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Awarded single-digit jersey before season, earned through dedication and leadership
“When stuff gets rough, I know how to push through and keep my head high. I just want to be known for that.”
December 16, 2017.
Baylor defensive end Brian Nance has the date marked on his calendar. To Nance, the 16th represents a future he’s worked hard to earn. A future that, at times, he wasn’t sure was possible.
It’s the day that Nance will receive his degree and officially become a graduate of Baylor University.
The circumstances surrounding graduation were up in the air as recently as the summer of 2016, as Nance became academically ineligible after failing to earn the required grade point average that semester.
Nance is candid about his struggle with school, but refuses to be defined by his learning disorder, which has affected him since his youth. In fact, his ineligibility last season just added fuel to the fire to get his academics straight and get closer to his dream of becoming a college graduate.
“I’m not the only one in college athletics that struggles with this problem, but I just use this as a platform to build that up and show, ‘hey, I struggle with academics, but I’m going to keep fighting to the end ’til I get that degree.’ And that’s the goal, to get the degree and make your family proud,” he said.
“He represents what those guys believe in. He is our champion.”
Family means everything to Nance, the father of two young children, 5-year-old son Jayvon and 14-month-old daughter Brielle. He also credits his “backbone,” girlfriend Ariel Dickerson, for continuing to inspire and motivate him in his time away from both the field and the classroom and help him find the positive in a emotionally and financially tough situation.
“I learned a lot about myself. When stuff gets hard, what are you going to do and how are you going to react? I could have easily been a statistic and just dropped out or transferred somewhere. I refused to be that. I didn’t want to be known as that person,” he said.
His determination and positive attitude paid off; Nance rejoined the team in spring of this year and immediately proved to coaches and teammates that he was going to use his second chance to his advantage. He drives 40 minutes to Waco from Temple, Texas, where he lives with his family, and stays late finishing his school work and watching film.
“The first time I met him, I said ‘Man, this guy’s mature,’” said defensive end coach Elijah Robinson. “He expressed to me how important his family was to him, and I didn’t realize his story, of where he had to travel from every morning just to come to practice and that he had two kids at home. The way he handles his business, he’s a really mature young man.”
Nance left an impression on his teammates throughout camp, so much so that he was voted as one of a handful of players worthy to wear a single-digit jersey during the season. At Baylor, these jerseys represent student-athletes who have displayed discipline and leadership on and off of the football field.
“I’m just proud of Brian taking advantage of his opportunities. He’s working at it every day. He just wants to constantly get better and I’m proud of him for just fighting. For his peers to think so much of him after missing a year of football, being away from those guys and those guys still think he’s a leader, that tells you all about Brian right there. He represents what those guys believe in, so he is our champion,” said Robinson.
Ultimately, Nance is proud of his determination and for being the type of role model he wants to be for his children.
“My children have changed my viewpoint, changed my whole life, period. You want to give them the world, give them everything. You have to lead them the right way, show them right from wrong,” said Nance. “Like when you’re having a bad day and then you see their faces, your day can’t be bad. It’s like ‘look at these children, that’s yours’ and they brighten up your whole day, and that just makes you want to push. It gives you an extra drive.
“Everything I’ve been through, I just want to be determined, to be known as somebody that works hard. When stuff gets rough, I know how to push through and keep my head high, and I just want to be known for that. Champions work hard to be a champion. You have to put in the work that people don’t see, on and off the field, in the classroom. Being a Champion for Life means a lot; representing Baylor, it just means a lot. I’m just embracing everything right now.”
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