I remember standing on the first tee that cold morning in Nashville thinking I didn’t belong. It was 1995, and I was a freshman preparing to hit my first tee shot as a collegiate golfer. After high school, I had the opportunity to play college football at a number of small schools, but chose to attend tiny Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, to play golf instead. Huntingdon was an NAIA power, if there is such a thing, and the golf program was the crown jewel. The program had won six national championships over the past decade by cobbling together a motley crew of players with diverse backgrounds, which included undersized offensive linemen.
That first round didn’t go well, to say the least. I was nervous and unsure of myself. I didn’t believe that I should be there, and it showed as I carded an 84. Leaving the course, I was ready to give up. Maybe it was the voice of my high school football coach in my ear telling me you don’t quit on your team or the fear of heading home as a failure, but I went to sleep that night vowing to show up the next day and compete. Day two went much better. I made the turn at two-under par and eased into the clubhouse with a one-under 71. It could have easily been three to four strokes lower, but I was happy with a score that showed my team, my coach and myself that I belonged.
My collegiate golf career was short, only lasting one year until I transferred to UGA and ran into a host of future All-Americans and PGA TOUR stars. I was forced to transition to the life of a regular student, no longer a part of a team – and that adjustment was hard.
I tell this story to highlight the fact that I like workplaces that hire athletes. There is something that is forged inside of you as an athlete that never goes away. At JS, we have 13 former collegiate student-athletes. We have dozens more who excelled at the high school and elite junior level. We are a better company because of it. I truly believe that the principles of discipline, hard work, collaboration and the pursuit of excellence are honed on the fields of competition.
Glen Jackson, one of our founders and a former soccer player at Washington & Lee University, has always instilled that team-like atmosphere here at JS. One aspect of good teams is that they invest in the next generation of leaders. Earlier this summer, our team at JS had a chance to do that in a unique and inspiring way as we partnered with my friend Maria Taylor and her foundation, Winning Edge Leadership Academy. During the organization’s Game Changing Retreat, 16 women and minority student-athletes came together to share in a common experience dedicated to equipping them for a career in the world of sports.
I had the honor of sharing some of my journey as part of the Emerging Career Panel. Later that day, we hosted a group of cohort members at our offices in Midtown to give them an inside look at the agency and hear from some of the former student-athletes who now call JS home.
To cap off the amazing day, Jackson Spalding was the sponsor of Friday’s Dinner of Influence, where we invited 20 industry leaders – from Chick-fil-A, Atlanta Braves, Atlanta United, Atlanta Track Club, ESPN, Turner Sports and more – to interact with the students as part of a free-flowing conversation. I was blown away by these student-athletes, who showed such poise and professionalism as they prepare to enter into a new phase in their lives. Peter Mbanasor told our table about his desire to impact the world in a positive way through music therapy. Taya Reimer shared her struggle with injuries and self-doubt to succeed on the court with the help of a friend and mentor who poured into her life. Darryl Reynolds told us about the people who saw talent in him at a young age and invested their time and resources into him, which he parlayed into a national championship at Villanova and a budding broadcasting career.
Sitting at that table reminded of that cold day in Nashville when I didn’t have the confidence to excel and lost the faith to believe in my swing. As these student-athletes transition from the sport that has defined them and where they’ve had their greatest successes thus far into an unknown professional world, some of them will struggle. But deep within them is the heart of an athlete. Those same skills that made them champions on the field will be what makes them winners in whatever endeavor they choose to pursue.