Jan. 17, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Keeping pace with more than 80 track and field student-athletes is no easy task, but Xavier Shannon does it every day. Shannon, a former football student-athlete at the University of Miami, has been the academic advisor for South Carolina’s track and field and women’s basketball programs for the last four years.
“The best part about my job is the students,” Shannon said. “You might be having the worst day of your life, but they come in and tell you a story, and it just makes it great. With all of those personalities, and working with more than 70 or 80 (members of the track & field team), you just never know what you’re going to get. All it takes is for one out of the 70 to make your day.”
"Xavier plays a huge role with our program and does a tremendous job coordinating our academic success,” said head track and field coach Curtis Frye. “We have a tradition of academic excellence here at Carolina, and Xavier, along with Al Daniel and Maria Hickman, has helped us continue our streak of posting GPAs over 3.0 every single semester.”
The women’s track & field/cross country team earned a 3.449 grade point average last fall, while the men’s program earned a 3.140. Shannon meets with each student-athlete at least once per week to look over grade reports and what’s coming up for them. While he likes to see the student-athletes succeed in the classroom, he is humble about the results.
“I never want any recognition for that,” Shannon said. “They do the work. It’s all them. So however high the GPA is, that’s because of them. We have weekly meetings and send progress reports to professors to let us know what’s going on.”
Shannon’s job is more than just that. It begins before the student-athletes arrive on campus and runs through graduation.
“I’ll see them along with their families on recruiting visits,” Shannon said. “I’ll help them with their orientation and make sure all of their paperwork from high school is in. I do everything in between to help them make sure they have their cap and gown at graduation. That means making sure they are signed up for the right classes, and assisting them when they needed tutors or mentors. One of the biggest challenges with freshmen is helping them learn to manage their free time.
“I think the biggest misconception that some folks may have about student-athletes is that they don’t work hard,” Shannon said. “The student-athletes do care about their school work. If something is not going well, they take ownership for it. They don’t point fingers. Our student-athletes are not here just for their sport. They care about making the honor roll and doing well academically.”
Shannon noted that academic advisors also wear the hat of a counselor, at times.
“The Dodie (Academic Enrichment Center) becomes a safe zone, at times, for a lot of people,” Shannon said. “This is where they don’t have to be around professors or other students and coaches, so you have to listen a lot.”
He plays a direct role in the number of doctors, lawyers and other successful professionals that have graduated from our program.
Dealing with a wide variety of personalities from such a large group can be a challenge, but Shannon understands that not everyone is the same and may need different kinds of attention.
“Everyone is different,” Shannon said. “You can talk to one student, one way, but you have to talk to another student a different way. Giving all of them the same amount of attention is the biggest challenge. You have to make sure you’re not spending too much time with one student or group of students versus the others. You can’t show favorites. You have to make sure you spread the love.
“We have international student-athletes that come from all over,” Shannon added. “We have kids from as close as Columbia and Orangeburg and as far away as Australia. I learn a lot. The French kids aren’t too fond of the way some of the Americans dress. They say we’re always in a rush. Everyone is different and brings something unique to the team.”
In addition to guiding the student-athletes on the right path toward graduation, Shannon is often a reference for student-athletes seeking post graduate degrees as well.
“The University reaches out to us if they’re offering free GRE or LSAT classes or something like that,” Shannon said. “So I make sure to send them to those when they’re offered.”
“What people don't realize about Xavier is that he doesn't just help our student-athletes while they are Gamecocks,” Frye said. “By coordinating post-graduate exams for our student-athletes and helping prepare them for their careers, he plays a direct role in the number of doctors, lawyers and other successful professionals that have graduated from our program."
While he played football in college, Shannon admits he didn’t know much about track and field before he started working with the Gamecocks.
“I knew Michael Johnson was fast, and that Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt were fast,” Shannon chuckled. “I didn’t know anything about the steeplechase or the logistics of the pole vault. Working with the track and field team, I ask them a lot of questions. I always tell the pole vaulters that they’re crazy. The cross country girls will tell me how they ran 20-plus miles, and you learn about the things they do that you never knew.”
As he gets to know the student-athletes, it makes him want to see them succeed even more.
“You appreciate what they do more when you get to know them,” Shannon said. “The Olympics is the biggest competition there is. Every four years, everyone loves track and field. But to see them do what they do on regular basis, it really makes you appreciate it.”
Shannon often travels with the team for events such as the SEC Championships and the Penn Relays in order to conduct study halls or make sure exams are proctored. Being a former student-athlete, Shannon knows where they’re coming from, and that helps create a favorable relationship.
“I don’t have any pity on them whatsoever,” Shannon grinned. “I’ve been there. You wake up at 6 a.m. for a workout, go to class, and then you’re up doing stuff until 9 p.m. I know all of the excuses. They don’t work.
“Sometimes freshmen think I’m the meanest person in the world when they get here. By the time the second semester comes, I can’t get them away from me. It’s like that every year. Once they see the results, they’re happy. It works pretty well.”
- Women's Sports
- Fan Zone
- Gamecock Club
- Academic Services
- Active Gamecocks
- Annual Reports
- Brag Points
- Communications and Public Relations
- Community Outreach
- Compliance Services
- Facility Rentals
- Facility Projects
- Football Strength & Conditioning
- Gamecock Gala
- All Access