In Part II of our interview with Carrie Leger and Katie Sheridan, we take a look at the importance of staff collaboration and building relationships to academic success.
Leger was elevated to the director of the academic support program for student-athletes (ASPSA) for the second time in July, after serving as associate athletics director for academics and student services for NC State. She's been at State for a decade, with responsibilities in that span ranging from housing to charitable giving to sport administrator for Wolfpack gymnastics.
She also has experience with the NCAA, in addition to her four-year stint as director of academic progress and life skills development at Elon. Leger holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Towson University, where she competed in gymnastics, as well as a master's in business administration from Elon.
Sheridan is the assistant director of ASPSA and lead academic advisor for football, a role she has held for nearly six years. After competing on the swim team at NC State, she moved into academic support for both men's basketball and football while pursuing graduate courses. Originally from Toronto, she has a bachelor's in business management and a master's of education in counseling from State.
Collaboration With The Staff Is Essential To Academic Success
Of course, any goals from an academic support perspective are only reachable with the help of both the student-athlete and the NC State coaching staff. Sheridan said she feels fortunate that she works with a coach in O'Brien who places such a heavy emphasis on academics. And that focus extends to recruiting coordinator and special teams coach Jerry Petercuskie, as well as the individual position coaches.
"We get a lot of support from the coaching staff," said Sheridan. "Coach O'Brien himself is very involved, and just in talking to other colleagues in our same field across the country, we have different access to our head coach than they have, the people who sit in my seat across the country. Which is great, and which is why I think he has a lot of success with his students graduating.
"And then he has Jerry Petercuskie as the academic liaison, so we communicate a lot with him on general issues, and we get a lot of support from the position coaches as far as talking to the guys, mentoring the guys and working with them on a day-to-day basis. So it's not one person; it takes a village to get some of these guys through, and that's definitely the mentality that Coach O'Brien takes. And so I think that it's going to slowly—and it is—start to move in the right direction."
Another piece to that collaboration comes on the recruiting trails. O'Brien and his staff work hard to be upfront with prospects about what will be required of them academically. Creating that understanding up front can help to eliminate those prospects who are looking for a free ride to the possibility for NFL riches.
"I think Coach and his staff are pretty honest during recruiting," Sheridan said. "[They tell prospects,] ‘This is what the expectation is. You're not going to come here and hang out for three years; you're going to come here, you're going to practice, you're going to hopefully play, you're going to go to class, and you're going to hopefully get a degree.'"
Developing Early, And Long-Lasting, Relationships with Student-Athletes
What further helps to reinforce those academic expectations is the emphasis that's placed on ensuring the message is relayed loud and clear as early as possible. Under O'Brien, the academic support staff is brought into the mix as early as the unofficial-visit process for players who are showing an interest in NC State.
"Our relationship with these students, and I think [this is] something else that's reflective of Coach O'Brien's commitment, begins with unofficial visits," said Leger. "Every single guy that comes on campus talks to Katie or I, and then during the official visit, they talk to all of us. We talk about academics with all of the unofficial visitors before every single football game, so we're talking about it every time—they're really excited to hear us speak right before they're watching a game on a Saturday afternoon; that's their favorite part of the day … But I think that's a big part of it, so with the guys who are most at-risk, Katie has probably had like three or four conversations with them throughout the process."
"[That relationship has been built] really since their junior year, and not just that, but getting to know their families as well, and that's a huge component when you're talking about high school students," added Sheridan. "We see them every single Saturday that there's a home game, so we can talk about their classes, and you can start to remember which classes they're taking, and you're working with them and their parents to make sure we're all on the same page and they know what they need to do. When they get here, you've pretty much known them for a year and a half or so, so it's a very different model. On official visits, when we sit down with them, we've talked to them so many times, we know who they all are and they know us, so it's more comfortable."
Through that early establishment of the relationship, the reality that there is a partnership between the student-athlete and the academic support team is reinforced. In addition, the increased familiarity with the individual helps the academic support staff to gain a better clarity of their academic needs, and also gives Leger, Sheridan and the rest of the team the opportunity to reinforce how involved they'll be from the get-go.
So when the academic support team is constantly on the scene, asking questions, during a player's freshman year, that player isn't exactly surprised.
"Now, in their first year, we are very intrusive; we are in their business," said Leger. "We are checking their classes more frequently than if they're a senior who has a 2.9, because at that point, you've demonstrated you don't need us to do that … So we really try to kind of gradually let them loose to kind of become independent. "And I think the guys see they have an opportunity to earn their way out of the really, really, really intense structure."
Stay tuned for Part III of our feature, "Champions In The Classroom," that appears in the September issue of the Pack Pride Magazine.