SEC athletes overcome off-field challenges to reach top

first_imgUniversity of South Carolina kicker Elliott Fry (29) hasn’t let diabetes prevent him from competing at the highest level of college sports and lets children with the disease know ‘they can do anything they want, if they take care of themselves.’University of South Carolina kicker Elliott Fry (29) hasn’t let diabetes prevent him from competing at the highest level of college sports and lets children with the disease know ‘they can do anything they want, if they take care of themselves.’HOOVER, Ala. – Southeastern Conference Media Days is all about college football.But several student-athletes who play in the nation’s foremost college football conference have stories worth telling that have little to do with their accomplishments on the field.Many of those who attended Media Days this past week have overcome sizable obstacles to reach an elite level of athletics, proving that labeling them only as athletes is a mistake.The stories of several follow: Elliott Fry Elliott Fry is determined not to let anything hold him back.That has had to be the way for the Frisco, Texas, native who earned a scholarship less than a year after walking on at the University of South Carolina.Fry has Type I diabetes, diagnosed after he collapsed while competing in a youth hockey game. Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the body fails to produce insulin, which is used to convert sugar and starches into energy.His parents were hesitant to allow him to continue in athletics, especially after he twice was forced to exit games soccer games due to light-headedness. But Fry was able to resume play as he learned how to diligently monitor his blood sugar levels. Doing so has allowed him to become one of the top place-kickers in the SEC.“I have to check to make sure level are fine several times (daily), even during games,” said Fry.Fry has shared his story in hopes of providing inspiration and support to children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He has been very active in Columbia and his hometown and this week was nominated to the SEC’s Good Works Team, which recognizes athletes’ involvement in their communities“I just want to let them know they can do anything they want, if they take care of themselves,” Fry said of his message to youths. “I even had a lady send me a message on my Facebook page that, because of my story, she was letting her son compete in sports after being scared of what might happen.” Dak Prescott Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott’s biggest fan and critic always has been his mother, Peggy Prescott.Before the Bulldogs played in their 2013 rivalry game against Mississippi — affectionately referred to in the state as the Egg Bowl — Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen asked each of his players to dedicate the game to someone special.Prescott wrote a letter to his mother, who had died a month earlier at age 52 after a year-and-a-half battle with cancer.“She hated Ole Miss as much as I did,” Prescott told reporters after the Bulldogs came from behind to win in overtime. “Her favorite time of season was going to a bowl game, so there is no better feeling than to go to a bowl game for her.”Prescott, who wears a tattoo that reads “MOM” with a ribbon inside the “O” on the inside of his left wrist, could have entered the NFL draft after the 2014 season. He decided to return to Starkville, however, because it was what he wanted and he knew it was what his mother would have wanted for him.“We lost three of our last four games,” Prescott said. “That just didn’t sit well with me. I couldn’t leave like that. I had to come back.” Melvin Lewis Kentucky nose guard Melvin Lewis doesn’t list his or his team’s performance in any football game as the best moment of his life.“It was the day I graduated from Kentucky,” Lewis said. “I can’t tell you what that day meant to me. To be the first male in my family to graduate college, that’s big.”Lewis, from Compton, California, began life with his father in prison.While he praises his mother for raising and providing for them during those days, he feels no animosity toward his father.“Despite his situation, he never turned his back on us,” said Lewis. “He was there supporting us, too.”Proud of his accomplishment, Lewis has donated time to help others who are in the predicament he once was. If he is unable to make it in the NFL, he has a plan for his life.“I want to go back home and do something to help my community,” Lewis said. “I would love to help others to achieve the same things I have.”Lewis’ father has been out of prison for several years and is a constant in his life. Neither of his parents, however, has seen him play a college game in person.“That’s kind of expensive to come in from California, and money is kind of tight,” said Lewis. “I know they’re watching every game, though.” Jonathan Bullard Rated a four-star prospect while playing defensive end at Crest High in Shelby, North Carolina, Jonathan Bullard had his pick of colleges.Bullard decided early in the process he wanted to attend school close to his grandmother, who had been diagnosed with cancer. His decision came down to Clemson University, located less than 100 miles away, and the University of Florida, almost 500 miles away.He felt a strong bond with then-coach Will Muschamp but didn’t want to be away from his grandmother. Only after she encouraged him did he commit to the Gators, and only then because of Muschamp.“I love Coach Muschamp because he knew about my situation and was very supportive from the start,” Bullard said. “He told me if I ever needed a day or two to do it.”It turned out Bullard needed the time quickly. Though his grandmother attended Florida’s season opener during his freshman season, her conditioned soon worsened and she died that November.Bullard noticed something at the funeral that has stuck with him. At the head of the grave were flowers sent by the University of Florida athletic department.“That meant a lot to me,” he said. “I already knew they cared, but I appreciated the way Coach Muschamp always put me seeing and helping to take care of my grandmother ahead of football.”That is part of the reason Bullard, who has a tattoo with his grandmother’s name on his chest, chose to return the Gators to play during his senior year despite Muschamp’s firing after the 2014 season and the lure of the NFL.“I just had higher expectations for myself,” Bullard said. “I was ready to come back to where I’m from. I knew I had something to prove. I hope I can show that and get drafted to where I want to be.“My family isn’t in a very bad situation where I had to get money right away, so they’re really just on my side and I feel what is best for me is to come back here.”last_img

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