As Zig used to say, “It reminds me of the cross-eyed discus player. We won’t set any records, but we will keep the crowd alert!”


“Mac” Would Be 85

A mentor is somebody who changes your life. Harold “Mac” McKeown was my mentor. He treated me (and about 10,000 other people) like we were his most important concerns on earth. And the feeling was mutual. He changed folk’s lives. Mac was the founder and owner of “Mac’s Drive In,” the famous hamburger restaurant in Pendleton, S.C. Although he had an engineering degree, he worked for 50+ years in his restaurant, which was always packed. Most Clemson students, fans, professors, and business people in the area were customers and, like me, knew Mac “personally.” For being a landmark, the restaurant is simple: a one-room building with a row of bar stools in a diner. Clemson memorabilia is the sole decor down, from top to bottom. The cooks work in the back side, and the cash register is to the right. The TV is always on a game if possible, and while he was alive, Mac himself was there almost every hour, six days a week. Mac never, ever sat down. It’s hard to explain the impact this man had on so many people . . . how somebody like this becomes so beloved that on the day before he died, over a hundred people waited in the hall outside his hospital room, just for the chance to see him. Equally impossible is explaining why this man became so important, to so many of us, that he is still missed by legions of people. Most valuable to me is what I learned from him. Mac’s was a destination, and it still is. The food, as good as it was, was just a bonus. Everybody would walk in and immediately look for Mac. He was always so happy to see you and made you feel like a million bucks, even if you didn’t have five bucks! All the ball players would go out to Mac’s almost every school night. What I remember, as a bench warmer, was that Mac treated me just the same as he would my famous teammates. In fact, I actually thought I personally was a bigger deal to him than those other guys. Later we all found out we all felt like we were the big deal for Mac. He loved us all . . . Bostic, CJ Spiller, Ness, Cunningham, or Mudge and Cubbage. Most of the time with Mac you talked about the team or what was going on at the campus; but sometimes you would go there to eat and really to talk with Mac. There were times I went there to talk but I also I knew he would feed me without paying. (Sometimes I was so broke that I grimace to remember.) But sweet Mac wouldn’t embarrass you. And a free cheeseburger steak plate seemed heaven sent. Later as an adult when I had some success he was truly happy for me, but he still teased me in the most fun ways. On the last day before he died, I was one of the lucky ones who was able to spend a little time with him. Right before we talked, the president of the school had given Mac a plaque that was constructed to look like a Clemson school ring. As I stood in the procession in the line for my minute to talk with Mac, he could read the heavy emotion on my face. Finally, it was my turn with him, and I awkwardly said, “Mac, I’d love to have the ring gift you got from President Barker.” Mac almost knocked me down, with a great slam to my big ego, when he said, “What would you do? Mount it on the front of your Cadillac?” I treasure that moment! How appropriate that a man who impacted so many lives, instinctively and with humility, gave me one more lesson. Now—three years later, on Mac’s birthday—I thank God for the the privilege to know and be taught by an example of a rare and wonderful leader. Happy birthday, Mac. We miss you. Cub


You Are My Horse

Last night I had a great dinner with my partners Steve, Amanda, and Tammy. The conversation turned to great memories of Christmas and family. I’ve always been a little too proud to talk about my most powerful family moment, but I told them, and now that I have broken that barrier, I will tell everybody. My greatest family moment came at a time when my life was falling apart. Coming from Sumter, where both my older brothers were great football players (one was an All- American and was denied playing for the Packers only because of injury), my self-image was about being a football player. I was blessed to have had a good high school career on some championship teams and had a chance to get a four year scholarship to Clemson. After four years of struggling on the team, barely playing in a few games and mostly being on the junior varsity, I made a bad mistake. With my smart mouth, I made a comment about an assistant coach as he walked into the cafeteria, and I got a huge laugh. This coach got the last laugh, however, as he took me off the traveling team and even off the squad that gets to dress out for the game. That was indescribable humiliation because I self-identified myself as a Clemson linebacker, and the next game I had to walk into the stands and sit with my family. Folks saw me and, naturally, asked questions. Talk about feeling embarrassed and bad about myself. The next few days I went through painful introspection and faced some cold facts. First, I was a senior in college with very little chance of graduating unless I took massive action to take a heavy course load and make A’s. Second, I was kidding myself about any future in football. My pride was in knots. Trained to never quit, it was time for me to make that difficult decision. I packed up my room in the “jock dorm.” With everything packed and ready to transport to the car, I pulled up a chair and cried. Feeling sorry for myself, hating that my dream was over and really scared about my future, I sat there for at least an hour in self-pity. Then I walked to the phone and called home to Sumter. My mamma answered, and I asked if I could speak to my daddy. He got on the phone, and I had to tell him what I was doing. I can’t remember how I told him, but I’ll never forget his words in response: “Son, you are MY horse if you never win a race!” In that moment, the burden of the world was off my back. My father had given me the most reassuring love when I was at the lowest point in my life, and he had no conditions for loving me. The words changed my life, and I caught on fire in the class room making A’s and graduating. Within the next couple of years, I opened two restaurants in Columbia, making and delivering pizzas. It was the beginning of my life, made possible by my dad Ladson Cubbage, who had given me the gift of unconditional love. In my heart, and on behalf of all of our Serrus team, I pray you will feel and give away one of the greatest gifts this Christmas. And if you ever forget, you are always somebody’s horse, even if you never win a race! Leighton Cubbage


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