After the Whistle
First KSU football signees relish opportunity to earn degrees
KENNESAW, Ga. (Jan 22, 2019) — In the last regular-season game of his collegiate football career, Kennesaw State University offensive lineman C.J. Collins recalls jogging onto the field at SunTrust Park in late November full of confidence.
Having played countless high-stakes games in his five-year career, the 6-foot-3-inch footballer wasn’t fazed by the sea of red-shirted Jacksonville State fans seated behind the far end zone, nor was he worried about the oversized Gamecock defensive linemen seeking to exact revenge on their 2017 loss against the Owls. In the end, KSU would prevail 60-52 in the fifth overtime.
“Honestly, I grew so used to the big football crowds that it became pretty easy to manage my nerves,” said Collins, who now teaches math at Cherokee High School in Canton, Ga. “But the first time I had to get up in front of my class of about 20 high school students, it really started to make me sweat.”
Collins, who made history as part of KSU’s first football signing class, is also part of a select group of players who were first to earn their degrees. Having redshirted during the 2014 season while KSU finalized its transition into becoming Division I football school, Collins received his undergraduate degree in mathematics education with a year of football eligibility remaining. He chose to return for his senior season of football while pursuing a master’s degree in secondary education.
C.J. Collins, Chandler Burks and Nic Snowden
For Collins, continuing to build a football program from scratch was too great to pass up. During his career, he was named to four All-America teams and was twice named first team All-Big South Conference. His senior class strung together the second-most victories – 37 – in the first four years of a start-up program since 2008. However, one of his fondest achievements doesn’t show up on a stat sheet.
“My academic achievements were something I always held in the highest regard,” said Collins, who was inspired by his grandfather to become a teacher. “Obviously, I wanted to finish out my eligibility, but for me, being in the field of education, it was always important to continue learning and expand my horizons beyond football.”
Like Collins, former KSU quarterback Chandler Burks was no stranger to success on the football field. Just months after earning a degree in sport management, he became the first student-athlete in school history to become a finalist for the STATS FCS Walter Payton Award, given annually to the top offensive player in the Football Championship Series subdivision of college football. Burks finished runner-up.
At the start of each football season, Burks wrote down his goals on paper. The list typically included aspirations of becoming an All-American and repeating as conference champion, but also included his academic goals.
“I was aiming to end every semester with a 4.0,” said Burks, who was twice named Big South Scholar Athlete of the Year. “Being a first-generation student, my family always put a heavy emphasis on education, and I always knew that if I could succeed in the classroom, then I was setting up myself to succeed in life.
Burks wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school and said he knew playing football professionally would have been a longshot. While working toward his undergraduate degree, he became highly interested in the business of sports and completed an internship at sports agency CSE Talent. During his senior season, he began pursuing a graduate certificate, aiming to make himself stand out in a job interview. After completing his certificate, Burks will begin work on a master’s degree in business administration while dipping his foot into coaching as a graduate assistant. He hasn’t ruled out the possibility of becoming a sports agent one day.
“There is life after football, and I’m figuring that out now,” Burks said. “Kennesaw State prepared us well for the next step. This is such a special place, and I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to build relationships with my classmates and professors, because I know that is what will carry me down the road.”
Nic Snowden, another of the 18 original signees who played during the 2018 season, said he chose KSU after receiving glowing recommendations for its education programs. In May, he will graduate with his degree in health and physical education and hopes to land a job teaching.
“Some people told me that this wouldn’t be more than a commuter campus, but I found a very diverse student body, and I was always impressed by the quality of my professors,” he said. “This school has so much more room to grow, and it’s been fun to see first-hand.”
Beyond the football field, Snowden said he learned a great deal about community service while a student at Kennesaw State and was encouraged by Bohannon to seek out opportunities to give back. In between his football duties, he found time to read to local elementary school children and raise money for the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta. He and former teammate Darnell Holland have volunteered for the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine, which provides prom night experiences for those with special needs.
For his efforts, Snowden was nominated for the 2018 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, which recognizes student-athletes for their dedication to volunteering and giving back in their community and enriching the lives of others.
“Football is really just a piece of what this university has to offer,” Snowden said. “I don’t say it to sound cliché, but it has been such a great honor to represent this school by putting on a jersey.”
– Travis Highfield
Photos by Rob Witzel