The following article was written by John Frierson of the “Frierson Files,” highlighting NFLPA Extern, Elie Bouka. To view the original article, click here.
Elie Bouka had never been to a collegiate swim meet before, much less the action-packed craziness, featuring past and future Olympians, that was the SEC Swimming & Diving Championships.
“I’d never been exposed to anything like that,” Bouka, from Canada, said of last month’s event held at Georgia’s Gabrielsen Natatorium, “so for me it was very impressive, the kind of talent that was there.
“They look like fishes in the water, they swim so fast, and the divers, there’s a lot of gymnastics involved — it was all very impressive, the kind of athlete you have to be to do all that, I’d never really looked at it like that before.”
A day at the pool shadowing Christie Purks, Associate Athletic Director for Event Management, was just one piece of the NFL cornerback’s recent three-week externship with the UGA Athletic Association, which wrapped up last Friday. As one athletic department staffer told him, if you can survive a day at the SEC swim meet, you can survive anything.
Coordinated by Leigh Futch, Director of Student Development for Georgia athletics, and part of the NFL Players Association’s career development program, Bouka’s externship was eye-opening on a number of levels — just as it was meant to be.
A year ago, it was Georgia and Maryland that partnered with the NFLPA to offer the externship program. This year it was Georgia and Ohio State, according to the NFLPA website.
Georgia welcomed in two NFL players last year, defensive lineman Corbin Bryant and cornerback Kenny Moore. Bryant was a free-agent who left Northwestern with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and the externship turned into much more than that. Bryant is now doing a full-time internship with the promotions department.
For Bouka, who was waived by the Philadelphia Eagles last month after spending the 2018 season on injured reserve, the externship at Georgia was what he hopes will be the first step toward his post-football career, which he hopes includes being a director of athletics one day.
“For me, I would like to be an A.D. at some point in my career,” he said last week. “I asked Leigh Futch if I could be in every single department involved (in athletics) and be involved in as many things as I can, even outside of going to games and all the meetings that you have. … I want to see all of it, just to gain a perspective.”
He started his three weeks with Futch and Student Development and The Georgia Way, followed by days in Promotions, Academics, Facilities, Event Management, Life Skills, Sports Communications (watching what the staff did during a Georgia men’s basketball game), Football Operations and much more. It was a thorough look at how a major collegiate athletic department operates.
For a 26-year-old from Laval, Canada, who played college football at the University of Calgary before stints in the Canadian Football League and the Arizona Cardinals and Eagles of the NFL, the externship showed a level of collegiate athletics that he hadn’t before seen.
“You guys are definitely a bigger school and have more funding for the athletic department; the facilities you have and obviously with football you guys have a lot going on; baseball, the coliseum, those are things we didn’t have in Canada,” he said.
“You’re in one department one day and the next you’re in another department. You see all the pieces of the puzzle at once and it’s a pretty neat experience — I’m very fortunate to have seen all of it.”
Two areas that really got Bouka’s attention, areas he could see himself being an asset at a school after his playing days, are career development and life skills.
“Especially being a former student-athlete and now being on the professional level, there’s a lot of things that I’ve experienced, so I feel that being in the career development is something that I really want to have an impact on the school,” he said. “I feel like with the experiences I’ve had I can help a lot of student-athletes figure out themselves — the identity part.
“Being at a college, you have so many opportunities for the rest of your life, kind of four years for the rest of your life, so if you can maximize that and use all the tools that are given to you to be the best person you can be, the best leader you can be, the sky’s the limit for all these student-athletes.”
And as Bouka himself illustrates, the learning never stops and the importance of taking advantage of potentially pivotal opportunities, that continues, as well.
Bouka is a free agent at the moment, not certain where his next professional opportunity will be.
“I still have a lot of gas in the tank and I’m still going to be playing football for the next few years,” he said. “I’m grateful I was able to do this in the meantime.”