TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – When he arrived at Florida State in the fall of 2013, Austin Droogsma had no way of knowing all the twists and turns his road through Tallahassee would take.
He does, however, know exactly where that road will end: on stage at the Donald L. Tucker Center, with a handshake from FSU president John Thrasher and a hard-earned bachelor’s degree in criminology.
Droogsma, a football-player-turned-shot-putter, is set to participate in spring commencement ceremonies this weekend.
And he can be forgiven if he’s taking a few moments to bask in the achievement.
“It’s really nice talking to all my friends and hearing them complaining about their final exams,” said Droogsmsa, one of 20 track and field seniors who will be honored at noon Friday during the Seminole Twilight meet. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m done.’”
At first glance, Droogsma’s tale seems like the quintessential student-athlete success story: A second-generation Seminole, from down the road in Gulf Breeze, Fla., who capped his career with an ACC championship, All-America honors and a diploma.
Were it only that simple.
Originally recruited to play on the offensive line for the Seminoles’ football team, Droogsma midway through his senior year of high school instead opted to focus on track and field.
And while the 6-foot-5, 350-pounder certainly had the physique to thrive at the collegiate level, he might not have had the temperament.
At least not at first.
Because whereas the mapped-out, regimented lifestyle that Droogsma led during his first year on campus might be ideal for many student-athletes, it didn’t work for him.
“I was tired of the ‘Go to class, go to practice, go to workouts, go to tutoring, go home, go to bed’ (routine),” Droogsma said. “I’d wake up every single day and I know what I’m doing. And that got really boring really quick.”
Droogsma longed for a social life, and friends and a little bit of spontaneity every once in a while.
He longed to experience life as a college student.
So, in an effort to spice things up, Droogsma did what anyone with his size and strength would do.
He got a job working security at a nearby nightclub.
“That opened me up to a whole side of Tallahassee I didn’t really know was there,” Droogsma said. “It fulfilled that desire for diversity in my life that I was seeking out.”
What followed next was the ultimate balance between work, school and sports.
Classes in the mornings, track practice in the afternoons, and often a work shift until well past midnight.
It wasn’t always easy – Droogsma recalls a few times where he’d get off work around 4 a.m. with a test scheduled for just a few hours later – but, with the help of his academic advisors, professors and coaches, Droogsma made it work.
It was Hannah Alattar, a former FSU academic staffer now working in the NBA, who guided Droogsma on the path toward his criminology degree, and who, as Droogsma so succinctly put it, gave him “a kick in the ass every now and again.”
It was Dr. Billy Close, an FSU criminology professor and himself a former track star for the Seminoles, with whom Droogsma forged a connection in the field – the two able to find common ground in both athletics and academics.
And it was Dorian Scott, the Seminoles’ throws coach, who spurred Droogsma to become one of the best shot-putters in the nation.
As proud as Droogma is of his academic achievements, that last point is pretty special too.
After missing the entire 2016 season with an injury in his left, non-throwing shoulder, Droogsma returned to shot-putting in a big way the following year with five first-place finishes in the outdoor season and a visit to the NCAA championships.
And he took things up another notch for his fifth-year senior season, posting a 20.0-meter throw that was good enough to win the ACC indoor title by more than a full meter.
“That was the culmination of a lot of really hard work and good timing,” said Droogsma, whose father Mike was an All-Metro Conference discus thrower at FSU in the 1980s.
“It’s so gratifying to finally get here.”
As he looks forward to commencement, Droogsma can’t help but think back to his graduation from Gulf Breeze High five years ago. It’s a moment commemorated in one of Droogsma’s favorite photographs, one of he and his mother, Patricia, at the ceremony.
Parents don’t typically get to greet their kids as they walk off the graduation stage, but Patricia, an administrator at Gulf Breeze, had a front-row seat and a prime opportunity for a big hug.
Patricia won’t be there at the bottom of the stage this time around – although she and Mike will be in attendance – but Droogsma expects a similar feeling.
“I still look at that picture today,” he said. “And I’m like, Wow, that was really cool.’ I imagine it will be similar to that.”
There are some nights when Droogsma lies awake and wonders “What if?”
What if, for example, he had stuck with football and pursued life as an offensive lineman?
Or what if he had stayed on his first academic path, toward a business degree, and never discovered his interest in criminology and a potential career in law enforcement?
Or what if he had simply taken the easy path, never joining the late-night work force but, as a consequence, never finding the expanded horizon that he so valued?
Those thoughts, he says, are interesting. But they never last long.
“I feel like my life might have been a little bit easier if I hadn’t have gone that route,” he said. “But I picked a road, I ran with it and I made best I could with it.
“You live and you learn, and you have these life experiences. And that’s what life – and that’s what college – is about.”