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What is it like to be a college athlete?

I have written this article as a requirement for my senior project and without it I will not graduate from Quincy High. A requirement to graduate from Quincy high school is a completed senior project.

Senior projects: all seniors dread this assignment, but most of them eventually find value or learn life skills coming out of the whole thing. I for one, did not believe senior projects were necessary or vital for my educational growth.

But since it’s required, I chose to pick a topic that was relevant to my near future. I am playing for Feather River College next year on their intercollegiate Beach Volleyball team and I felt that I had an opportunity to see what my life for the next two years could possibly be like.

What better way to find that out than to interview current student athletes at FRC.

My first step was to find four students out of the 350 athletes at the college that would be willing to share with me the “behind-the-scenes” stories of being a student athlete.

I prepared 20 questions that I felt would help me find what I was seeking. Below are the answers I felt had the most value.

Naturally, my first pick was a volleyball/beach player as my life would soon be mimicking hers and we would probably have some common interests.

Morgan Hughes. Photo courtesy of Feather River College

Morgan Hughes

Sport: Indoor and sand volleyball

Age: 19

Hometown: Willows

I sat down with Morgan Hughes. She is beautiful and that is the first thing a person notices about her. But when they see her play on the court her looks are brushed aside in place of the talent, ferocity and grace with which she plays the game. Her success on the court is evident in her back-to-back conference championships and playoff appearances so I decided to find out how such a successful team comes together as a whole.  

MH: Our secret to success is that we have no secrets from each other. We do team building things, and we bond. That bond is what drives us to work hard for each other.

After thinking about her response it led me to ask “who or what was your biggest motivation to play in college?”

MH: My high school coach Carol Martin and Lisa Vlach.

Morgan gives off the impression that her volleyball career is not over, so I asked her “Do you have future plans for volleyball?”

MH: I want to hopefully be offered a full ride scholarship to a four-year university, I have already received offers from University of Northern Florida and Northern Carolina.  

To finish the interview I asked her “Do you have any advice for high school athletes trying to become colleges athletes?”

MH: Know what you’re in for and be ready to work hard. Being on a college team will lead you to discovering your second family.

Jordan Whitchurch. Photo courtesy of Feather River College

Jordan Whitchurch

Sport : Soccer

Age: 21

Home country: Australia

After interviewing a fairly local athlete, I decided to interview an international student athlete.

Jordan Whitchurch is from Australia and is not your typical soccer player you see around here. He’s tall, has a charming accent and a beard!

So obviously my first question for him was to ask, “What made you decide to come to the United States, and more specifically FRC, for athletics?”

JW: They found me through an exchange program I was part of back in Australia. Don Williams, the head soccer coach, got in contact with me and I researched FRC and it was the best soccer program I found.

His saying that FRC has the best program got me thinking about how Quincy’s environment affects him personally.

JW: I enjoy the environment here. Everyone is close and everyone knows each other. The little community setting is great.

Because of his long journey to get to the states, I asked “What has been the best advice he has taken about being a college athlete?”

JW: You are a student first, if you don’t have academics you can’t be on the field as an athlete.

Hmm. It seems this academic thing goes on past high school. They have mandatory study halls, progress reports, and weekly unit checks to be eligible to play. Every week they must be cleared to play before they can compete.

Curious as to what he would have to say to me personally, being a high school athlete who will be attending FRC in the fall, I asked, “what do you have to say to high school athletes looking to become college athletes?”

JW: It’s a big step up. It becomes faster and more physical. Be willing to learn and if you don’t understand something don’t be afraid to ask. “failure to prepare is preparation to fail.”

I love that quote. And it really made me start thinking about my life.

Jasmine Stapleton. Photo courtesy of Feather River College

Jasmine Stapleton

Sport : Track and Field

Age : 24

Hometown : Chicago, Illinois

When I first heard that Jasmine was from Chicago, a city notorious for crime, wind and good food, I truly wondered why anyone from Chicago would come to a place like Quincy, where the squirrels steal more than the people, and there is no Starbucks or McDonalds within 75 miles.

Again, my head is wracked with the ever-present question of WHY FRC? Her simple answer was safety. But when Chicago offers so much more, there had to be something special here. So I asked her what she likes about Quincy.

JS: My wife and I absolutely love Quincy. I’m never leaving! (she laughs) I love the rivers and the water holes.

But I know it can’t be all about the outdoors here. The students still have to go to class. So I asked her what her educational goal was.

JS: I want to get my AA in Kinesiology and transfer to Chico State. The staff and coaches are so supportive so I never doubt my goals. My dad was the biggest reason I went to college. I initially came here to play basketball, but now I’m competing in Track & Field and currently leading the conference in discus. Perhaps that will lead to a scholarship.

To come to California, Jasmine has to pay out-of-state tuition. That amount adds up to several thousands of dollars per year, on top of other living expenses. Scholarships aren’t available at the community college level in California, so students have to have financial aid, student loans and part-time jobs to help make ends meet.

Ironically, my last question to her put it all in perspective. I asked her about what advice she is following.

JS: I’m paying to be here. It is all my choice, it has been up to me to lead my future. I get out of it what I put into it.

Antonio Wabanimkee. Photo by Toni Williams

Antonio Wabanimkee

Sport: Football

Age: 21

Hometown: Las Vegas

Las Vegas isn’t so far away when you compare it to Chicago or Australia, but Las Vegas is definitely its own little world. I never did learn how to properly pronounce his last name, and not sure I ever will, but Antonio will readily talk about the life he led before coming to Quincy, and how that has changed him.

His focus is on football and school, and he acknowledges that he’s playing for something bigger. He takes his education seriously now and would offer that bit of advice for every high school athlete.

Take it seriously from the start, don’t wait for second chances because they aren’t always there. But FRC was the second chance for him. The only school that believed in him and gave him a shot at playing.

Often times people think that athletes are only focused on sports, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth for Antonio. He has goals, and it’s not to be in the NFL.

AW: I’m getting my associates degree so I can transfer to a four-year school. I want to be on the Dean’s Honor Roll every semester. That’s my goal.

And when I asked him about his motivation his answer left me stunned.

AW: God.

It answered everything … for him. And left me with more questions that I wanted to ask but I didn’t. How many others felt that God led them here and I marveled at how God played a role in his life, in his choices, in his decision to come to FRC.

That wasn’t my question to ask, and only Antonio had the answers. So I left that mystery off the pages of my interview.

I still wanted to know about the team life. I learned despite 6 a.m. weight lifting class, mandatory team meetings, ongoing fitness testing, AND regular practice, as well as all the team travel, he still has all his academic classes to study and prepare for.

Each student athlete is required to attend a mandatory orientation, have physicals and concussion testing, and participate in several awareness trainings, such as Drug and Alcohol Awareness, Suicide Prevention, and Sexual Assault educational trainings, and agree to adhere to the Student Athlete Code of Conduct.

Being a student athlete isn’t such a glamorous life. There is a lot of hard work and preparation that goes along with that title. I asked him what team life was like.

AW: Last year was rough for our team; everybody was on a different page, but now those who want to be here, try.

What I learned

So what did I learn in these few interviews? That I am a maker of my own destiny. It’s my hard work that pays off, not others. That academics is the way to an intercollegiate volleyball career, not the other way around.

I hated this project at first. I mean really, the life of a college athlete can’t be all that bad can it? But what I learned was that life means something different to each and every student athlete. And, that I will be bringing my own story to FRC next year. That I’ll be a part of something bigger, and to respect the fact that we are all different people chasing the same dream.

After completing my research, taking an advanced volleyball conditioning class, and getting to know complete strangers on a personal level, what I have learned out of this whole thing is that judging people based on what they look like and appear to be is not the way to discover someone’s story.

Everyone you see is a book with a cover on it; it might be soft or it might be hard, but either way once you have the courage to open it, the first page is the beginning of their story being shared with you by them and not by someone else.

This senior project has had some of the most uncomfortable moments I have ever experienced, but without it I would have never discovered these four amazingly talented and breathtaking athletes that live in the same town as I.

Each of them will be leaving FRC for the next chapter in their lives and I will miss out on sharing my first year as a college athlete with them, but now I am so excited to see the other students who are in the same position as me coming in the fall.

This experience has given me the ability to see someone as the person they are and not the sport that they play.

One thought on “What is it like to be a college athlete?

  • This was a great senior project. The content is well-written. Hopefully the author is happy with the self-learning that was part of the process. Since she (author) is going to college, I suggest that she review and reinforce her knowledge of sentence structure, punctuation, and grammar. There will be a great deal of writing required during her next four years.

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