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Nov 25, 2018

BRIDGING THE GAP

By: Cole Little

Note: The following appears in the South Carolina gameday football program


GROWTH OF A PROGRAM

“Best is the standard when it comes to Clemson football, so I would love for P.A.W. Journey to be the standard for providing student-athletes with exactly what they need.”

A realistic vision for a groundbreaking program that is quickly making waves throughout the landscape of college athletics, that outlook expressed by Rashard Hall is indicative of the significant impact that the highly-developed, off-field program, P.A.W. Journey, is making every day.

“I truly believe that I’m following my passion, having been a scholar-athlete with this program and being able to relate to the players and what they’re going through,” said Hall, a former Tiger safety (2009-12).

As director of career & professional development, Hall leads the 5th Quarter pillar of P.A.W. Journey, which is the sector of the program concerned with career development. Along with Striped, which is headed by assistant athletic director of football player relations & external affairs and P.A.W. Journey innovator Jeff Davis, and C.U. in Life, which director of life skills & community service Savannah Bailey oversees, 5th Quarter is one of three subsets of the P.A.W. Journey program dedicated to fostering growth and development of Clemson football players.

Now in its third football season, P.A.W. Journey and its initiatives dedicated to off-field advancement are continuing to flourish. A community service trip to Costa Rica, as well as continued community service efforts in the Clemson area, a bevy of summer microinternships as well as a higher degree of player-driven leadership efforts have all served as the primary focal points of the 2018 accomplishments within P.A.W. Journey.

“We’ve focused on internal growth and making sure our staff connects with players,” said Bailey when speaking on the evolution of P.A.W. Journey since its launch. “You can’t serve the people if you don’t know the people.”

P.A.W. Journey excels by way of its player-driven model. While the three aforementioned leaders of the three pillars guide the program, the ideas and approaches are formulated through player-only meetings. Thirty committed players, known as ambassadors, make up the cohort responsible for such decisions, with more and more players consistently buying in and taking on leadership roles since the program’s inception.

“It has changed a lot since it first started,” admitted graduate linebacker and P.A.W. Journey ambassador Jalen Williams. “The players have gradually acquired more control. Jeff Davis has made it a player-initiative program, and everyone is buying in.”

In addition to the ambassadors of P.A.W. Journey, who are selected via a detailed nomination and voting process that ensures the most involved and reliable leaders have their voices heard, the program awards its most well-rounded participant with the annual P.A.T. Man-of-the-Year award. Most recently won by graduate tight end Milan Richard, the esteemed honor is awarded to a Tiger who personifies manhood through leadership, ethics, demeanor and community involvement, which defines most, if not all, of the dedicated members of the P.A.W. Journey team.

“They’re not only good football players, they’re also good students, employees and men,” said Sean Radvansky, a virtual sales account manager with P.A.W. Journey corporate sponsor Cisco Systems, about the players committing themselves to the ample opportunities presented by the program. “And I think they’re ahead of the curve, because Clemson is the leading program in college football in terms of life-skill development.”

Making a difference in the lives of others through their community outreach efforts and voluntary causes, the players taking part in P.A.W. Journey are also bettering themselves in the process. Garnering meaningful experiences in the community and the workforce, the young men are converting the intangibles gleaned through football into real-world attributes that are transforming these Tigers into potential world changers.

“The biggest impact of P.A.W. Journey is that it enables players to invest in their futures without having to leave Clemson,” said Hall. “The same program that develops their athletic talents helps them become the men that they’re destined to be.”

BEING THE BRIDGE

While football serves as the lifeblood of P.A.W. Journey members, the understanding that life beyond football is even more important than playing the game itself is the driving force behind the incredible work being conducted by Hall and the corporate sponsors of P.A.W. Journey by way of the 5th Quarter pillar.

“The fact that Clemson University has a program like P.A.W. Journey is incredible,” stated Rachel Patton, university relations specialist for corporate sponsor RaceTrac. “From top to bottom, everyone involved with the football program is passionate about it, and that makes a big difference.”

As for Hall, he is a perfect example of why the preparation for life after football is so important, as he routinely makes a point when discussing the inspiration for his work to mention that his NFL career ended after a brief preseason stint, thereby ushering Hall into the so-called “real world.”

Now, Hall is responsible for setting up short-term internships for players to take part in during the offseason, in addition to interview workshops held during the academic year. Thus far, internship experiences, which last approximately two weeks, have ranged from digital media work with Adobe to marketing work with entrepreneurial businesses.

“The 5th Quarter pillar has done a great job of providing us with opportunities to go out into the workforce and showcase our talents while learning new skills,” said Richard of the experiential opportunities offered by P.A.W. Journey.

On top of having already met with a variety of corporate sponsors in New York City, 5th Quarter is expanding to a global range, with future internships and conference opportunities being organized at an international level.

“The players gain all of these intangibles through football, and these microinternships provide them with an atmosphere to utilize them,” explained Hall. “It’s also the opportunity of a lifetime that can change the players and the companies that employ them.”

Made possible by the support and willingness to participate extended by the variety of P.A.W. Journey’s corporate sponsors, the internship opportunities allow Clemson football players to garner valuable experiences away from the sport, enabling them to make connections and hone their skills in preparation for future careers.

“We’re lucky to have so many great partners to be able to provide our players with the career experiences that they need,” said Hall. “The sponsors help bridge the gap between our players and the career opportunities that would not otherwise be afforded to them because of their athletic commitments.”

While the corporate sponsors are certainly generous in providing these work experiences for the student-athletes, the sponsors are eager to work with the focused and driven members of the team. After all, the discipline involved with suiting up for a major college football program makes the young men desirable candidates for future positions.

“It was rewarding for us, especially because we approached it as a mentorship internship,” said WH Trucking president and CEO Carlo White of his association with the P.A.W. Journey internship program. “Plus, we were looking for guys we could potentially call upon when they get ready for the job market and see if they want to be a part of our team.”

Furthermore, the Clemson scholar-athletes have consistently made an impact through their internship roles, impressing employers and accomplishing many vital tasks and projects on the job. Therefore, the decision to support P.A.W. Journey and its efforts has been an easy one for the corporate sponsors.

“As an entrepreneur, people have always helped me,” stated Rajeev Jindal, founder of corporate sponsor Bunty LLC. “It’s a great opportunity for me to give back. I want to expose the players to as many opportunities as I can to help them know what their career options are.”

Holding true to the acronym “Passionate About Winning,” P.A.W. Journey aids the champions of the Clemson football team in their efforts to become champions of life, whether it be in the community, in the household or in the workplace. Putting its student-athletes in a position to win in all facets of the professional world, the 5th Quarter pillar, in particular, serves as the pathway between a successful college football tenure and a successful career.

“Working with these companies has been amazing,” added Hall of his tight-knit relationship with P.A.W. Journey corporate sponsors. “Our partners truly get what P.A.W. Journey is all about and allow our players to gain life-changing knowledge and experience.”

Hall and the corporate sponsors who support the players’ internship endeavors are the foundation of a figurative bridge of countless supporters that is constantly expanding in the hopes of broadening the professionally-enriching pursuits of the players even further.

Much more than a life-skills program, P.A.W. Journey is transforming the champions of the Clemson football team into the rising champions of society, and a community of “bridge builders” are to thank for that.

With just one year in the books, P.A.W. Journey has already established itself as a preeminent program within the college athletics ranks, as is its path to developing current gridiron game-changers into future professional world-changers.

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