By: Bryn Lutz, Athletics Communications Fellow
DAVIS, Calif. - In the program's latest example of uncommon engineering, the team will conduct its spring workouts from Feb. 15-March 10 to provide student-athletes with an opportunity to study abroad. By scheduling off-season practices accordingly, the team will now have an entire quarter available to take full advantage of opportunities rarely presented to football programs at any level, let alone Division I.
The core of today's collegiate athletics is ruled by a `winning mentality', which means student-athletes are asked to eat, sleep, and breathe their craft. As a result, the day-by-day schedule of a D-I football player is perhaps as intense and demanding now as it has ever been before. With so much time and energy sacrificed to achieve success on the field, it has become more and more challenging for student-athletes to pursue other passions outside of sports, such as studying abroad, due to scheduling conflicts.
Befitting an individual who coached for 18 different international football teams throughout his career, UC Davis head coach Dan Hawkins is setting a new precedent for Aggie football. Beginning with redshirt junior offensive lineman Ramsey Hufford, the first Aggie to take advantage of this newly-created opportunity to study abroad, football student-athletes will now become part of UC Davis' 1,350-plus undergraduates who gain an international perspective in more that 40 countries, and diverse areas of studies.
A religious studies major out of Newport Beach, Calif., Hufford first became interested in the prospect of studying abroad during his high school years, and has already visited Spain, Italy, Mexico, and Canada, where he holds dual citizenship.
"The history department at my high school set up these great trips to Europe, China, and Japan, but I was never able to go due to conflicts with sports, so I always kept it in the back of my mind that I wanted to go and see more of the world," said Hufford.
So when he began his career as a student-athlete at UC Davis, Hufford assumed the demanding schedule of a Div. I student-athlete would yield similar results.
"I never thought I would have the opportunity as a student-athlete to study abroad, so when Coach Hawkins gave us the go ahead, I immediately began looking in to how I could make that happen," said Hufford. "I had never heard of anything like that before, so I was really shocked."
Beginning on March 27th, Hufford will make his way across the pond to London where he will take two English classes, one of which includes field trips to historical sites, plus an internship he hopes will be in either education or graphic design.
"What really drew me to the study abroad program was the opportunity to learn about and understand other people's traditions and how they view the world, because I know this experience will help me expand how I think and understand other people," said Hufford.
His goals for the trip include becoming better prepared for life after graduation, exploring possible career paths, and looking into secondary schools that offer a masters in education.
Recognizing that studying abroad is rarely permitted by other Division I football programs leads to the question of whether or not other schools will follow Hawkins' lead.
"Unfortunately what's going on now is win and win-at-all costs, so I am doubtful other programs will allow athletes to study abroad," said Hawkins. "The classic Division I model is that coaches tell student-athletes exactly what to do: they have to lift, they have to run, they can't take time off, and they have to be here to train," Hawkins added.
However, Hawkins' philosophy is contrastingly different to that of the status quo, he believes his role on the coaching staff is about much more than achieving a winning season.
"I think every coach has a certain culture in their program and I always talk about maintaining a quality balance of life. It's not all football, it's not all school, it's figuring out how to balance everything," said Hawkins. "Our goal for student-athletes has to be about more than just getting a degree from a great school, they also need to be socially and culturally equipped to make a difference in the world and matriculate in a successful way."
Hawkins' passion for traveling abroad stems from the UC Davis alum's personal experience as a player, and the desire for his student-athletes to go abroad as he did.
"It's just such an unbelievable opportunity to go and experience other cultures and other people. It's an enriching experience -- culturally, personally, educationally -- and I can't say enough good things about it," Hawkins said.
"I have 1,000 percent confidence in this model and know the player that returns possesses skills that cannot be taught, they can only be experienced. Yes, they will miss practice, but I need to look at what's best for them as a big picture -- best is not a microscopic goal."
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