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Spurs Up Seminar Connects Athletics Alumni with Student-Athletes
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Spurs Up Seminar Connects Athletics Alumni with Student-Athletes

by Brad Muller, Director of Content

While they’re not quite ready to walk across the graduation stage yet, South Carolina senior student-athletes took part in a SPURS UP seminar to learn how to make the transition to professional life after college. Five former student-athletes served on a panel for the Zoom seminar to give their perspective.

“Our goal with SPURS UP is for the senior student-athletes to leave the event feeling prepared, united, and ready for life beyond Carolina,” Said Caroline Neil, Assistant Director of Student-Athlete Development. “By harnessing the power of shared experiences across sports and generations of Gamecocks, our hope is that our senior student-athletes step confidently in their post-graduation careers. This event puts the finishing touches on all of the hard work they have put in prior to now.”

“It was cool to see their passion for wanting to help current student-athletes,” said senior softball student-athlete Anna Vest, who is studying public health and plans to apply to graduate school for speech pathology. “I think that it’s awesome that the Athletics Department cares enough about us to have things like this in order to prepare us for the next step because college doesn’t last forever.”

“It showed to me that athletes can transition and be successful in everyday lives,” said men’s soccer senior Justin Bauer, who is a marketing major in the Darla Moore School of Business.  “When we are playing our sports day in and day out and doing everything to get to the next level.  Sometimes we lose sight in the big picture of what down the road can look like and those panelists shed some light that it can still be a bright future without sports. Jay Brown explained something that stuck with me and that is not everyone knows exactly what they want to do in the work place when they get out of college, but if we put in the dedication, work ethic, and passion we have from our sport into say a financial position or a sales position, because of what we have been through with practices and competitions so often ,we will succeed in that workplace simply because of those values we have learned in the years of sport.”

“Being an athlete, you’ll find that you are able to handle a lot more stress than other people.”
– JT Ibe

The alumni panel included former student-athletes Jay Brown (baseball, 2007-2010), Lisa Burgess (basketball, 1995-1999), Carlton Heard (football, 2012-2015), JT Ibe (football, 2018-2019), and Aisha Taylor (1998-2002, track and field). Among the topics discussed was understanding how daunting it can be when an athletics career comes to an end.

“There’s a loss that happens when you’re no longer an athlete,” said Burgess, who is a commercial banker for Wells Fargo in Columbia. “You’re going to feel lost, but there’s a whole community of us out there who have experienced it. I was a business major, but I didn’t really know what that would look like. I had access to a women’s basketball network, so I did some interning to have an idea of things I didn’t want to do. I started by eliminating what I didn’t like to do by talking to people and doing internships.”
Spurs Up Panelists
“Almost everybody wanted to go professional in their sport, but sometimes that decision is made for you,” said Brown, who is now a financial planner for Cornerstone Financial Management in Columbia. “I did some baseball coaching for a couple of years. I learned very quickly that that wasn’t the lifestyle for me. Then I did fundraising at South Carolina for a couple of years, but after starting a family, combined with financial conversations with donors, I was able to find out that financial planning was exactly what I was supposed to do be doing.”

“After college, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” said Heard, who is now a video producer Georgia Power. “I didn’t really think about what’s next. I figured out that I really loved to make videos. I did a lot of free work and a lot projects to get my foot into the door at a company. I went to work at Auburn and then to Georgia Power. If you have a passion for it, the job will not feel like a job when you wake up.”

The alumni also noted that the current Gamecocks can have a leg up in finding work if they apply the skills and habits from being a student-athlete into the professional world.

“Sports gives you natural leadership skills,” said Taylor, who is now a commissioner for the South Carolina Worker’s Compensation Commission. “You have to be able to go out into any situation and handle yourself. That translates into the legal profession where you have to go out and perform. Now as a judge, I have to maintain that high level of confidence because we’re making big decisions. The skills you gain by playing a sport translate into the corporate world and a lot of other professional environments.”

“As athletes, we know how to hustle,” said Ibe, who graduated last spring and now works in software sales for HashiCorp. “We’ve grinded for something our whole lives. The things that translated for me were teamwork and adaptation. Audibles happen in sales! Being an athlete, you’ll find that you are able to handle a lot more stress than other people.”

While each was able to chronicle ups and downs in their career paths, the alumni encouraged the student-athletes to seek out mentors and use their current platform to help them network with professionals. They also encouraged the Gamecocks to be patient, coachable and adaptable.

“You’re going to find that your family situation changes,” Burgess said. “There are times you are going to navigate through a role in your company that you know you have to take because it’s a skill set you have to learn before you take the next step. You need to patient with that. Many times, as athletes, we rush that process in the corporate world. You may not rise as quickly as you think you should, but you are going to have times when you fall flat. That pushes you to be motivated to go out and seek those mentors and find your way out of that plateau you may be on.”

Overall, the current student-athletes found useful information from the seminar, even if none of the alumni were in their field of study.

“Aisha (Taylor) answered a question I submitted about going to graduate school and what you do with your free time since you’re not an athlete anymore,” Vest said. “That’s something I’ve been thinking about since I wouldn’t be practicing 20 hours per week. She said, yes, I would have free time, but she took time to read the intro I sent about myself, and she said she knew through friends of hers that were in speech pathology that I wouldn’t have as much free time as I expect because of clinicals and things like that. So, it was helpful for her to share that along with what she did.”

The Spurs Up seminars are mandatory programming for student-athletes throughout the year. The next session will be held on October 12 and will feature breakout sessions on finding a job during a pandemic, negotiations/human resources, and succeeding minority/international young professional. For the former Gamecocks, coming back to share their experiences was an important use of their time.

“It was a no brainer for me,” Heard said. “I really struggled right after college. I went through a lot. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was depressed. It was stressful. Coming back and giving back so they wouldn’t have to go through what I went through; I just want to help them bypass those moments.”