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Catamount Football Conversation: Brad Sherrod, Associate Head Coach and Linebackers Coach
One component that separates collegiate athletics from that of the professional ranks is the academics. For the Western Carolina football team, associate head coach Brad Sherrod not only works with the linebacker corps. on a daily basis, but also serves as the team’s academic liaison.
Sherrod took over as Western’s academic liaison after former assistant Steven Clinkscale took another coaching position following last season. Sherrod’s role is to serve as a go-between for the football student-athletes and WCU’s academic support staff and advisors.
“What we try to do is identify the ‘at-risk’ students, which will include all freshmen their first academic year,” Sherrod said. “Overall, as the academic liaison, our number one team goal is to raise our overall grade point average to be consistent with other teams in our department around a 3.0. We are getting close but we have got to get there and our kids are really working hard to do so.”
As a departmental policy, all newcomers, including incoming freshmen and transfers, are required to be involved in the Academic Enhancement Plan (AEP) – part of which includes mandatory supervised study hours – through at least their first academic year of enrollment at WCU. Coaches can recommend and student-athletes can likewise request to continue involvement in the support program after the required time has passed.
Jamaal Mayo, who played football during his time at WCU, is the Coordinator of Student-Athlete Support Services and works closely with all Catamount student-athletes through AEP. Through Western’s support program, both Mayo and Senior Woman Administrator, Dr. Jennifer Brown, help in facilitating tutors, communicating with professors across campus on providing support for student-athletes and acting as a mentor through meeting with newcomers in dealing with transitioning to WCU.
“Through our programs, we ensure that all of our student-athletes have the necessary academic support services to succeed, along with providing a productive study environment in the Jordan-Phillips Field House,” said Mayo. “Our template for AEP is really one that Dr. Brown designed when she first came to Western back in 2001 to oversee our student-athlete academics. Even though she has taken on more responsibilities as the SWA, she is still actively involved in our AEP and what we do.”
According to Mayo, the football team made strides academically, especially through their season last fall. All told over the past year, the Western Carolina football team has improved its collective grade point average (GPA) by just under three-tenths of a point across approximately 90 student-athletes.
“I attribute part of their their improvements last fall to the one-on-one attention that the newcomers receive by participating in football’s own ‘Academic Game Plan’ program,” said Mayo.
The Academic Game Plan (AGP), which Sherrod indicated head coach Dennis Wagner was a part of during his time at Fresno State, includes each first-year, and all at risk football student-athletes. Working in conjunction with AEP, the program includes organizing daily activities such as reading, tests and quizzes into a notebook that aids in managing time and prioritizing academic responsibilities.
In addition, coaches, serving as mentors, hold detailed, hour-long meetings with the student-athletes included in AGP on a daily basis to monitor progress and to stay involved.
“The Academic Game Plan is a system for students to keep up with their schoolwork and assignments and for us as coaches to monitor and ensure that they are on top of their studies. It is also a way for them to prioritize their assignments and work on them in pieces rather than trying to do all of it in bulk, to keep from falling behind.” said Sherrod. “We think that this program has done well and has worked for a lot of kids and really keeps us as coaches involved in the academic side with our student-athletes of what they’re doing and how they’re doing so there are no surprises.”
Sherrod also stated that position coaches meet with all of the student-athletes – not just those identified as at-risk – every two weeks to check their status.
“The biggest thing that we can teach our student-athletes is time management – and that’s not just on the football side, but also on the academic. How they go about their studies, how they go about their day and how they go about preparing for class,” added Sherrod.
Another way in which WCU’s football student-athletes are making strides both in the classroom and on the field is by utilizing the summer.
“Summer school is good for student-athletes to matriculate towards graduation,” said Sherrod. “It’s a great opportunity, especially for our new players, to learn how to study on their own away from home and for them to learn how to organize and manage their time. And so that their first class isn’t in August when they have four-or-more classes to worry about rather than just two.”
He added, “Our student-athletes are using summer school as a chance to get ahead towards the main goal of graduating and preparing for life after football.”
Amidst attending class on-campus during the summer months, student-athletes also have the opportunity to voluntarily workout under the watchful eyes of trained personnel such as Brad Ohrt and Bryan Tatum in WCU strength and conditioning to additionally make improvements physically.
In an attempt to further aid the athletic department in allowing student-athletes to attend one-or-both sessions of summer school, the Catamount Club has placed an emphasis on raising money for summer school scholarships.
“Over the past two years, the Catamount Club has made great strides in educating our supporters on the need for Summer School Scholarships for WCU Student Athletes,” said Gorham Bradley, Catamount Club Director and a former WCU student-athlete. “Through the success of the Catamount Golf Tour as well as many other private donations to the Athletic Summer School Scholarship Fund during that time, we have been able to raise $95,000 towards the summer school scholarships.”
Bradley added, “Summer school is an excellent opportunity for our student-athletes to stay on track in their academic progress while also providing them the opportunity to improve their strength and conditioning with our strength coaches. Thanks to the generous contributions of our loyal supporters, our student athletes will be better prepared both on and off the playing field.”
Western Carolina is scheduled to report for fall camp on Friday, Aug. 7, with the first day of fall practice scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 8.
By Western Carolina University Sports Information