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By Randy York
Intrigued that the president of Nebraska's 2012-13 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) was working on two Bachelor's degrees simultaneously - one in International Studies and another in Russian - I asked Neil Dufford, what the point was. "To gain experience that will lead to a career in the U.S. military," said Dufford, a one-time caddie at the Midland (Texas) Country Club and the No. 3 golfer on the NU men's team most of this season. I pressed him again, pointing out how golf and public service don't always end up on the same scorecard.
To my surprise, Dufford said the inspiration came when he attended a 2007 Nebraska football game that saluted American veterans. "They had the veterans stand up to be recognized, and I remember sitting next to a man who must have been 85 or 90 years old," Dufford related. "He was wearing his WWII hat, and he stood up out of his wheelchair to be recognized. It hit me right then and there. I wanted to serve my country."
I think I speak for everyone when I say the top student-athlete leadership group at Nebraska is in good hands with Neil Dufford at the helm. Anyone who carries a 3.72 grade-point-average and tries to learn Chinese, Arabic and Hindu languages at the same time he's learning Russian, gets my vote for a future State Department appointment. It just so happened that clear back in 1967, my academic adviser at Nebraska strongly recommended that I join an ROTC program and major in Russian, if I really wanted to be successful and help my country at the same time.
Who could guess how 45 years later, I find someone who has the discipline, nerve and savvy to take on such a challenge? Dufford chuckles when I tell him that. "What's funny about my double major," he said, "is that our Russian program is still State Department-funded from the days of Russian being key to national security. Along with my International Studies major, I decided Russian - because it still is one of the critical languages - would help me be an asset to the U.S. Government someday and might even help me be selected to the job of my choice."
Apparently, the combination International Studies/Russian majors offer several career paths for Dufford to consider in terms of military/public service. He's already qualified for an Intelligence Community Scholar Program when his collegiate golf career ends next spring.
Seven Months in Russia Should Open Doors
Dufford then will head to Russia for a seven-month study-abroad program. "I want to enhance my language skills and conduct research," he said, "and hope to come back from that experience as fluent in Russian." Once he reaches that goal, Dufford figures his next step will be to survey opportunities within 16 different agencies and then decide whatever branch of military service will best fit his unique qualifications.
Meanwhile, he will hone his Life Skills as SAAC president and help bring more attention to Nebraska's nationally recognized platform for community service. "Neil will excel as our president," predicted Keith Zimmer, Nebraska Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills and the organization's sponsor. "He's already been involved with several other recognized student organizations and proven his leadership and facilitation skills. He's inclusive-oriented and will hold members accountable for achieving realistic and attainable goals that impact student-athlete welfare and the entire UNL campus."
Dufford does not take on that leadership role alone. All 23 Nebraska varsity sports vote for SAAC team representatives, and Dufford's fellow officers for the next year are vice president Rebecca Woodberry, a sophomore-to-be from Phoenix representing women's basketball; Big Ten Conference representative Sunny Russell, a junior-to-be from Stratford, Texas, representing Rifle; and SAAC's newly elected secretary, Eric Schryver, a junior-to-be from Richardson, Texas, representing gymnastics.
"It's kind of ironic that three of our four new officers are from Texas," Dufford said. "We're all pretty proud Texans, but we're also true leaders who are dedicated Nebraska Cornhuskers. We believe we have the potential to make a huge impact within the Athletic Department and across this campus, and we're excited to get going."
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Voices from Husker Nation
Thank you for writing such an informative article about Neil. As his parents, we could tell early on that Neil was a "mover and a shaker". Having encouraged him to follow his passion, we were not surprised he has chosen this path. So many doors have already opened for him and we are so happy he is able to attend a fine institution like UNL. He has a way of encouraging peers and his family to go beyond what they might think is possible; result? His dad and I are accompanying him on a mission trip to Muldova in July. I hope he has his language skills honed in enough to translate. Otherwise, I better quickly work on my Rosetta Stone! p.s. (Neil might have failed to tell you that his grandfather was a WWII vet in the Navy and was on a destroyer, and he has plenty of my dad's pictures sitting around in his room. He's always been inspired by the "greatest generation".) Have a wonderful day and "Go Huskers"! Beth and Scott Dufford, Midland, Texas