April 12, 2012
Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily –
It was quite something to see dozens and dozens of Georgia Tech student-athletes dressed to the nines Wednesday night. There was nothing athletic about what they were doing in the bowels of Bobby Dodd Stadium, but they were working.
To be precise, the Yellow Jackets were networking – for real.
With some 15 or so big-time companies represented, student-athletes from several sports were busy taking names, giving resumes, asking questions and getting a leg up and a foot in the door(s).
The event was similar to something that football head coach Paul Johnson put together last year, and it expanded with the help of assistant athletic director Doug Allvine and director of total person support services Leah Thomas into a considerably larger event.
Were there a rating system, backup center Nick McRae surely would’ve landed near the top of any list pointed toward sartorial splendor. His suit appeared to fit perfectly, his tie was exquisite, his attache had a Fortune 500 look to it, and he sure sounded like he knew what he was doing – and what he wants to do.
“Last year we had something that was specific to football players, a networking dinner. I’m less nervous this time,” he said after speaking with recruiters from AT&T. “I’m kind of open-minded, but I really think the perfect job for me would be to work in a company like Nike or Under Armor, maybe work in their marketing department.
“I want to deal with sports; I’m still a sports fan and I want to stick around sports as long as I can.”
McRae reference last year because he was there even though he wasn’t yet on the verge of graduating. Same thing Wednesday night, when several underclassmen like basketball player Mfon Udofia, volleyball player Monique Mead and tennis player Juan Spir – all juniors – were on board.
It was interesting, too, that several athletes whom you would think have realistic expectations to soon make a living as athletes were in attendance, working on contingency plans.
There was All-ACC guard Omoregie Uzzi, for example, and junior safety Isaiah Johnson . Don’t take their appearance Wednesday to mean that they’re not interested in making a run at professional football careers. Look at it as them covering bases. Life in the NFL would be great, if it works out that way, but they’re not banking anything yet.
“I’m just glad to have the opportunity to do something like this, and to learn about the process and to differentiate yourself from other people,” Uzzi said. “I have a lot of friends . . . I feel that compared to them I’m more well prepared [to enter the “real world].”
“A lot of my friends on the Tech football team weren’t fortunate enough to go to the NFL, but I have a couple who just recently gained job offers from nice companies.”
Indeed. Off the top of the head, recent football players Albert Rocker, Anthony Egbuniwe and B.J. Machen all scored jobs with Microsoft. As McRae said, “To think about when you see other people who are successful and they get jobs, it gives you more incentive, more hope to come to something like this.”
Sometimes, hope travels many miles.
Spir, a native of Medellin, Colombia, wasn’t the only student-athlete from foreign lands to attend. Basketball player Danielle Hamilton-Carter, a Swede, was among others.
To at least one set of eyes, they had more than a passing idea what they were doing. Spir confirmed it.
“It’s all about networking, how to approach an interview, how to get contact information, how to dress, how to have dinner with a business person. It gives you so much clarity,” he said. “Actually, I’ve learned a lot of that in my building construction class with Dr. Debbie Phillips. [Some professors] help you build your resume.”
There is no shortage of examples of the value of a degree from Tech. If a diploma can be equated with a key to one’s future, few in the know would consider it a stretch to say that a Tech degree is a key that will open more than the standard number of doors.
Potential employers flock to Tech, relatively speaking, because it’s no secret in the professional world that making it all the way through school on The Flats means that a young person is – to use the words of a couple student-athletes on Wednesday – “battle tested.” That’s even more true in situations where graduates have done internships.
Much as recruiters appreciate the value of a Tech degree, student-athletes are emboldened by the very same knowledge. Their collective confidence level, no doubt also related to time spent competing on fields of play, was impossible to miss.
“I definitely would agree with that; Tech is very special,” said Mead. “Not many colleges require you to have two sciences and two maths in order to get your degree, and that’s with any degree.
“My degree is business administration with a concentration on marketing,and having to take those . . . it gives you an extra boost in your resume. It’s not an easy school that you can breeze through. You’ve got to work when you get here, pay attention, make sure you’re studying and be in your classes. It’s a school that trains you to work hard.”
There’s something special about hard work and Tech graduates.
Some recruiters, like Simit Shah of Turner/CNN, were Tech grads. He studied IT while on the Flats, and although he not a student-athlete he remains a frequently-seen fan of the Jackets. Just 36, he rose to executive level at CNN, where he was (and still is) one of the masterminds behind the news giant’s web operations.
Shah’s a fine example of a Techie done well. If you catch him in the right mood, he just might admit to being semi-retired for the time being. He still consults liberally with CNN, however, travels to work with other large companies, and even consults with the Tech Athletic Association.
In speaking to the Jackets, Shah referenced former football player Osahon Tongo, who now works for Turner. There are plenty of examples of former Tech student-athletes for the present crop to look to for inspiration.
At least one of them was in the room Wednesday.
Jason Davis was a walk-on football player at Tech from 2005-’09. He’s in sales now with AT&T. He doesn’t usually do recruiting work, but he got the call Wednesday and loved it.
“A degree from Georgia Tech is ahead of a lot of other places because of what you go through here,” said the former Duluth High star. “It’s still up to you to take the next step as far as personal and professional development. But there is no doubt about it; when I walk into the work place and they hear, ‘Georgia Tech grad,’ it’s definitely impressive.
“Every kid who is a football player dreams of being able to go to the NFL, but I knew that you can’t play forever and there’s a very small percentage that make it. I applied to Duke, Vanderbilt, Stanford . . . those kinds of schools. As I did more research, I realized I had that in my own back yard.”
Davis was not a star at Tech, but he had a Rudy moment of sorts.
He didn’t play in a game for Johnson in ’08, and injuries were a recurring problem for him while in college. After red-shirting in ’05, he played in one game in ’06 and carried twice for 3 yards against Duke.
In ’07, against Samford he carried eight times for 33 yards – and a touchdown.
That moment is burned into memory as a metaphor depicting the Tech experience at large: work your tail off, and good things are likely to happen. When they do, score your own TD.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Davis said when asked if that lone touchdown stands on special ground in his mind. “There are guys who are four-year starters who never score a touchdown. To be able to take advantage of the opportunity when I was in the game was extremely rewarding. It’s something I’ll be able to tell my kids and grand kids.
“It was a big moment, and it goes to show that if you work hard you’ll get an opportunity.”
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