SAAC President Brianne Burkert setting the tone on and off the court
By Tim Linafelt
While she doesn't yet know exactly what she wants to do with the public relations degree she's set to earn, Brianne Burkert knows that she wants to lead people, whether as a manager or a director in the communications field. Four years as a key member of the FSU volleyball team have put Burkert on that path and, if that wasn't enough, her latest appointment as president of the FSU Student-Athlete Advisory Council should have the senior setter well on her way.
A native of Richardson, Texas, Burkert recently assumed her post at the top of SAAC and has wasted no time making her mark on the organization, which serves as one of the best available resources for Seminole student-athletes. Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka was a member of SAAC during his time at FSU.
With multiple representatives from each of FSU's 20 varsity sports, SAAC provides a voice for student-athletes at the university, conference and national level. Student-athletes can express their concerns, ask questions, find ways to engage with their campus and community and prepare for life after college. Burkert has been a SAAC member since the spring of her freshman year and, after serving in a variety of roles on the group's executive board as a sophomore and junior, is the perfect choice to lead SAAC in 2018-19.
"She is so driven in going after her goals," said Sarah Petronio, Florida State's director of student-athlete development and events. "I've just been
so impressed with her vision and what she wants to accomplish. She's got an action plan behind all of it. She's taken initiative and led with full force."
In addition to preparing for the Seminoles' upcoming season — she's one of four seniors looking to improve on last year's first-round finish in the
NCAA tournament — Burkert is also busy with a lengthy checklist for her term as SAAC president. Tops on that list is getting FSU's student-athletes more involved in campus life.
Classes, practices and games don't leave much time for joining clubs or going to on-campus events, but Burkert is hoping to change that.
"One of my main goals for SAAC internally is for every single member to join or get involved with another organization on campus not related
to athletics," she said. "Because I don't think our athletes are out on campus enough."
That commitment extends to the Tallahassee community as well.
Community service has long been one of SAAC's top priorities, and that
won't change with Burkert at the helm. Previous service stops have included visits to nursing homes, hospitals and homeless shelters, and Burkert said she plans to team up with other campus organizations to expand SAAC's reach even further. Planned partnerships include an event with the recently founded FSU Mental Health Council as well as a potential canned food drive with the
FSU Student Government Association.
"The biggest thing is that community service element," Burkert said. "If there wasn't a group like SAAC, you wouldn't see so many athletes out in
the community. "We'll get opportunities for community service, and we'll go grab our teammates and get a big group of people to go serve somewhere — to go play with kids somewhere, to go read to students at elementary schools."
Also on the agenda is a focus on professional development, with a chance to take professional headshots, attend resume-building workshops and hear public speaking tips from longtime FSU professor Mark Zeigler. There are currently 53 current student-athletes in SAAC, including standouts from football (Alec Eberle, Logan Tyler and Adam Torres, among others), men's basketball (Trent Forrest, Terance Mann), baseball (Drew Mendoza, Chase Haney), softball (Meghan King) and track and field (Cortney Jones, Armani Wallace).
"I think that's really cool, to make sure our athletes aren't just athletes," Burkert said. "They get the college experience and also they give back
to the community. It's getting them involved in stuff that they wouldn't typically know about."
ACC's Best Player: Shakayla Thomas
By Jim Crosby
It was 2014 and Florida State women's basketball assistant coach Lance White was scouring the backroads of Alabama in search of basketball talent. White, now in his 15th season at FSU, was named the 2016 WBCA National Assistant Coach of the Year. He would hit the jackpot on this trip four years ago.
"I was in some back gym in Birmingham and then here comes this athletic little girl that is just running over all these other kids and I'm like, who is this? Then, I realized that was Shakayla Thomas," said White. "I called Coach Sue and said: ‘We've got to offer her right now."
Shakayla was in the 8th grade. She had been a starter on Sylacauga's basketball team since 7th grade and had been playing basketball since the age of 6.
Florida State kept in constant contact with Shakayla as she continued to develop through her junior and senior years. Sylacauga, a town of 12, 640 people is located 96 miles from the Alabama Crimson Tide's home in Tuscaloosa and 64 miles from Auburn, home of the Tigers. You can probably even see the War Eagle fly from her hometown. Obviously, there was competition for her talents.
She certainly was not hidden from view because Thomas was the three-time Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 5-A Girls Player of the Year. In addition, she was a three-time 5A All-State Player and lead Sylacauga to the 5-A State Championship game scoring 40 points in the semifinal game---a win over Brewer.
Coach Sue Semrau, who starts her 21st season at Florida State as the winningest coach in in FSU history with 401 wins, says: "Shakayla is definitely the most athletic player I have ever coached."
So far in Shakayla's time at FSU the team has won 85 games and made it to the Elite Eight in two of the three seasons (2015 & 2017). The next step they are shooting for is the Final Four.
Now as a Senior leader on the team Shakayla Thomas has hopes of leading her teammates to a Final Four spot. Having come close, but failed to make it Thomas has analyzed what the team needs to do to get to that coveted place in the NCAA Post-season playoffs.
"We need for everybody to be on the same page. Everybody buying in. Wanting the same thing and doing everything that the coaches ask," She said, then added: "Like we will hear what the coaches want us to do, but end up doing something completely different. If we were paying attention and buying in we would have been to the Final Four numerous times."
It's obvious that Thomas is ready to take a leadership role this year, one that will require her to be more vocal. She has lead by example in the past. "Shakayla did whatever we needed her to do for two years coming off the bench," Said Coach Semrau. "Based on the way our team was set up at that time, her ability to give us a spark off the bench was crucial. She grew to embrace that role and won the ‘ACC Sixth Player of the Year' in a landslide two straight years. She never showed an ego, she just wanted to do what was best for the team. I'm very proud of her for that."
With the departure of three natural leaders in Leticia Romero, Brittany Brown and Ivey Slaughter there is a void that must be filled. Coach White says, "Absolutely with loss of that senior class so much of that burden will go on Shakayla's shoulders. She's got to be the one to lead. She just has to do what Shakayla does. It will be fun to see Shakayla in the role. She can't hide just a little bit. She has to step forward and be consistent all the time."
However, it is not that Shakayla will be the only team leader. This Seminole team is very talented and two other players will also step up as leaders. Chatrice White, who played in all 35 games last year, a dominant center, is a capable leader. Also, Graduate student, A. J. Alex, a guard who transferred from TCU where she made All-Big 12 Conference Honorable mention two years running should lead as well.
Leading on the floor should be no problem for Shakayla. Last year she was an WBCA and Associated Press All-American averaging a team-leading 14.9 points a game, with 199 rebounds, 21 blocks and 34 steals. All this despite missing a couple of games with a shoulder injury.
"Shakayla is pretty much unguardable one on one. She is one of the biggest offensive mis-matches in the country. She has put more of a premium on her defense and rebounding and as a result was namd our first ACC Player of the Year," said Coach Sue.
The Seminoles approach the 2017-18 season with a lot going for them. They are coming off one of their best seasons. The 28 wins was the third best by one of Coach Sue's teams. They were denied advancement to the Final Four with an Elite Eight loss to the eventual National Champion South Carolina Gamecocks.
A lot of the success can be attributed to a confidence builder in the second game of the season. On November 14th, the UConn team that has dominated women's basketball with 11 NCAA National Championships came into the Tucker Center sporting a 75-game winning streak. The Seminoles battled them to the wire only losing by 2 points when a three-pointer went awry at the buzzer.
Linton Answers Call in Navy, Cross Country
The Florida State cross country team boarded a plane bound for Louisville, Ky., to compete for the 2017 ACC championship.
At about the same time, halfway across the country, Ensign Stanley Linton boarded a plane in Des Moines, Iowa, bound for Louisville, where he will join his FSU teammates and compete for the same ACC championship.
It's an unusual and extraordinary measure for a student-athlete, but, then again, Linton is an unusual and extraordinary guy.
A native of nearby Crawfordville, Fla., Linton is equal parts runner, graduate student and – in a club all to himself – active-duty member of the United States Navy.
Linton, a human resources officer stationed at Camp Dodge, Iowa, is believed to be the only active-duty service member competing at the NCAA Division I level in any sport.
"I've never had this in 35 years of coaching," FSU cross country coach Bob Braman said. "And I'm probably not going to see another one."
Linton's story is unique, but, to those who know him, it makes perfect sense.
Having grown up around cousins and uncles in the military, and a father, Keith, who was a police officer in Tampa for 20 years, Linton always had a desire to serve.
"I wanted to do my part," he said.
And, driven by a desire to ace a fitness test in high school, Linton also learned to love running.
He first combined the two during his time at Wakulla High, where he was a decorated member of both the school's NJROTC program and cross country team.
"He was the top dog," said Madi Harris, a friend and classmate at Wakulla and a current teammate at FSU. "Everyone looked up to him."
Upon graduation, Linton moved 30 miles north to attend FSU on an ROTC scholarship. And, with some nice competitive running credentials to his name – he finished eighth at the cross country state championships as a senior – Linton worked up his nerve to approach Braman about walking on with the Seminoles.
"I realized if I was able to get into a program like that, if I could just get a spot, that I could really take my running career to the next level," Linton said. "And maybe even further."
There was only one problem: FSU's standards for its walk-ons are both high and firm. Braman requires walk-ons to run 5000 meters in 15 minutes. And, at the time, Linton's best time was over 16 minutes.
Not fast enough.
"(Braman) wrote me back and said, really respectfully, that (FSU's) walk-on standards are posted," Linton said. "(He said), ‘Good luck, and hope you can try to get to the standards.'
"It was the really the first time someone told me, ‘No.' Someone said, ‘You're not good enough.'"
Linton, however, is not the type to take no for an answer. Not when he could set his mind – and his body – to improving.
Driven by the rejection, Linton spent his first two years at Florida State training in the mornings and evenings, managing his responsibilities with the ROTC and working toward his undergraduate degree in mathematics.
He found a home in Tallahassee's extensive running community and found that, each time he ran, he was just a little bit faster than the race before.
By the spring of 2014, near the end of his sophomore year at FSU, Linton had done what he had been told he couldn't. He was fast enough for Florida State.
"He's super focused, he's very bright and he's very driven," Braman said.
Linton would go on to become a valued member of the FSU cross country team for the next two seasons, helping guide the Seminoles to three top-10 finishes as a junior and picking up All-ACC honors as a senior.
He then graduated in the spring of 2016, and, given his commitment to the Navy – the ROTC scholarship requires five years of service upon graduation – figured that his time as a collegiate runner was over.
Linton didn't have any regrets about joining the Navy, but, after everything he went through to become a Seminole, he found the end of his running career to be bittersweet.
"You have a lot of thoughts," he said. "‘Man, if I had another chance, I would have done this right, or done that right or really trained this way. I wish I had another chance.'"
The Navy sent Linton to Des Moines, where he spent a year wrestling with those thoughts. That's when Braman called with an idea that Linton hadn't yet considered: NCAA rules allow student athletes to compete in four seasons across five years, and Linton had only run in two seasons.
Not only that, but the 2017-18 year would be Linton's fifth. He still had eligibility remaining, and, if he wanted it, a spot on the FSU cross country and track teams.
That doesn't mean, however, that there weren't still some hurdles to clear.
First, Linton had to clear the plan with his superiors at the Navy, which turned out to be easier than he expected.
"It worked out harmoniously," Linton said. "They both understood – ROTC wanted an athlete. And cross-country wanted an ROTC member."
With the Navy's blessing, Linton then had to work with Braman and FSU's NCAA compliance office to ensure that rules allow for active-duty service members to compete. Bylaw 126.96.36.199 says that they can.
Then, Linton had to apply for graduate school and enroll in a Master's program at FSU. He did that, and opted to pursue a degree in learning and cognition.
Finally, Linton charted a plan with his academic advisor, Erin DeChellis, that would allow him to do his coursework remotely.
With those steps complete, Linton – lovingly dubbed "Lieutenant Stan" by Braman and teammates – was a Seminole again. A fifth-year senior, living in Des Moines, who would travel to meet the Seminoles at their races.
"When I got the final OK from FSU," Linton said, "I had remembered all those months of thinking my career was over, and started to put it into action."
For Linton, that means a strict regimen that suits both his life in the Navy and his life as a runner.
He runs at 5 a.m. every day, then heads to work. If he has any down time in the office, he'll use it to study. Linton then heads home, runs again, handles whatever schoolwork he needs to and then heads to bed.
"I repeat that five times a week," he said.
"You're not going to find another person who has more obligations than he does in the NCAA championships," Braman added.
It's a lot to manage, but Linton says he likes it that way.
"There's a phrase I use a lot – ‘Pressure makes diamonds,'" Linton said. "I think that really applies to me. I'm able to give my best when I'm under pressure. When I'm getting all this stuff thrown at me – whether it's work, school, running – I think I'm able to adapt and overcome."
And, as he progresses further in his career, Linton has found that what makes a successful runner is often the same as what makes a successful Naval officer.
"A sense of discipline is essential in athletics and in the military," Linton said. "Because I have to be disciplined in the military, it's good that I'm a runner. And because I have to be disciplined in running, it's good that I'm in the military."
Defensive Back Counts Education As Blessing
The Nate Andrews story
By Jeff Romance
ESPN said he was the most likely player at Florida State to end up as a football coach, and defensive back Nate Andrews couldn't agree more.
Growing up with three brothers in Fairhope, Alabama, Andrews was a versatile athlete who spent time playing basketball, baseball and football. In middle school, baseball became his favorite sport and he even made the Fairhope varsity baseball team as an eighth-grader.
"One of the things that most people don't know about me is that I love baseball. I actually used to hate football growing up," Andrews said. "All the way up to my senior year I hated football and I wanted to be a baseball player."
Andrews was a dynamic offensive football player at wide receiver and quarterback at Fairhope High School, but it wasn't until he received his first football scholarship offer (from Florida State) that he fell in love with football.
"FSU was my first offer. I got a call from Dameyune Craig at the end of my junior year and he told me that they wanted me to play receiver for Florida State. After that, when Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt got to Florida State, he started recruiting me to play safety," Andrews said.
Although he initially committed to Minnesota, Andrews switched his commitment to Florida State so he could be closer to home and his parents could come watch him play.
His football career began in 2013 as a safety and cornerback on the top-rated pass defense in the country. Andrews led Florida State with four interceptions and he played in all fourteen games during his freshman campaign. He capped off his first season in Garnet and Gold with four tackles in the National Championship victory over Auburn.
"It was awesome coming in as a true freshman and playing and then winning the national championship with guys like Lamarcus Joyner, Telvin Smith, Timmy Jernigan, Terrance Brooks and all of the other guys on that great defense," Andrews said. "Those guys all took me under their wing and helped me out. That's why I love it here at Florida State."
Andrews played in all 41 games his first three years at Florida State. An injury limited his senior season to only four games and he received a medical redshirt. His time on the sidelines last season allowed Andrews to see the game from a coaches' perspective and fueled his desire to be a coach after his playing days are over.
"I've always wanted to be a coach and I definitely want to get into that one day. My short-term goal is to graduate and to have a career in the NFL. After that I would love to be able to give back to FSU by being a football coach here," Andrews said.
Giving back to Florida State is important to Andrews because he is so appreciative of the opportunities he has been provided.
"My scholarship has meant a lot to me … I know some people might take for granted having an athletic scholarship, but I don't, and that's why I go one hundred percent on the football field and in the classroom," Andrews said.
As he is busy preparing for is redshirt senior season to begin in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game against Alabama on Sept. 2, Andrews is thankful for one more opportunity to represent Florida State as a student-athlete.
"I would like to say thank you to the Boosters who fund our scholarships because they are not only doing something good, but they are changing somebody's life. They are giving student-athletes like me the opportunity go to college and get a great education and play football," Andrews said.
"At the end of the day football is going to run out, so just having the chance to get an education makes me want to thank the people who are contributing to that. It's a real blessing."
A FORCE IN GOAL
Senior Goalkeeper Cassie Miller wants to finish her career like it started, with a National Championship
By Jeff Romance
Cassie Miller came to Tallahassee and fell in love.
It was the summer of 2012, following her junior year of high school, when she came to Tallahassee for a soccer goalkeeping clinic and immediately fell in love with the Florida State soccer program.
"After my junior season, I had already had a good idea where I wanted to go to school, and Florida State wasn't on my mind at all," Miller said. "When I got on campus at the camp, I just fell in love with the program, the coaches, the players and the staff. I called my mom back in Arizona and told her this was my new home."
Miller was so anxious to get to Tallahassee that she graduated early from Cactus Shadows High School in Cave Creek, Arizona and enrolled at FSU in January of 2013, and never looked back. Her mother also relocated to Tallahassee, and neither has been back to Arizona since.
Growing up in Arizona, Miller's mother and brother were her role models and inspiration, and both had a great impact on her athletic career. Even though her brother Andrew is two years older, Miller would always follow along and jump in as the "tomboy" with everything he was doing.
"My brother made me the humble and disciplined person I am today because everything he does, he does for someone else and I like to show that side of me to my teammates," Miller said. "He has been the person I have looked up to my whole life."
Miller's FSU career began with a redshirt during the 2013 season. As a freshman in 2014, Miller played every minute of the season in goal for the Seminoles, as the team posted a 24-1-1 record and went on to win the program's first NCAA National Championship. Miller allowed a record-low, nine goals during the regular season and did not allow a goal in all six games of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
"Winning the National Championship has definitely been the highlight of my collegiate career so far. When your goal is to win the championship every year and to finally accomplish that goal was so special," Miller said.
"My favorite picture is one of us all smiling in a dog pile immediately after the championship game. That was such a great memory after all of the hard work and grit to get to that point."
While Miller and her teammates have enjoyed great success on the pitch over the past few seasons, she is equally appreciative of the scholarship that allowed her to achieve her goals on and off the field.
"This opportunity means the world to me. It has made me a better person and a better student-athlete. I wouldn't be at Florida State if it weren't for my scholarship," Miller said.
"I think about how fortunate I am every day. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the generosity of the Boosters that give to Florida State. I want to thank all of the people who donate and support us. And one day I want to be a person who can give back to FSU to help support the dreams of future student-athletes."
The redshirt senior goalkeeper is optimistic that her team is poised to make another run at a National Championship as it opens the season at home on August 18 against UNC Greensboro.
- Her Mother played basketball at Oklahoma State
- Brother Andrew is currently in the Army
- Spent two summers at Bull Riding Camp as a teenager
- Writes two names on her tape during games: her Grandfather Ulrich Von Dran and Monk Bonasorte
- Her personal hero is former Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash
- 2009 and 2010 NFL Punt, Pass &aamp; Kick Champion
- Already has her undergraduate degree in Psychology
- Currently enrolled in Juris Master Program in the College of Law
A CAREER MOVE
Senior Milica Kubura weighs her options as she prepares for her final volleyball season
An athlete, an actress, or an actuary; such is the decision for senior volleyball player Milica Kubura.
A native of Belgrade, Serbia, Kubura was a member of the Serbian National Junior Team and had played international volleyball throughout her high school career.
With an influx of Serbian players already on the volleyball team, FSU was a perfect fit for Kubura.
"I really wanted to go to a school that is very good in volleyball and academically, so I think FSU was perfect," Kubura said. "There were a bunch of girls from Serbia that were already playing for FSU so I contacted them via email and they told me everything I needed to know about FSU."
While there were several schools interested in Kubura as a volleyball player, she was offered an academic scholarship to Columbia University in New York. At one point she had even committed to Columbia but eventually decided on Florida State because of the athletics and academics combination.
Another decision that Kubura had to make before coming to Florida State was whether or not to pursue a career as an actress.
"I think the most interesting thing about me is how diverse I am. I love math. I love volleyball. I love theater. I know these things really don't go together, but I really love all of them," Kubura said. "I had to decide between theater and volleyball in high school and it was a very hard decision for me. I really wanted to be an actress, it was always a dream of mine."
Even as she enters her senior year as an Actuarial Science major and the top outside hitter on the FSU Volleyball Team, Kubura has yet to make any decision on her career plans after Florida State.
"One day I'm convinced I'm going to go play volleyball after college and the next day I want to be an actress," Kubura said. "I change my mind every day. As of today, I think I am going to be pursuing my actuary career."
One thing the All-ACC Academic Team member Kubura is sure of, her future options are a direct result of the opportunities she has been provided because of her athletic scholarship to Florida State.
"My scholarship has meant everything to me. It has made my life so much better, I don't have to worry about having money to eat or for my housing." Kubura said. "My scholarship also gave me a chance to pursue such a great degree as Actuarial Science and still play volleyball at an elite level."
"The Boosters who are providing the funding for our scholarships change the lives of so many athletes at FSU. What they are doing is incredibly selfless and I am so thankful for them. Getting a college degree is such a big thing to me, and a lot of us wouldn't be able to do what we are doing if it wasn't for their generosity."
Kubura and her teammates are busy preparing for the upcoming season looking to improve on their Sweet Sixteen finish from 2016.
"The loss to Stanford in the Sweet Sixteen was heartbreaking. I still can't get over that," Kubura said. "That loss is definitely giving us motivation for this year."
The Florida State volleyball team will begin its quest for redemption as it opens the season on August 25 in Waco, Texas against the Baylor Bears.
- Her father played professional basketball in Yugoslavia
- Can speak four languages (English, Serbian, Italian and Spanish)
- Played one season of Beach Volleyball at FSU (2016)
- Received the Chelyn & Baugh Award for being an outstanding student in the field of Mathematics
- Graduating in December 2017 with a degree in Actuarial Science
- Hopes to relocate to New York City after graduation