Astronaut, former Golden Eagle Wilmore to speak from space tonight at Awards Dinner

Astronaut, former Golden Eagle Wilmore to speak from space tonight at Awards Dinner

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Former Tennessee Tech football standout Barry Wilmore, who is orbiting the earth aboard the International Space Station, will deliver the official welcome and a taped message to the honorees tonight at the annual National Football Foundation Middle Tennessee Chapter Dinner. The event, which will bring together some of the most outstanding high school and college players from the mid-state, will be held at the Sheraton Music City Hotel.

As a senior for the Golden Eagles in 1984, Wilmore record 143 total tackles, which ranks third on the school's all-time single-season tackles list. He recorded 21 tackles in a game against Austin Peay, which is the second-most in the program's history.

The Middle Tennessee Chapter will honor 61 local high school players at the event by presenting each with a $500 scholarship in recognition for their accomplishments on and off the field.

In 2010 the chapter honored Wilmore with the Fred Russell Distinguished American Award.

Wilmore and two Russian cosmonauts traveled to the Space Station on Sept. 25. Wilmore assumed command of the expedition in November. Since he's been in orbit, Wilmore has Tweeted pictures of himself watching college and NFL games on his computer and wearing a Tennessee Tech sweatshirt and Predators jerseys on game days.

Wilmore will return on March 12 after spending 167 days in space.

"It's hard to imagine a more demanding role than commanding the International Space Station," said NFF chairman Archie Manning. "Barry Wilmore represents the countless number of football players who have taken important life lessons away from the gridiron to become leaders later in life."

NFF Middle Tennessee Chapter president Bob Sullins said the expected gathering of about 600 will hear a message from a former student-athlete who excelled in both the classroom and on the field.

"His accomplishments and his history as a college football player send a strong message to our scholar-athletes about the opportunities created by playing football," Sullins said.

Wilmore, 51, played linebacker at Tech as a walk-on. He started as a freshman in 1981, and he led the team as a captain his senior season in 1984. He was inducted into the Golden Eagles Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.

“Barry was always a tremendous competitor,” said Dewayne Alexander, who played with Wilmore at Tennessee Tech and now serves as the assistant head coach on offense for the Golden Eagles. “He was not the biggest or fastest, but he always came with a great attitude. He was a walk on, and he wanted to prove to people that he could do it. He never missed a game or practice… If you knew Barry, you’re not surprised by what he has accomplished. He flew some of the first combat missions during the first Iraqi war, taught at Top Gun and commanded the Space Shuttle. When he puts his mind to it, he can do anything, and he’s always very humble.”

Alexander, who serves on the board of the chapter, worked with NASA to arrange the taping of the special message for the scholar-athletes.

“It’s not surprising to me that Barry wanted to do this,” said Alexander. “When he was presented the chapter’s Distinguished American Award in2010, he applauded every kid that came across the stage. Our banquet is not just about recognizing football players but those who have excelled off the field. Barry loved playing the game, but more importantly he is grateful for the characteristics that it has instilled in him.”

Raised in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., Wilmore graduated from Tennessee Tech with a bachelor’s degree in science and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and aviation systems. A highly decorated pilot and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, he amassed more than 6,800 flight hours, 663 carrier landings, and 21 combat missions.  His service includes Operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield and missions over Bosnia. He joined NASA in 2000, and he has logged more than 259 hours in space, including shuttle flights to the International Space Station and several spacewalks.

“Using his perch high above the earth provides a unique way to inspire today’s student-athletes with a message that the sky really is the limit,” Manning said.

“Our chapters stage countless events each year, honoring more than 3,300 high school scholar-athletes and distributing more than $1 million,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “Each chapter has its own unique tradition for creating a special night for the honorees. This year the Middle Tennessee Chapter has certainly established a new high water mark for creativity. We know that Commander Wilmore’s remarks will be an extremely memorable moment for the student-athletes in attendance, and we applaud everybody at the chapter who played a role in making this happen.”

About the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame
Founded in 1947 with early leadership from General Douglas MacArthur, legendary Army coach Earl "Red" Blaik and immortal journalist Grantland Rice, The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame is a non-profit educational organization that runs programs designed to use the power of amateur football in developing scholarship, citizenship and athletic achievement in young people. With 120 chapters and 12,000 members nationwide, NFF programs include the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, the NFF Leadership Hall of Fame, the NFF Scholar-Athlete Awards presented by Fidelity Investments, the NFF High School Showcases, the NFF Hampshire Honor Society, the NFF Faculty Salute Initiative presented by Fidelity Investments, the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Alumni Association, and scholarships of more than $1.3 million for college and high school scholar-athletes. The NFF also collaborates with the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) to release the FWAA-NFF Grantland Rice Super 16 Poll; awards the William V. Campbell Trophy presented by Fidelity Investments and prominently displayed at its official home inside the New York Athletic Club; and bestows several other major awards at the NFF Annual Awards Dinner. NFF corporate partners include the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Fidelity Investments, Herff Jones, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, the Sports Business Journal and Under Armour. Learn more at