The summer of 1996 was a busy one for Eric and Cheryl Fritsch. After earning his Ph.D. in criminal justice from Sam Houston State University the previous year, Eric had just accepted a position as an assistant professor with the University of North Texas. The new job meant the young couple would have to find a new home as they relocated from Austin to Denton.
And in the middle of all the madness of starting a new job and moving across the state, the Fritsches were also preparing to welcome their first child that July.
“It was extraordinarily chaotic,” recalls Eric. “We came up [to Denton] to find a place to live, then I left my wife in Austin with my mother-in-law while my father-in-law and others help me move us in.
“We set up the crib and got the baby’s room ready and all that. Then we go back down to Austin where Jerod was born and two weeks later we loaded him up and moved up here.”
Despite being born in Austin, Jerod is as true a Dentonite as there ever was, with many of his childhood memories being formed around the UNT campus. He remembers watching Fourth of July fireworks outside his father’s office in Chilton Hall every summer, followed by autumn Saturdays at Fouts Field cheering on the Mean Green.
“We’d always have season tickets to football, so I grew up going to games at Fouts Field in the days when they would throw tortillas on the field and all that,” says Jerod. “It was a good time growing up in this community, for sure.”
Athletics have always played a big role in the Fritsch family. Cheryl was an All-Southland Conference softball player at Sam Houston State, where the couple met, and although Eric’s basketball career ended in high school, he’s always been a passionate football fan, admitting he even tunes in to the Tuesday night college games that “probably nobody else watches.”
So it should be no surprise that Jerod developed a love for football as well, going on to play for the Guyer High School football team that won back-to-back Texas Class 4A State Championships in 2012 and 2013, finishing with a combined record of 30-3 through his two varsity seasons. And as an all-district and all-area first-team selection at 6-foot-5-inches tall and 250 pounds, Jerod had plenty of collegiate options to choose from.
Finding His Way
Jerod ultimately decided the best offer presented to him was a full-ride football scholarship to Northwestern State University in Louisiana. But he struggled to find a balance between participating in an NCAA Division I athletic program and the ambitious 17 hours of classes he enrolled in for his first semester.
“It was a heavy load for me, so it was kind of a lot to take in,” says Jerod. “I didn’t do as well as I wanted to academically. I want a long-term career, so I wanted to be able to focus on academics as well as football.”
After a single semester at NSU, Jerod decided to put his athletic endeavors on hold and transfer to community college so he could focus on improving his grades. He spent the next three semesters at North Central Texas College rehabbing his GPA before he knew he was ready to strike the proper balance between athletics and academics.
Jerod transferred to UNT for the fall 2016 semester and was able to walk on to the football team, but he was ineligible to play that semester under NCAA rules since he hadn’t earned an Associate’s degree while he was at community college. That didn’t stop him from contributing to the program’s 2016 season though, as he was able to join the scout team that helps the starters prepare for each opponent.
And although Eric jokes his oldest son “could stop by a little bit more,” he’s happy that Jerod’s making more memories on the UNT campus.
“I’ve been here 21 years and I don’t plan on going anywhere else. I don’t want to say the cliché ‘I bleed green,’ but they do put that on T-shirts, so I guess I bleed green,” Eric says with a smile. “So to have my son here, just from an academic standpoint, it’s excellent that he’s chosen UNT for his academic career.”
Now that academic career has led Jerod to pursue a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Finance and a Master’s in Accounting, which means the offensive lineman has made a second home out of UNT’s Business Leadership Building.
“My first semester here, a friend and I would go to the BLB every night after football practice and hang out there until it closed,” says Jerod, adding that members of the building’s Biz Café staff became so familiar with the study partners that they often offered them the day’s leftovers before shutting down. “It’s a nice place to hang out and the whole community over there is all so friendly.”
Jerod plans to parlay his business degrees into a career as a CPA, aiming to model his path off that of his uncle who worked as a public accountant for 19 years before becoming CEO of an oil and gas firm. But before conquering the business world, he’ll spend the next two years playing offensive line for the team he grew up cheering for.
Since moving to Denton over 20 years ago, Eric has spent plenty of time wearing the hat of both sports fan and father. On top of his oldest son’s football career, he also has a daughter entering high school who plays volleyball, a second football playing son in seventh grade and a 10-year-old son who plays club soccer.
Now a professor and the chair of UNT’s Department of Criminal Justice, he’s also been taking those kids to UNT football games as a season ticket holder for the better part of two decades, and he’s had the same seats at Apogee Stadium since the venue opened (except for the season Jerod spent at Northwestern State). This season he plans to relocate his seats from the area where the defensive unit sets up to an area closer to the offense’s portion of the sideline.
Because even though he’s spent years supporting UNT football and cheering on his kids at various sporting events, this is the first time the two will intersect.
“As a parent, it’s always awesome watching your children play sports,” says Eric. “But to see your child excel to the point where he can play for a major college athletic program—and one that means so much to me on top of that—is going to be extra special.”