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'Knowing your why' - Auburn student-athletes attend SEC leadership conference
Five Auburn student-athletes joined Commissioner Sankey at the SEC's leadership conference in July.
Aug. 17, 2017

By Jeff Shearer

AUBURN, Ala. - It's rare when Derrick Brown, Auburn's 6-foot-5, 316-pound sophomore defensive lineman, isn't the biggest guy in the room.

But in July, when SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey invited 68 student-athletes to Birmingham for a three-day leadership conference, Brown found himself needing assistance to see eye to eye.

"You've got basketball players," Brown said. "They're like 6-11, so we're standing on chairs trying to take the picture. I'm looking up at them."

One of those basketball players, 6-foot-7 Anfernee McLemore, enjoyed the interactions and instruction.

"Since we're competitors on the court, we're all friends off the court," McLemore said. "They gave us a lot of talks about leadership, how you can be a leader in different ways. You can lead both by example and vocally."

Auburn's five-member delegation included Janiah McKay from women's basketball, swimmer Foster Ballard and gymnast Samantha Cerio, vice president of Auburn's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

"My biggest takeaways were getting to interact with other SEC student-athletes and seeing the different ways they operate their SAAC and athletic programs," Cerio said. "Also, listening and speaking to Commissioner Sankey, and learning how much he cares about the opinions of the student-athletes who make up the SEC."

The weekend agenda included service projects at a food bank and cancer center, and leadership talks from former student-athletes.

Freddie Scott's message about "knowing your why" -- one's motivation or purpose - especially resonated with Auburn's group.

"When you know your why, when you know your passion in life and why you truly seek to do the things you do, then your what will always fall in after that," Ballard said. "People today get so lost in the big picture of what they are doing, yet at the end of the day they can't look back and explain their why or passion for it, leading to no true feeling of satisfaction."

"When you know your why, there is more power in your purpose," McKay said, recalling Scott's speech. "I believe that is huge because if you don't understand why you are doing anything, you can never reach your full potential."

Auburn's student-athletes plan to implement some of the leadership principles they learned.

"I want to make sure I can be a great leader not just for my team, but for life," McKay said.

"I have already been talking with some of our coaches and trainers," said Ballard. "They seem to love the idea of really understanding your why to develop your potential, not only as an athlete but simply as an adult once we graduate and leave the realm of athletics."

Brown, who served in leadership roles in high school, plans to continue to lead throughout his remaining years on campus.

"I loved going to the conference with the commissioner and being able to talk," Brown said. "We had a four-hour meeting with him and he did a wonderful job of explaining everything to us. We also were able to take our questions and concerns to him.

"Just being able to learn and hang out with people from other schools that you wouldn't ever get a chance to do so. I loved that opportunity."

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:

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