Training table. Ludicrous amounts of athletic gear. Thousands of followers on social media. These are some of the perks of being a student athlete at a large university. I should know, as I happen to be one myself. My name is Rodrigo Blankenship, and I am a kicker for the University of Georgia’s football team. I came to UGA ranked a Top 5 kicker in the country for the 2015 recruiting class. I finished my senior year at Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia, where I took five Advanced Placement (AP) classes, graduated with a 4.0 GPA, set every single season and career school record one can imagine a kicker could earn, and was named a U.S Army All-American. I thought I knew just about everything about how to successfully balance being an elite athlete and a high-achieving student at the same time, all while retaining some semblance of a social life.
Now, as I enter my final semester to earn my undergraduate degree in Journalism and my fourth season as a member of UGA’s football team, I understand that the collegiate level is an entirely different beast. College has been the most time-consuming, most physically-taxing, and most stressful time in my life as a scholar-athlete. I decided to take a look at other scholar/athletes from a wide variety of sports at the University of Georgia to see what they might have to teach the thousands of students who dream of success in sports and in school. We are about to go beyond the lines of the courts, the fields, and the tracks to see what it is like to be a high-achieving student and athlete at the college level.
PART THREE: BASEBALL
Listed generously at 5'9 on the official roster on Georgia's team website, Zac Kristofak is short for his position. It is advantageous for a baseball pitcher to be on the taller side, as it means he can create a more drastic change in the batter's "eye level" when he releases an off-speed pitch or breaking ball. Kristofak has been up against it his entire career while on the mound, but he hasn't let that stop him from ascending to great heights on a pitching staff for a prominent team in the SEC, a conference who's teams have either won or competed in the College World Series in 10 of the last 11 seasons (ncaa.com, 2018).
Kristofak is the team's leader in appearances on Georgia's pitching staff in the upcoming 2019 season, and looks to build off of last year's 42 1/3 innings, 58 strikeout performance in which he earned four wins, four saves, and held opponents to a sub-.240 batting average (georgiadogs.com, 2018). Kristofak's outlook on the 2019 season for himself and his team are ambitious, and that's just the way he likes it. But as he progresses further into his Consumer Economics degree, academics loom larger in his life with every passing semester.
Here are some academic and athletic keys to success for Zac Kristofak :
- Academic: Ask for a tutor at Rankin
- Academic: Don't waste travel time (on the bus or plane). Get work done while on the go
- Academic: Nobody wants to, but be prepared for the all-nighters
- Athletic: See the athletic trainer often
- Athletic: Be as serious about weight training as about on-field skills
- Athletic: Be mindful of the workload in the "offseason" (summer). The team needs you fresh for the season
Sports Psychologist Drew Brannon
I spoke with Dr. Drew Brannon, a sports psychologist who serves as President of Synergy Psych (a division of Synergy Performance Group) and has worked with the University of Georgia Athletic Association since 2006 (synergyperformancesc.com, 2018). I asked Dr. Brannon about why it is so difficult to be a high-achieving student athlete, like Kristofak, at the college level.
Dr. Brannon was a former student-athlete himself, playing basketball and running cross country at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. When asked about the biggest pressure he faced while studying English and Psychology and twice receiving NCAA Division II Academic All-American honors (georgiadogs.com, 2018), he recalls that time was never on his side.
"I knew I wanted to go get a PhD, and I think part of of the struggle was I knew I was going to be competing against people that weren’t athletes in college, and so those people had time to do big internships and research projects and all that kind of stuff and I couldn’t do any of that stuff... [sports] takes a ton of time. I couldn't commit to doing things that would help me get into graduate school and so that was a constant ongoing stress for me," said Dr. Brannon.
When asked for his professional opinion as to why it is so challenging to find balance as a collegiate-level student athlete, Dr. Brannon explained his reasoning to me through the concept of competing demands.
"You have the big areas of your life - sports, school, personal life. All of the key people in each of those areas is expecting your best. Your professors expect you to be at your best, your coaches expect you to be at your best, your girlfriend, your friends, your family. They want your full attention, and realistically, that’s really really hard to do. And that’s why you end up having student athletes who are stressed out, and sleep-deprived, and who end up underperforming in various areas, it all goes back to competing demands," said Brannon.
While Dr. Drew Brannon may not have attended a "big-time" school such as the University of Georgia during his athletic career, that doesn't mean his journey was any less demanding than for an athlete such as Kristofak. Competing in two sports at the college level while managing to earn Academic All-American honors twice is no small feat. Brannon serves as a prime example of a former student athlete who's plate was piled as high as it gets, and yet was able to put all the pieces together to solve the puzzle that is being a college student athlete.