TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Barret Browning spent two seasons with the Florida State baseball team, and he used his time in Tallahassee as a springboard to an eight-year professional career that included a stint with Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals in 2012.
In a sense, Browning did what he set out to do when he arrived at FSU, achieving great heights on the diamond and then playing on a Major-League stage that few players ever reach.
And yet, as the years passed and Browning retired from baseball, he couldn’t help but feel as if he had left something unfinished.
“I was in school for four years,” Browning said, “and didn’t have anything to show for it, academically.”
He does now.
Fourteen years after he first arrived at FSU, Browning earlier this month donned his cap and gown and walked across the stage at the Donald L. Tucker Center, where he shook hands with President John Thrasher and officially received his bachelor’s degree in sociology.
Browning is the latest success story from Florida State’s degree completion program, which assists former FSU athletes who wish to return to school, whether during or after their professional playing days.
Previous graduates include football’s Kenny Shaw, Ernie Sims, Josue Matias, Derrick Gibson and Bobby Butler.
And about 30 other former athletes are currently enrolled in the program.
“I didn’t really have the expectation to finish at Florida State,” said Browning, who came to FSU after first attending Chipola College in nearby Marianna, Fla. “But when I found out there was a (program) that would help me complete my degree, I jumped all over it.”
Working with Ashton Henderson, FSU’s assistant athletics director for student-athlete development, and Cathy Badger, director of academic affairs, Browning charted a path of online courses that would allow him to complete his remaining 29 credit hours by the summer of 2019.
“Cathy Badger and Ashton Henderson did a great job,” Browning said. “They both played a large role in everything I was able to accomplish. Without their help, it wouldn’t have happened. There’s no doubt about that.”
Browning still did most of the heavy lifting himself.
A husband and the father of two young boys, Browning found that nearly every hour of every day went toward one of his responsibilities.
Often, Browning would work between 40 and 55 hours per week, come home to have dinner and spend time with his family, and then hit the books after everyone else went to bed.
Homework sessions sometimes started at 1 a.m. and lasted until after the sun came up on the next day.
“It was non-stop,” he said. “A lot of nights, I didn’t sleep.”
“Barret Browning was the best kind of returning student to work with,” Badger said. “Motivated, courteous, diligent and determined to finish his degree.
“The remaining courses he needed to finish were challenging, and I’m so proud of the hard work he put in to accomplish his goal.”
When things got tough, two things kept Browning going.
Well, three things, technically.
First were his two sons, Boone and Tate.
Browning knew that he couldn’t very well teach them about the importance of education without first completing his.
“I didn’t ever want to be an excuse for my kids to not get their degree, and say, ‘You don’t have yours,” he said.
Second was a newfound passion for coaching.
Browning, a pitcher who had a 7-2 record with the Seminoles in 2006, had already been working part-time with the baseball team at Wayne County High in Jesup, Ga., his alma mater.
When Browning started coaching, he didn’t think he’d enjoy it as much as he did. But he caught the bug quickly and soon felt a desire to coach on a more permanent basis.
To do that, though, he first needed to be a full-time teacher.
And before he could become a full-time teacher, Browning first had to earn his bachelor’s degree.
“I probably enjoy (coaching) as much as I did playing,” Browning said. “So, naturally, as the push came for me to become a teacher so I could coach full-time, and my enjoyment of it grew, it kind of melted into me doing that.”
Browning’s first day as a full-time teacher and coach was on August 1 – just two days before he and his family drove down to Tallahassee for commencement ceremonies.
Browning could have easily skipped the ceremony and received his degree all the same. And, given all of his time commitments, he might have been tempted to.
But after all the sleepless nights and homework assignments, Browning wasn’t about to pass up the chance to exhale, smile and enjoy his achievement.
After all, it was nearly 15 years in the making.
“It was something that I wanted to give myself,” Browning said. “It’s a simple act – walking across the stage and having your name called. But it’s the work that went behind that that means the most to me.
“And it’s just representative of that.”