NORTH AUGUSTA — As former area athletes spoke in North Augusta High School’s auditorium for Friday’s “Preparation for Student-Athlete Success” program, a common thread began to run between their words: the importance of planning.


Former Silver Bluff football star Troy Williamson, who also played at the University of South Carolina before being drafted No. 7 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, summed it up quickly.


“Anything you do in life, you have to have a plan,” he said as part of a panel at the event, put on by NexStep Student-Athlete Academy.


For Williamson, he said that his planning began during his junior year of high school, when he realized he had the football talent to go to college as a student-athlete. He said he also realized that his class schedule and academic preparations were not up to par with college requirements.


“I wasn’t taking what I needed to take. I was doing enough to get by,” he said. “My last SAT I took my senior year, I made good enough to go to Carolina.”


That perceived disconnect between what classes students should be taking and what classes they’re actually enrolled in was one of the main reasons for the event, according to NexStep founder and president De’Angelo Bryant. Also a former football star at Silver Bluff, Bryant went on to play college ball at Wake Forest.


“One of the things we always get into ... a lot of times you find out these kids aren’t nearly equipped enough to further their education or their athletic level,” he said.


North Augusta and Clemson product Reggie Merriweather said he was glad to join Williamson on the panel. The two were also joined by Silver Bluff and NFL veteran Corey Chavous, Aiken High assistant football coach and former football player Antwon Smith, South Aiken and South Carolina State football grad Byron Bush, Silver Bluff basketball star and NBDL athlete Brandon Wallace, North Augusta and Mars Hill product Brian Danforth, Aiken and Mississippi State standout Brian Staley, Aiken and Presbyterian football alum Brian Leonardi and former Aiken baseball player Mykal Moore.


“This right here, hopefully it’ll raise the awareness level of teachers, parents, athletes,” Merriweather said.


Bryant opened the event, co-hosted by Donna Moore-Wesby of the “Education Matters” radio program, with an informational session about the academic requirements for graduating high school and getting into the different levels of colleges and universities.


He emphasized the importance for parents and students alike to know what classes are available at their high school that will help check off items needed for both graduation and NCAA eligibility. Those classes should be printed on the school’s 48-H form.


“If your high school does not have that, request them to get it,” he said.


Bush, who now works in interface management for SRNS, said that making sure students and parents knew what needed to be done before high school graduation was the most significant portion of the evening.


“Really the importance is getting the information to the kids they may not know, and the parents,” he said.


Bryant went on to describe the sliding scale of SAT or ACT score requirements for NCAA scholarships that are based on core GPA in high school, which doesn’t include electives. He urged students to take the tests multiple times, as the NCAA will allow scores from multiple sittings – math from one and verbal from another – to be counted together.


“So the NCAA is trying to put you in a position where you can succeed,” he said.


Once Bryant’s NCAA session was over, the panel of former athletes took the stage. Their discussion topics, which were sparked by audience questions, ranged from the recruitment process to the life of a college athlete, but the theme of planning again became apparent.


“A point to be made here is about time management because if you don’t manage your time, something’s going to fail,” Bush said.


Merriweather agreed, advising students to take advantage of tutors and library time available to student-athletes, all with the end goal of getting a college degree. The panelists, now past their athletic careers, spoke of the importance of a plan for the next phase of life after sports.


All in all, Merriweather was glad to see the event held at his high school with such an impressive panel, a program Bryant hopes to repeat.


“Bringing something like this to the CSRA and having it North Augusta is huge,” he said.


Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.