Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey took time at the SEC Media Days Monday to share stories about some unique qualities of SEC players. Enjoy what he said.
“Our football programs present you people today like Oren Burks from Vanderbilt who I mentioned. He’s a two-year starter, an All-SEC candidate, an honor roll student, president-elect of Vanderbilt Student Advisory Committee and co-founder of a program called REVAMP, Revitalizing and Empowering Vanderbilt’s African-American Population. A young man not waiting to lead. He’s leading now.
“Georgia offensive lineman Brandon Kublanow is a first-generation American who is preparing for a career in commercial real estate. Probably the only notary on a Division I football roster. Another first-generation American, South Carolina offensive lineman Mason Zandi, whose father fled Iran during the revolution. Texas A&M defensive lineman Myles Garrett lives well beyond the game of football. He has an affinity like me for trying to read a book. His goal is one every two weeks. He writes poetry, which I do not. He left Twitter, which I did not, though I thought about it over the last year. Refrained from social media because he said this, quote: Getting better as a person, football player and leader is how I want to spend my time, end of quote.
“Arkansas linebacker Brooks Ellis has a 3.8 GPA and is a pre-med student. Two months ago made a medical trip to Belize. Auburn offensive lineman Alex Kozan graduated in three years, plays this fall while earning his MBA. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly has a 3.0 GPA. In the last three years during his spring break, he’s chosen to spend that time on mission trips in Haiti.
“Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs, we talked about him before. He leads a football team, he’s an aerospace engineering major. One of the things you find, he took time to write a young fifth grade girl, encouraging her as she deals with hair loss due to a medical condition known as alopecia.
“Last August, kicker Austin MacGinnis, receiver Alexander Montgomery, safety Marcus McWilson travelled to Ethiopia with other Kentucky student-athletes serving for an up-close look at lives of the less unfortunate, serving in prisons, providing food and renovating homes.
“And when I met with Kentucky student-athletes, I asked them what was your most memorable experience at the University of Kentucky. Those who made that trip said that was a life-changing experience for them. We have student-athletes overcoming obstacles that might stop any of us in our track.
“Florida punter Jonathan Gould had to beat cancer before football became an opportunity. Mississippi State linebacker Richie Brown, he and his family were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. He completed his industrial technology degree this May with a 3.5 GPA, and he too will play this fall while pursing his master’s degree in business.
“Alabama defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson had to overcome the loss of both parents and two knee surgeries. He’s fulfilling a promise to his mother working on his master’s degree and also plays the trumpet and saxophone.
“Missouri tight end Shawn Culkin, the faith that’s taken him on mission trips including running a children’s camp in Nicaragua and sharing his faith to people in El Salvador.
“And then there’s LSU’s Thorpe Award finalist, defensive back Tre’Davious White, who passed up on the NFL draft to pursue becoming the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
“Examples of these young men, and the thousands of young men and young women in our athletics department, show you that they are making the most of the opportunity they have in the Southeastern Conference. They were the lifeblood of our conference, they are why we do what we do and they will continue to tell their stories as we keep striving to sustain the high standards of performance on the field and in the classroom and in the community.”