Vanderbilt's Oren Burks Is the Ultimate Student-Athlete

We all know being a student-athlete alone is hard work. Oren Burks, a football player from Vanderbilt University takes that term to the next level. Oren, who is currently in spring drills as a safety-linebacker hybrid for Vanderbilt, has found ways to become a leader on and off the field.   

The redshirt junior from Fairfax Station, Virginia racked up over fifty tackles this year for one the SEC’s most vaunted defenses. Oren also helps volunteer for numerous things around campus. For instance, he and several other Vanderbilt students started a campus organization called REVAMP (Revitalizing and Empowering Vanderbilt’s African-American Male Population). He also served as the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). I got the chance to ask Burks a few questions:       

When did you start to get involved in campus activities?     
“Sophomore year. My freshman year I was a little nervous coming into school with the transition from high school to college. My sophomore year I had gotten injured (sprained MCL). During that time period I was doing a lot of rehab and the team was on travel. I was looking around and I was like who would I be able to call on if I needed a ride to the airport or I needed to hang out with some people if I wasn’t around my football friends. I realized I needed to branch out and find some regular friends and people I related to.”      

How hard has it been to balance football and things off the field?   
“It’s extremely hard. For me, the one thing I try to do is be where your feet are. So if you're on the football field focus 100 percent of your effort and attention there. If you're in the classroom, have 100 percent effort there. If you’re with the student org or doing a service trip or anything like that, that is where you need to put your focus. If you think about all the different things you are doing at the same time it's going to be overwhelming. You're not going to be able to prioritize your time and truly be present in the moment. If it's important to you you'll make time for it. At the end of the day I know it's all worth it knowing I make a difference on every avenue”.     

Why do you think it is important to be involved in so many clubs and programs on campus?       
“I feel that being a student-athlete on campus means more than just playing your sport and just going to class. There are so many more experiences that you can benefit from outside the classroom and on the field that will give you a different perspective on life. It allows you to learn in other ways from your peers and the people around you. I think the best learning is done outside the classroom. For me it’s a lot of fun, I love interacting with people and learning where they come from and their ideals. Ultimately it leads to a better life of learning and growing.”      

Why do you think it is important as an athlete to speak up on issues in today's society?   
“I think it's important to speak up because if you're silent you’re condoning these actions and they continue happening. Even if these events aren’t happening directly to you and you see them happening in your community, why wait for it to happen to you or someone close to you? I feel like it’s important to be stern and speak up at times where people aren’t doing the right thing- just holding each other accountable to the actions that we go about every day. So I think it’s important for us to really respect each other in life in whatever form it is. Like if you don't know someone you can’t assume that they’re going to act a certain way because you don’t know them on a personal level.”     

How is athletics able to give you a platform to being so active in the community?  
“Athletics is something that is highly visible to the public. It really gives you the opportunity to become a role model that people can look up to in all aspects of life. When people realize you're more than just a football player or athlete and you have hobbies that you like and special interests, it can catch your attention. People can relate to you and when you can relate with people you can influence them and motivate them to be a better person. I try to get the best out of people whether it’s teammates, family members, friends, or whoever I meet. I want them to be the best version of ourselves.”

What advice would you give any student-athlete that wants to get involved such as you? 
“First I would say to prioritize your time. So, obviously football or you athletic sport is going to take up a bulk of your time with practices, meetings, games, travel. If you're truly passionate about something I would encourage you to pursue that. It may seem like you have no time but if it’s important to you you’ll make time. Ultimately it might lead to some sacrifices, I put social media away for a while, and I had to not play video games or something like that. If you're truly looking to do something more productive and make a difference you can make time. Second, I would say is to be persistent with your process. Like for me I have a schedule to follow on a day to week basis. It’s very easy to reduce your performance whether on the football field or academics. You have to know that those things come first. You need to know your priorities so in in your spare time you can be productive as well.”    

At the end of the day, being a student-athlete is hard. Even though your schedule may seem booked up you can always find time to help around your community just like Oren Burks.

Photo credit: Stacy Rever/Getty Images

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