By Alan Scher Zagier, Associated Press Writer
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Former Missouri defensive tackle Joe Andrew Maples doesn't plan to watch next week's NFL draft. The May graduate is too busy trying to find work as he prepares for life after sports.
"I need a job," said Maples, who saw limited playing time in an injury-plagued career for the Tigers. So, too, do a host of gymnasts, swimmers, wrestlers, runners and other varsity athletes at Missouri.
About 150 of them, Maple included, showed up recently for their athletic department's annual career fair.
Like other NCAA schools, Missouri has a team of employees dedicated to enhancing its athletes' "life skills" — from academic tutors to community service organizers. For a growing number of Division I institutions, that also means helping players find jobs.
Career placement for athletes has even become a cottage industry, with schools such as Clemson, Kentucky, Ohio State and Oregon hiring private companies like CareerAthletes.com that specialize in connecting athletes with job leads.
"This is my sole focus," said Kim Martin, a former Missouri swimmer who is now the school's assistant athletics director for life skills. "I understand what their days are like, what their time demands are, what unique traits they possess."
Corporate recruiters who target athletes say they don't mind that many of the prospective hires can't boast of prestigious internships or a succession of summer jobs.
They instead look for the intangible qualities — leadership, sacrifice, time management, a willingness to take criticism — that can translate from success on the field to success in the workplace.