Other than learning not to let a news crew into the house before 8:00 a.m., Michels story has a lesson to teach from his life.
Michaels, 22, is a man of simple means and simple taste. He lives at home, where he has always lived. And according to his mother Cheryl, his story can be summed up in the one sentence that every teacher always told him.
"He could go a long way if he'd just apply himself," she recalls. They were words she had heard too many times.
"All the time every day," says Michaels adding with a gesture that every word "Went in this ear and out this one."
In fact, before Michaels became a T-shirt maker, he was one of Cortland High School's all time lazybones. Teachers there still remember his remarkable under-achievements. He turned in the exact same book report three years in a row and graduated by the slimmest possible margin.
Michaels says his graduation day was the first time his parents had occasion to be proud of his academics. It would also be the last.
After high school Michaels tried community college. But he slept through one too many classes and had to drop out. But last year, Michaels decided to change. He became an entrepreneur.
"Entrepreneur. Yep, absolutely! Me, of all people," he says.
Michaels no longer works for the T-shirt company.
"When I was in high school I didn't think I'd own anything to be honest with you," he says.
Michaels now owns the T-shirt company and is the youngest business owner in Cortland. His company is called Reflex Sportswear; he and partner took out an $18,000 loan to buy it.
"There's money that pays all the bills. It's just paying us that's the hard part right now," says Michaels.
"He's very driven now. And I'm happy. I'm thrilled. I'm just thinking, 'Wow, is this going to continue!?'" his mom wonders.
What turned him around? Blue eyes and blond curls for one. He's getting married in June and wants to be a good provider. But Michaels says he wanted to make up for 20 years of disappointing mom.
Teary-eyed, Michaels says: "She looked at me and she sai, 'Eric, it doesn't matter to me whether you go to college or you print T-shirts the rest of your life. I'm proud of you no matter what.' That's my mom."
Sooner - or in this case later - we all feel that compulsion to prove ourselves to our parents. And as Michaels knows, once you feel it, there's no turning back.
"I could definitely see myself running for mayor of Cortland," he says and his mom agrees.
"Yea, he thinks he'd be a good mayor." says Cheryl.
Just as long as he doesn't have the same city council meeting three times in a row. "Yea, can't get away with that one," says his mom.
But Lord knows the old Eric Michaels would have tried.
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