Former Kansas University athletes who came close but never earned a college degree now may have some extra incentive to return to school.
The athletic department's new "Degree Completion Program" pays for tuition, fees and books for ex-Jayhawks who need approximately 30 to 40 hours to graduate.
It's a program that former KU basketball players Luke Axtell and Alonzo Jamison and football player Chris Enneking are taking advantage of during the 2006-07 school year. All three are back in class on Mount Oread.
"Most people feel universities use athletes up until they are done. This shows that is not the case," said former Lawrence High standout Enneking, who played football at KU from 1996 to 2000, and after an Arena Football career and working different jobs, has returned for his final 33 hours toward a sociology degree and eventual coaching career.
"It's nice. A guy like me ... I only got a scholarship the years I started here," added the 29-year-old Enneking, who entered as a walk-on and emerged as a three-year starter at center. "My goal always was to get to the next game. When there was no next game, I realized I need this to take that step (to become coach). I hope there are a lot of former athletes who take advantage of this."
Like Enneking, Axtell and Jamison also have possible coaching and teaching careers in mind. Jamison, a Santa Ana, Calif., native who played at KU from 1990-92, has coached Mill Valley's junior varsity boys basketball team to a 35-4 record the past two seasons. Also busy working as a product manager for Embarq in Overland Park, Jamison, 38, will earn his communication-studies degree in December.
"I think this is terrific. It's win-win for everybody involved," Jamison said of the program. "The school gets P.R. (public relations) out of it; the people coming back get their college degree. I was in the process of finishing up. The timing was great for me."
Of perhaps teaching someday, Jamison, the father of three girls, said: "I'm taking baby steps. I remember when I was a sophomore or junior in high school, I thought I knew everything about the world. I didn't. It is nice to try to give something back to students that age.
"Right now, a couple of hours a day is all I can handle; we'll see in the future," he added with a laugh.
Axtell, who coached basketball at Hill Country Christian School in his hometown of Austin, Texas, two years ago and continues to pursue interests in music, will finish his degree in English in two to three semesters.
Now 27, married and the father of a 6-month-old daughter, he played at KU from 1999-2001.
"I don't know. I need to work to get my degree now, and we'll see what happens," Axtell said of possibly returning to the Texas high school or perhaps coaching on the college level. "I'm happy and thankful to be back. I actually completed two semesters at a different school in Kentucky. This program started, and I was able to come back on full scholarship."
KU athletic director Lew Perkins says he's happy to have the three back and hopes more athletes sign up in the future.
"Obviously, we want all our student-athletes to graduate. We preach it, so why not do something about it?" said Perkins, who credited associate AD Paul Buskirk for setting up the program.
"I absolutely love this for the student-athlete," Buskirk said. "Some students leave and are not ready to do something. Not until they are out and about and see the real world and realize there are other things they could have done and should have done do they come back. There are no lectures. The past is what it was. It's, 'What are we going to do from here?' We're really excited about getting the student-athletes back and assist them toward earning their degrees."
¢ Band to form: Axtell says his music has come a long way since his CD "The River Runs Dry" was issued during his college days.
"I despise it," he said of his first CD.
He's in the process of putting a band together and hopes to perform in the area this school year.
"I need a drummer, lead guitarist and bass," Axtell said.
Any interested musicians should contact him at email@example.com.
¢ Tickets available: A limited number of KU men's basketball season tickets are available to members of KU's Williams Fund and those who would like to join. The available tickets come from an allotment earmarked for faculty and staff, a limited number of which have gone unordered. More information is available at kuathletics.com.