OSU's BEST program reason for academic success

2010-05-12T21:30:00Z OSU's BEST program reason for academic successBy Cliff Kirkpatrick, Gazette-Times Reporter Corvallis Gazette Times

Oregon State football coach Mike Riley has been bragging - in a good way - lately about what his players have been doing in the classroom.

That wasn't the case four years ago. The Beavers typically had a player or two ineligible when training camp opened, and frequently lost some for the season.

It was common for a large group to be technically ineligible during the winter term or at the end of spring. But summers were a mad scramble to collect credits.

Now every player is expected to be eligible by the end of the spring and then use the summer to get ahead academically, Riley said.

Even OSU's APR (academic progress rate) remains at a level the NCAA expects of teams. The annual APR report is expected to be released later this month.

The biggest change OSU made to cause this was the creation of the BEST (Bridge Encouraging Successful Transition) Summer Bridge Program, which helps recruits prepare for college life as students and athletes.

"I think it's the most impactive thing that has happened at our school," Riley said. "It's great preparation for the guys with life skills and their comfort level away from home."

The first BEST class included 17 football players and one men's basketball player. All but three are about to graduate within a five-year frame.

"To have retention, people need to be feel connected," said Sandy Tsuneyoshi, director of Intercultural Student Services. "That was our main goal. It's very satisfying to see the retention rate of the first class was amazing."

One of the three left school to go on a Mormon mission and didn't return. One didn't make it academically and the other transferred because of playing time issues.

Two players decided against taking the program. One left school for personal reasons and the other became ineligible but stayed in school.

"It prepared me a lot," said senior receiver Aaron Nichols, who is part the first BEST class. "The transition from high school to college is a big one. I've had so much free time on my hands. Without that program I wouldn't have know what to do."

Before the BEST program, football players didn't have as much success in school. The last recruiting class to go without it was in 2005. There were 17 scholarship players and only five graduated.

Three others are close with two of them in the NFL. They didn't redshirt, so they attended OSU for less than four years before turning pro.

The program is three-and-a-half weeks and is highly structured to keep the players busy day and night. The goal is to expose them to college life as an athlete.

They earn six credits of classroom work that goes toward graduation, and are taught how to budget their time, study and go through team bonding exercises away from campus.

"The program got us ready by understanding how busy we are going to be working out and having classes and studying late into the night," senior cornerback James Dockery said. "Being able to understand that after workouts you may feel tired, but you have to find a window of opportunity to do your homework and be prepared for the next day. You have to set yourself up for success rather than put things off until the last minute because you are tired."

The program has evolved each year. Players started out staying in older dorms as an afterthought. Organization improved, as did the off-campus activities and accommodations.

"The first year we did a lot of in-class activities," Nichols said. "Now they do white water rafting and team boding in the outdoors."

What does a rafting trip have to do with being a student or athlete?

"The camaraderie with the teammates from different parts of the United States, and understanding we are going to be here four or five years," Dockery said. "We learned to get along off the field."

Part of the day is spent weight training to emulate a day of school, practice and other extracurricular activities.

Freshmen are taught how to use the workout equipment so they can easily join group workouts without being left behind.

Nichols watched the changes first-hand. He was so thankful to the program that he stayed on as a dorm adviser each year since.

"It's always good to give back to the program that helped me out so much," Nichols said. "I've been successful because of that program. Coming out of high school I was really immature. I was a good student, but college is different."

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