April 18, 2003
By Elliott Finebloom
FSU Sports Information
It is hard to imagine someone who better exemplifies the term student-athlete than Seminole second baseman Brandi Stuart. The Cerritos, CA native has excelled in every area since arriving in Tallahassee.
In her four years at FSU, Stuart has been named a first team NFCA Softball All-American, named a second team Verizon Academic All-American, appointed to the national Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and is a two-time member of the Dean’s List. Last month she was awarded the Weaver-James-Corrigan Postgraduate Scholarship and she has been named one of the 50 best softball players in ACC history. Brandi is also a two-time invitee to Team USA National Camp and a two-time team captain. With almost 30 athletic honors, five single season and career records and numerous academic awards to her name, she is what is right with college athletics today.
“Being on National SAAC, getting the postgraduate scholarship, being an All-American, being a Verizon Academic All-American is overwhelming,” said Stuart. “As a freshman, you never know any of those things are available to you. You really just want to come in and play well, have fun and make your family proud of you. It has been an amazing four years.
“I am most proud of the Verizon Academic All-American award. I am also very proud of the Weaver-James-Corrigan postgraduate scholarship. Those both reflect on the whole person and not just athletic accomplishments. They reward hard work in the classroom and on the field.”
Being viewed as more than an athlete is a common theme when you sit down and talk to Brandi. She has accomplished so many things in her role as a leader, a student and an athlete that focusing on just her record setting softball career would be a mistake. She has worked hard and sacrificed a lot to develop herself as a complete person throughout her collegiate career and that means more to her than any record or trophy.
“I try not to dwell on accolades. That isn’t the type of person I am. I am proud of the awards but I don’t want to be defined by them,” she said. “I would rather people not know anything I have done and just accept me as a person without any preconceived notions or expectations.
“I think a lot of people are surprised with some of the things I have accomplished. I like that. I like being the underdog and disproving people’s stereotypes of athletes, African-Americans, females and student-athletes. I love to prove people wrong.”
With every academic award she garners and every leadership position she takes, Brandi continues to break stereotypes but to also fit more snugly into the role of an ideal and not a person. Being a shining example of a student-athlete in today’s climate can be a confining position for someone who is still in her early 20’s.
“I don’t think of myself in those terms of being ‘the’ student-athlete. I just feel like a normal college student because I am around people who do what I do. That is who I grew up with so this is just the life I have always known,” said Stuart. “It feels nice to have people tell me that I am setting an example that they hope all of our student-athletes will follow.
“There is some pressure though. Sometimes you just want to act your age and want to do the things people your age are doing. It is hard to always try to live up to that ideal and it requires a lot of sacrifices. In the end it is all worth it but it is hard. There is so much you have to watch out for and you can’t always do the things you want to do.”
That is the problem Brandi feels so many athletes have today. They are young kids in the spotlight who haven’t really learned yet that you can’t make a mistake like any other college student can without it ending up on the front page of the sports section or in the local and sometimes national media. She is keenly aware of how mistakes and accusations can harm a student-athlete’s life.
“It is tough. People make mistakes. When you are always in the limelight it is magnified. It is hard to see college age students, who are supposed to make mistakes and experiment and learn from those choices, being held to such a high standard,” Brandi said. “I see my friends in the media for things they have done or been accused of or for things they never did. These are just kids trying to grow up.
“When the average citizen makes a mistake it isn’t newsworthy but when a student-athlete does that it becomes news. That is just unfair. I hope that student-athletes learn from past experiences and know that somebody is always watching their every move.”
Creating a positive image for student-athletes isn’t something Brandi is solely trying to fix by setting an example. She is also working on the problem through SAAC and through the Life Skills office at Florida State. Stuart isn’t sure though that the problem will go away no matter what they try to do.
“It seems like you have to do 10 good things to erase one bad thing in the eyes of the media and those 10 good things have to be extraordinary,” said Brandi. “We are trying to promote positive things. We sponsor seminars with student-athletes including media training. Those kinds of programs, which come from SAAC and our own CHAMPS/Life Skills department, are intended to help improve the image of student-athletes. At FSU we have the Golden Nole and the Golden Torch that promotes positives with our athletes. We are trying to get all the positive things student-athletes do across the nation into the public spotlight.”
She would also like to work on the other end of the problem and advise young athletes of some of the challenges and obstacles that lie ahead of them. Brandi feels she has seen enough good and bad to be able to impart some meaningful information to high school and college athletes.
“If I could, I would love to talk to high school students about what I have experienced as a student-athlete. I think I can relate to what those kids are experiencing and what they are going to experience going into a college situation,” said Stuart.
One of the things Brandi would stress is that all students should surround themselves with good people and have a support system in place. Having friends that push you to achieve rather than those who wittingly or unwittingly encourage you to make bad choices has been a huge factor in whatever success she has had.
“Being surrounded by the right people makes a world of difference. I haven’t had a lot of negative people in my life and that is especially true when it comes to my peers. Having positive people surround you can only contribute to your success,” said Stuart.
“Last year I had people around me who pushed me to do well athletically and academically. Without them I wouldn’t have achieved what I was able to achieve. My family is far away so they were the ones the pushed me to excel. I give a lot of credit and recognition to my friends for the success I had.”
Relying on your family and having a strong foundation are the two things that Brandi feels will successfully guide anyone through college. She believes having a support system is an important factor but that isn’t all she would tell young athletes. They also need to have confidence in themselves.
“I would tell them to never let anyone tell them there is something they can’t do. I know that is a clich? but I believe that nothing is impossible,” said Brandi. “If you believe that you can do something, you shouldn’t ever let anyone take that away from you. At the end of college if you can step away and say that you are still yourself and haven’t lost your identity due to the influence of others you have succeeded as a person.”
Leaving college with your identity in tact and as the person you want to be is tough and in Brandi’s case it required sacrifices and some understanding from her friends. There are a lot of people who would rather see you go out than study or go somewhere for spring break other than a SAAC meeting in North Carolina but it is the people who push you to strive for those things and let you be the person you want to be that have helped Brandi along the way.
“I was fortunate to start with a strong foundation that came from my family and especially my sister. She set the path for me, taught me what was right and wrong and warned me about the sacrifices I would have to make,” said Brandi. “Sometimes it is tough to say no to a party or to hanging out with your friends so you can study or go away for a SAAC meeting. It isn’t always easy to explain to them why you can’t hang out. The more my friends understood what I was doing and the reasons, it became easier for me to tell them no.
“My friends learned to accept me for who I am and many of them are trying to get involved with the things I’m involved with. That is great because I think it will help them in the classroom and when they leave school. I have been fortunate to have such great support from my friends. They understand the sacrifices I have to make.”
With just a month to go before graduation, Brandi isn’t regretting any of those sacrifices or choices. She is putting her career as a student-athlete behind her and feeling good about what she has done and the experiences she has had.
“I am graduating feeling comfortable with who I am, what I have done and what I have accomplished,” said Brandi without an ounce of self-doubt or hesitation. “I have relationships with many people in this administration who I believe will always be dear friends of mine. I love a lot of people in this athletic department as if they were a part of my family. I just want to thank them because they have become my family and support system out here. I feel comfortable leaving because I know I have them.
“I wouldn’t have done a single thing differently. I have learned so much from every experience. Sometimes I wish I had worked a little harder in the classroom and been better managing my time early in my college career. But I learned from that also. I wouldn’t change anybody I have met or anything that I have done because it has all made me a better person. It has prepared me for life after school outside of my comfort zone.”
She will surely be out of her comfort zone this summer as she heads to Nike headquarters in Beaverton, OR for an internship in the public relations department. That is just the first step on a path that Stuart hopes will lead her to a position in a public relations department of a sport management firm. The next step will be a master’s degree from FSU.
“I am going to enjoy myself a little but I would also like to be here to offer my help to the girls who are coming up after me. I would like to help map things out for them so their four years are successful in all areas, not just athletics,” said Brandi.
“Eventually I would like to do public relations in a sports management firm. For example, I would love to work in the PR or media relations office with IMG (International Management Group). I want to stay in the south. I love the people here and I love the pace of life. It is so green here compared to California.”
As driven as Stuart has been during her four years at Florida State, she really has simple goals and clear priorities for the future. Even though she loves the south, her family is out west and being near them is one of the few things she wants.
“I just want to be happy. I want to be able to see my family and have a family of my own. Being happy and getting to spend time with my family are probably my top two priorities,” said Stuart.
“My mom and dad have done everything for me. I have received so much love from my family. My sister set the pace as far as what is accepted and what goals to set. There is no other person I would like to model my life after. She is a great person and it is important to me to be near them in the future.”