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September 12, 2011

Former Tech athletes going back to school and taking advantage of opportunities

By: Reyna Gilbert-Lowry

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. So, too, is an opportunity. This applies to Virginia Tech student-athletes who take advantage of the opportunity not only to compete at the highest collegiate level, but also to earn a degree from one of the top universities in the country. Several former Hokie student-athletes are completing that task by taking advantage of an opportunity to earn their college degrees after leaving early to pursue a career in professional athletics.

Take former Hokie swimmer and two-time Olympian Kaan Tayla, who holds the ACC record in the 50 and 100 freestyle and was a member of the 200 freestyle relay championship team in 2008. Tayla competed in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, representing his native country of Turkey before starting college. He transferred to Virginia Tech in 2006, making an immediate impact on his team and within the ACC. In preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Tayla decided to dedicate his time solely to training, which meant taking time off from his academic coursework. With assistance from the NCAA Division I Degree-Completion program, Tayla returned to finish his degree in business information technology in the fall of 2009. He graduated in December of 2009 and is back training, hoping to make waves next summer at the 2012 London Olympics.

Through the NCAA Division I Degree-Completion Award Program, Tayla and other former Hokie student-athletes have been able to achieve their goal of returning to school and earning their degree. The NCAA established the program to assist student-athletes who have exhausted their eligibility for institutional financial aid while not having graduated. To be eligible for the award, applicants must be within 30 semester hours of their degree requirements. Student-athletes who earn the award receive a scholarship to cover tuition, fees, and a book allowance based on the number of hours in which they enroll.

Former football standout Kevin Jones returned last spring to complete his undergraduate degree. With only three semesters remaining to earn his degree in business, Jones left Tech early to enter the NFL Draft. The Detroit Lions selected him with the 30th overall pick in 2004. After spending three years with the Lions and a year each with the Chicago Bears and UFL’s Hartford Colonials, Jones returned to Blacksburg to take care of some unfinished business. Jones, his wife, and three small children made a family commitment to return to Blacksburg.

In January, Jones began taking classes in the architecture program and his wife, Robyn, is currently enrolled in the educational leadership and policy studies program. She also serves as a graduate assistant for College Transition Programs in The Center for Academic Enrichment and Excellence.

Deciding to continue my education here at Virginia Tech has been nothing less than a dynamic experience thus far,” Jones said. “I'm trucking away every day to be well educated in design, and my goal is to have the tools that will help me be more well-rounded.”

He also served as the host of a youth football camp in June and donated a portion of the proceeds to the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest Virginia. Keeping the camp theme in line with his personal educational goals, Jones created an essay contest and offered to cover the registration fees for 10 campers who submitted a 250-word essay on the importance of education and how it can prepare them for a life on and off the field. Although he is currently outside of the 30-hour limit to be eligible for the degree completion award, once he is eligible, he plans to apply for the award in hopes of taking full advantage of the opportunity if he is awarded the scholarship.

Another former Hokie football star has decided to start hitting the books, but he isn’t hanging up his cleats to do so. Former Tech cornerback and current member of the Washington Redskins DeAngelo Hall spent his last semester on campus during the fall of 2003 and then left to pursue NFL dreams. The Atlanta Falcons selected him as the eighth overall pick in the 2004 draft. After spending four years with the Falcons and one year with the Oakland Raiders, he landed a spot on the Redskins roster and has called Washington, D.C., his home ever since. Hall began taking courses online this past summer to complete his degree in sociology. With just a year of coursework to complete before graduating, Hall should have no problem juggling the strenuous demands of competition and classes.

It’s clear that each of these individuals places a strong value on education. They have benefited from athletic and academic opportunities, committing themselves to achieve in both areas no matter the obstacles.