Many college students face the same question when they reach the end of their time on campus: what now?
This feeling of uncertainty is more prevalent in student-athletes, whose entire college experience is based around and tailored to their specific sport. For the majority of these student-athletes, their playing days end when they pick up their diploma.
According to a 2014 study conducted by the NCAA, less than two percent of college athletes will become professionals in their sport. Even for the minority of athletes that do make it professional, like former Texas Tech outfielder Dru Baker, the decision to make that leap can be equally as stressful.
“The decision was a tough one, for sure,” Baker said, who signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Rays after they selected him in the fourth round of the 2021 MLB Draft. “Texas Tech was so good to me … it ultimately came down to what was right for me and my family, and we felt that was to sign and start my professional career.”
Like most student-athletes, Baker said the desire to extend his playing career only grew once he arrived on campus.
“I loved both football and baseball but most of my collegiate interest came from the baseball side,” Baker said. “Once I got into college, my love for the game grew and I knew playing professional baseball is what I wanted to do.”
The career of a professional athlete tends to be a financially rewarding one, but aspiring athletes have to endure through struggles before then. For some this means countless hours of practice, sacrificing leisure time and in many cases injury.
For two-time All-America long jumper Sharon Bruner and many others, financial and logistical hurdles made the path to the professional level difficult.
After Bruner graduated from Tech in 1982, she was deciding whether to complete her student-teaching certificate or devote her summer to training for a spot in the U.S. Olympic Trials. Bruner, who had already been a part of the “Nike List” for two years, said the funding required for the training and travel deterred from seriously pursuing her dream.
“When that happened I just kind of lost hope,” Bruner said. “I got my first teaching job and after a year out of being competitive like that, you just kind of lose it.”
Bruner did continue to be a part of Tech’s track program after she graduated as a part-time coach, and she said reality set in that her competitive days were over when the team left for their annual conference meet.
“It’s really over,” Bruner said as she described her thoughts during that moment. “It kind of made me sad there for a little bit until I decided it's time to grow up. It’s time to decide what you want to do with your life.”
For Bruner, that next phase would be in education. She has been a head track and field coach and teacher in Grand Prairie ISD since 1985. Though she appreciates and enjoys her new line of work, Bruner said she still misses the camaraderie that she experienced as a member of the Tech women’s track and field team.
“When you’re on a team, you’re with each other every single day … they become your family,” Bruner said. “You build this camaraderie and this friendship with this team and you realize that everybody's gonna go their separate ways, it was a hard adjustment.”
As a former student-athlete that has experienced this transition firsthand, Bruner said those in similar situations should plan for life after college while still enjoying their time as a member of a team.
“You really have to think about it, what are you going to do for you and what are you going to do as far as raising a family,” Bruner said. “You start thinking about these responsibilities that you haven't had to take care of.”