Behind the scenes: UT academic services
AUSTIN, Texas -- Preparation, dedication and determination are critical elements in achieving success on the playing field, but for University of Texas student-athletes, those traits are just as critical for prosperity in the classroom. Just as the football team spends the final 30 minutes of every practice working on the two-minute drill, time is of the essence for success in the classroom as well.
So how do Longhorns student-athletes manage to achieve success both on the field and in the classroom? This is where Assistant Athletics Director for Academic Services Brian Davis and his staff come in. Their job is to provide the student-athletes with the tools needed to excel in the classroom so they may continue to excel on the field. His staff of two full-time employees and more than 60 tutors and mentors is available to assist the student-athletes with their schoolwork.
The most difficult challenge these athletes face is the transition from high school to college. It brings freedom from parents and concerned teachers, but along with that independence comes added responsibility. Time management becomes a critical concept and most incoming freshman need assistance in developing that skill.
"Our focus begins with recruiting and the transition from high school to college," Davis said. "As student-athletes, not only is their first semester in college a tough transition, but it is also their first season as a college football player. We base our program on that foundation. We have to take the student-athlete and make sure that they're equipped to be competitive in the classroom knowing that they do not have as much time to work on academics as some of their peers."
Davis and his staff incorporate a variety of methods to make the transition into college academia easier for the incoming freshmen. Study hall is required for a minimum of two hours a night, five nights a week for all freshmen, regardless of their academic credentials. Davis' staff also sets up appointments with tutors and monitors class attendance. Along with Davis and his staff of assistants, The University of Texas is home to two top-notch computer laboratories in the Bible Academic Center in Bellmont Hall and the Academic Learning Center facility in the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletics Complex. The computers are hooked up to the campus mainframe and can be used to check email and grades or work on research papers. There are also various study rooms where the student-athletes can meet with tutors or study groups.
"There are all kinds of tools available on the Web, which are provided by the faculty, to help the students in their courses and we give them access to that," Davis said. "One of the neat things for the football students is that one of the labs is only 50 feet from their locker room. It is an efficient and convenient way for them to get things done before or after practice."
Not only does UT have one of the top facilities in the country for student-athletes, but it also boasts of excellent programs in life skills and career choices. Football Life Skills Coordinator Jean Bryant is in charge of developing and implementing these programs. Two of the year's highlights in the Longhorns' extensive life skills training calendar are the annual Major Exploration and Career Exploration nights.
"During Major Exploration Night, the athletes meet with representatives of different departments on campus that are of interest to them," Davis said. "They have the opportunity to learn one-on-one from the faculty what a particular discipline consists of. Career Exploration Night is where they actually sit down with a member of the community in the profession that they are wanting to pursue and get to ask questions and receive advice."
Utilizing the services that are available is an essential component for the academic success of a student-athlete. They must learn to make the most of their time management skills in order to balance their busy schedule of classes, homework, practice and games. When Davis talks to recruits about this subject, the 20-year veteran of academic counseling uses a sports-related analogy.
"You don't walk into the weight room and automatically get bigger, stronger and faster," he said. "At the same time, you don't walk into study hall and get sprinkled with magic smart dust. You have to work just as hard in study hall as you do in the weight room or on the practice field."
Davis' formula and focus along with head coach Mack Brown's commitment to excellence on academics and athletics has paid dividends. Since Brown arrived at Texas in December 1997, the football squad has averaged 34 players per semester on the Athletics Director's Honor Roll (3.0 GPA or better). That average includes a record 49 players reaching the standard last year with three of those student-athletes garnering a perfect 4.0 status — senior defensive back Brandon Hedgecock, junior running back Brett Robin and former Longhorns punter Ryan Long. In the six years prior to Brown's arrival, an average of 26 players were named to the honor roll per semester.
"I have been fortunate to work as a head coach at schools that didn't take any short cuts when it comes to education," Brown said. "At Texas, we have a system in place that allows for the maximum support of our players in their classroom work. Brian Davis and Jean Bryant give the players skills that not only will help them graduate but will help them function in a business and social world beyond college. I have the utmost respect for both of them. Brian not only does a great job with our players, but he also has demonstrated to our faculty that we have a commitment to success in the classroom as well as on the playing field."
UT's excellence in the classroom hasn't gone unnoticed nationally either. The Longhorns have had a Verizon Academic All-American five of the last seven years and a total of 23 (T-No. 4 nationally) in school history since 1952, the first year the award was handed out.
"Brian Davis, Jean and the academic staff bend over backwards to help us wherever they can," Robin said. "That is a great motivating factor, and once you get that UT degree, you really have something great."
"There are a lot of former Longhorns players in the NFL or with good jobs in society," senior offensive guard Derrick Dockery said. "That was a real big factor in me coming to UT. When you earn a degree at a university as prestigious as UT, you will have the chance to get a great job, or if you're fortunate enough, to play in the NFL."
Although it may be difficult for student-athletes to learn how to budget time in college while still in high school, they need to be prepared to learn how once they arrive on campus. To possess the understanding that there will be tremendous pressure on them to change their lifestyle is the first step in acquiring the right skills. If they can accomplish that, then they'll be on the right path to achieving success both in the classroom and on the field.