On any given day, UCF baseball players have more on their plate than just a glove and a ball — their success on the field all starts with their work ethic in the classroom.
“Being recruited here means that you’re a student athlete, and being a student definitely comes first,” said Matthew Mika, senior infielder and sport and exercise science major.
Just two seasons ago, the Knights were at the top of the American Athletic Conference, which took plenty of practice hours every week on top of the normal game schedule.
The student athletes on the baseball team start their day at 6 a.m. with a workout. From there, they have a couple hours to get homework done and attend classes until practice starts around 1 p.m. each day.
After practice, players either return back to campus for a night class or start assignments and studying for the week.
On top of playing on the field, head coach Greg Lovelady said he takes academics very seriously.
“You can be a great student and a great baseball player,” Lovelady said.
He also stresses the word “care."
Lovelady said he has been preaching to his team for the last three years that to be a baseball player, you have to care about your image off the field just as much as you do on the field.
Junior catcher and infielder Dallas Beaver graduated in just two years at UCF and is currently working on two master’s degrees — one in public administration and the other in criminal justice.
He said he learned to balance his time in high school, and when he got to college it was nothing new to have school work on top of baseball.
“I go home [from practice] and keep working on school work," Beaver said. "It’s kind of a never-ending cycle.”
He said he expects to keep the same routine for the foreseeable future, as his classes for his master’s require more work. At the same time, he said he remains confident enough to play at his best.
To make sure they are staying on top of their school work, players lean on academic adviser Carly Place.
Senior outfielder and business major Tyler Osik said he is very gracious of Place’s work with the team.
“Without her, I wouldn’t be as successful in the classroom as I have been,” Osik said.
Place is going on her second year as the adviser for the baseball team. She is responsible for scheduling tutoring for the players, registering them for summer, fall and spring classes, and meeting with them weekly to create a plan.
“Knowing that I can make a difference in these guys’ lives is why I do my job,” Place said.
Place said she puts a lot of focus into helping the players manage their time.
With 54 games during the spring semester, everything can get hectic. Place said most afternoons are taken up by practice or games, so it’s essential for players to be able to manage their time.
“We have had success and a lot of that has to do with Carly [Place],” Lovelady said. “We don’t get the GPA we get without her.”
As a team, the Knights earned a 3.29 GPA in the fall 2018 semester, which was a program-high, according to Place.
When the Knights hit the road, players are required to submit travel letters to each professor to show when they will be out and how long it will be. Place makes these packets for the players and they must take it to each professor to get signatures.
The packet includes all the dates players will be playing a game or will be out of town for a road trip.
Senior pitcher and communication and conflict major Garrett Westberg said the team still has to get assignments submitted while on the road.
“We have time on the road trips, whether it’s on a bus or a plane, to get assignments done,” Westberg said.
Being a student athlete sometimes entails taking the classroom on the go, but Lovelady said he is making sure his players are using all available resources to stay on top of classwork.
“Academics is one of our four pillars, as it sets you up for the rest of your life,” Lovelady said.
The Knights will look to continue working hard in the classroom while they look to pick up on-field wins throughout the 2019 season.