BIRMINGHAM, Ala., -- The Southeastern Conference is bringing a new element to its annual Football Media Days in 2015 as each school will send at least one student-athlete with a compelling story outside of his athletic endeavors. The Conference is calling the initiative "Beyond The Field: Stories of the SEC."
"The athletic achievements of the SEC continue to be well-documented, but many of our student-athletes lead interesting lives or have intriguing stories that happen away from the field of play," said Greg Sankey, the new commissioner of the SEC who will preside over his first conference media event July 13-16 at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama. "This is an opportunity to tell stories of academic achievement, personal ambition, community service, determination in the face of adversity and character of mind. These student-athletes are the chapters of a larger book that is the story of the Southeastern Conference."
Each year, the 14 schools of the SEC send their head football coach and three student-athletes to participate in SEC Football Media Days. This year, at least one of those student-athletes from each school has a story to tell that transcends his football accomplishments.
Beyond the Field: Stories of the SEC
Alabama - Reggie Ragland (Senior, Linebacker) participated in community service work at the local Veterans Administration hospital and also returned to Alabama for his senior season despite grading out high as an NFL prospect last year. He cited his unfinished work both on the field and in the classroom as reasons for his return to Alabama.
Arkansas - Jonathan Williams (Senior, Running Back) has excelled at Arkansas for despite family financial setbacks and hardships. He bypassed the opportunity to enter the NFL after last season, citing a desire to earn his college degree. "My faith, family and education are very important to me and all three played a major role in my decision."
Auburn - From the age of three when his step-mother came into his life, Jeremy Johnson (Junior, Quarterback) has used her as motivation to do the right thing. That includes giving back to his community in the way of speaking to students in elementary, junior high and high school, and collecting clothes for Goodwill and the Salvation Army.
Florida - Jonathan Bullard (Senior, Defensive Line) was raised in part by a grandmother who battled cancer during his high school career. Despite his intention to play at a school near her home, she encouraged him to follow his dream and play at Florida. She saw him play his freshman year but soon became ill and passed away the week after he played the best game of his young career vs. Missouri. She remains an inspiration to him.
Georgia - Malcolm Mitchell (Senior, Wide Receiver) is an avid reader who, through a chance encounter with another reading enthusiast, became a member of a local book club of women mostly between the ages of 40 to 60 years old. He struggled to read even as late as his high school years, but devoted enough time in it to become a prolific reader and now reads regularly to children, stressing to them the importance of reading
Kentucky - Melvin Lewis (Senior, Defensive Tackle) grew up in Compton, California, and earning a college degree would have been a challenging goal without the opportunity presented by an athletics scholarship. After two years at Fullerton College, he signed with Kentucky and has completed his bachelor's degree in community and leadership development. His dream job, other than the NFL, is "doing anything to help my community."
LSU - Attending college and playing football were not on the mind of Leonard Fournette (Sophomore, Running Back) ten years ago when he and his family lived on a bridge for five days and four nights in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His family moved to Baton Rouge, Corpus Christi and Portland (Texas) before settling back in New Orleans, though his old neighborhood was destroyed.
Ole Miss - Evan Engram (Junior, Tight End) was mostly ignored by major college programs but has emerged as an All-America candidate. Involved immensely in FCA, he devotes time to the mentally and physically challenged through Special Olympics and the local developmental school. His father, Derrick, played college football, and his sister, Mackenzie, plays for the Georgia women's basketball team.
Mississippi State - Dak Prescott (Senior, Quarterback) lost his mother to cancer after she had raised Dak and his two brothers in a tiny trailer as a single parent running a truck stop in Louisiana. She taught Dak about hard work, the meaning of family and serving others. Dak regularly speaks to area schools about working hard, being dedicated and having passion for what you do.
Missouri - Kenya Dennis (Senior, Cornerback) was a full academic qualifier out of high school but began his career in junior college because he was an unnoticed player from a very small hometown and high school in Mississippi. He draws inspiration from another defensive back that went to Hinds Junior College, Malcolm Butler, who was the hero of Super Bowl XLIX for his game-saving interception.
South Carolina - Elliott Fry (Junior, Placekicker) reached his dream of playing college football at the highest level despite suffering from Type I Diabetes. In fact, he is one of the best in the conference at his position, earning second team All-SEC honors in 2014 and he will be a Lou Groza Award candidate in 2015. He works regularly with the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation in South Carolina.
Tennessee - Joshua Dobbs (Junior, Quarterback) is an Aerospace Engineering Major and is planning on building airplanes and flying them after his football career. He has done various internships with space and airplane companies, including one this summer. He became fascinated in airplanes at a young age with a trip to the Delta plant in Atlanta and even more with a visit to the Tuskegee Airmen in 7th grade.
Texas A&M - Mike Matthews (Senior, Center) is part of a family lineage that pervades both college and professional football. Father Bruce was an NFL Hall of Famer. Brothers Kevin and Jake played for A&M - Kevin, a walk-on who became a starter and plays in the NFL; Jake, a four-year starter and first round NFL draft choice in 2014. Mike, the shortest of the brothers, is a two-year starter and team captain.
Vanderbilt - Ralph Webb (Sophomore, Running Back) and a small group of Vanderbilt students journeyed to Australia to study biodiversity in the Great Barrier Reef and tropical rain forests this summer. They hiked lush forests, boated in mangrove swamps, and snorkeled and kayaked off Fraser Islands. Research included reforestation, crocodiles and cassowaries, and corals conservation.