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By Randy York
Today is National Student-Athlete Day and rest assured, Nebraska is saluting more than 600 student-athletes in the best way we know how ... with purpose, action and meaning. After starting the day serving a hot breakfast to all Husker student-athletes at the Lewis Training Table, NU's Life Skills staff went to the Student Union to educate university staff and students about the life of a student-athlete.
On Tuesday, four Husker student-athletes went to nearby Lincoln High School to discuss life, academics and goals through the lens of both a student and an athlete. Junior quarterback Ron Kellogg III and sophomore defensive end Donovan Vestal presented a portrait of demands facing football players. Redshirt freshman guard Rebecca Woodberry talked about combining an education with a women's basketball scholarship, and freshman infielder Mattie Fowler discussed how she multi-tasks the twin challenges of school and softball.
National Student-Athlete Day is a well-timed prelude to Nebraska's two major end-of-the-year events. On Sunday, April 15, Nebraska will honor 303 student-athletes for their commitment to academic excellence at its annual Student-Athlete Recognition Banquet. The next morning, 35 Husker student-athlete leaders will be honored for their community service at the 2012 Hero Leadership Breakfast.
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne praised NU's sterling record in delivering excellence in athletics, academics and life. Osborne pointed to Nebraska's three Big Ten Conference championships in volleyball, women's gymnastics and women's track and field in the Huskers' first year in the league and said Nebraska had "a chance to win two or three more" conference titles this spring. Osborne sent an email to everyone in the Athletic Department, asking them to thank the student-athletes we serve.
Dennis Leblanc, Nebraska's senior associate athletic director for Academics, pointed to a nation-leading 294 Nebraska Academic All-Americans. Leblanc said NU will present a record 303 Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll awards at this spring's banquet, compared to 198 in 2008, 241 in '09, 278 in '10 and 290 in '11. Leblanc also pointed out that Nebraska will have a record 86 student-athletes graduate this spring. "We really believe that our new Student-Athlete Center is driving our Academic Performance Rating higher," Leblanc said. "We're on the best trajectory I've seen in my (25 years) time here, and that's the result of a lot of good people working hard and very well together." They include Katie Jewell, Kim Schellpeper, Alvin Banks, Andrea Einspahr, Sheri Hastings, Mike Nieman, Sara Haag, Doug Pellatz, Shawn Morrison and Leah Huber.
Keith Zimmer, Nebraska's associate athletic director for Life Skills, said NU student-athletes have completed 138 group projects as volunteers in 2011-12. "We've calculated that 25,000 individuals have been impacted this school year by our student-athlete volunteers," Zimmer said. "We believe that's what sets Nebraska apart. We have great balance at Nebraska, and that's a big factor when you hear from recruits and their families and their coaches all across the country." Zimmer said Life Skills assistants Jessie Gardner, Billy Coby Jr. and Stacey Burling have been invaluable in helping Nebraska achieve record numbers in community service hours.
Some schools capitalize all letters of the word student and call today's special day "National STUDENT-Athlete Day". At Nebraska, that is simply not necessary. "We appreciate a day like today," Zimmer said, "because it helps us celebrate something that's been a very high priority in this Athletic Department in all 24 years that I've worked here. Everyone here knows that the student always comes first."
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