Above photo: Adam Hill
After opportunities to play their sport professionally, former University of South Carolina student-athletes are coming back to school to graduate through the Athletics Department’s Degree Completion Program.
“Getting that degree means a little more than just saying you went to school there,” said former pitcher Tyler Webb (2010-2013) who was taken in the tenth round of the Major League Baseball draft by the New York Yankees and spent ten years in professional baseball, including five years at the MLB level. He’s now working towards a degree in retail management. “It’s important to finish what you’ve started.”
“It’s just amazing and it speaks to what a great place South Carolina is,” said Adam Hill (2016-2018), a former pitcher who was selected in the fourth round of the 2018 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets and is now a volunteer assistant at Lander University in Greenwood, S.C., as part of an internship through South Carolina while he finishes his degree in sport and entertainment management “Even after you’re done playing there, they still look after you and want to take care of you. I’ve always been a die-hard Gamecock fan. My dream was always to play there, so to finally get a degree is just awesome. It was important for me to come back and finish. I love South Carolina, and I always wanted to be a graduate.”
The Carolina Degree Completion Program, which is part of the Gamecock Student-Athlete Promise, is for student-athletes who left the university in good academic standing to pursue a professional career or did not complete their degree due to personal circumstances. The program allows them to apply to be readmitted to come back to campus and finish their degree while eligible to receive funding for room, board, books, and tuition. They also have access to all of the resources offered to current student-athletes, such as tutors, laptops, and use of the Dodie Anderson Academic Enrichment Center. Some may not need all of the assistance as it’s not uncommon to have a return to school written into professional contracts. Either way, it’s a great opportunity.
“I think it’s important because I’m retired and out of sports now, and when athletes leave their sport, they’re ready to join the real world and they’re in a little bit of a vulnerable position,” said Tyler Johnson, who is getting his degree in public health in December. “This degree program gives athletes a chance to get their feet under them and take a step back to see what they really want to do.”
“I didn’t have anything written into my contract, so everything I’m doing is through this program,” Webb said. “I’m doing a foreign language, so I thought I would need a tutor just to be on the safe side and to stay on top of it. Everything I needed from the first time I was in school here has been provided. It’s great to be treated the same now that I’m a former student-athlete as I was when I was participating in a sport.”
“My goal was to play professionally, which I ended up doing,” said former outfielder Alex Destino (2015-2017), who was drafted in the 24th round by the Chicago White Sox in 2017. He’ll earn a degree in services management in December. “Having the opportunity to leave after my junior year to pursue my lifelong dream was great. One thing that professional baseball does well is give you the opportunity to go back to school and negotiate that into your contract. It all worked out well for me. It was always very important for me to be able to come back to school.”
Many of the former student-athletes are taking their courses online while others are taking them in-person.
“It’s been a bit of weird dynamic going back into classes,” said Johnson, who took some online classes and is taking them in person this fall. “It’s not hard to buckle down. It’s a lot easier to focus and sit down to do the work. My grades are better now than they ever have been. The transition has been pretty easy for me.”
“It’s a lot easier when you only have to focus on school and not school and a sport,” Destino said. “It’s been amazing! It was very important for me to get my degree from South Carolina. My mom got her doctorate online, and she always joked with me that if she could do it in her 50s, then I could do it when I’m 27.”
“I think it’s a lot easier because you’re a little more mature and settled,” said Webb who is also doing internships in-person. “You don’t have as many restraints, timewise, with trying to have a social life or anything else. You’re just finishing your degree. It was a little daunting at first, but you’re more settled down compared to when you’re 18 to 21 years old. I jumped into it pretty aggressively in the summer. Those were more accelerated classes. Online classes are great because students now would probably think I’m the professor or something since I’m so much older than them.”
There are nine former Gamecocks currently enrolled in the Degree Completion Program, and they’re thankful for the chance to finish what they started.
“It’s phenomenal. I’ve been going through Maria Hickman, and it’s nice to have a familiar face helping you through the process,” Destino said. “She has been unbelievable in this process for me! It’s intimidating when you’ve been in a professional sport for six years and then it ends very quickly. She has made the entire process much easier and less stressful.”
“It’s extremely generous for the school to do it, and I think it’s necessary,” Johnson said. “I hope other schools out there do something similar. If not, they need to.”