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Monday, May 20, 2024

UF law student, athlete nominated for NCAA award

When Grace Collins sees a report about a natural disaster on the news, she wants to get there to help out as soon as she can.

“But I guess I’m just one girl,” the 22-year-old UF law student said. “I can’t be everywhere.”

Collins is up for the NCAA Woman of the Year award, which is given based on athletic and academic achievements, community service and leadership. Collins is among the top three finalists from Division II and will face six more candidates from divisions I and III for the award. She will attend the award banquet Oct.14 at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.

Collins just started classes at UF’s Levin College of Law and was nominated this summer by Barry University, from which she graduated in May.

Dennis Jezek Jr., Barry’s sports information director, nominated Collins for the award. He said there was no question about who the university would nominate.

“A lot of athletes at Barry have service hours, but the thing about Grace is we have never had anyone with as much community service as her — like, ever,” Jezek said. “No one’s been quite like her.”

During her time at Barry, she organized a campuswide effort to send packages to soldiers stationed overseas through the organization America’s Moms for Soldiers.

Despite having the packed schedule of a student athlete, she went throughout campus between classes and practices and sat at tables, urging other students to sign letters for the soldiers’ care packages.

When floods ravaged Nashville in 2010, Collins went to help. She volunteered at a thrift store there, moving furniture and organizing clothes. She also spent time with LP PENCIL Box, an organization that gives away free school supplies to educators.

“You can donate stuff and never really understand your impact,” she said. “But if you go there, you can really see the damages firsthand.”

Collins toured Nashville and saw water damage, mold and peeling walls. The people’s faces there still burn in her mind, she said.

“It kind of shocks you to see that — it’s scary,” she said. “But it brings a smile to your face, knowing they’re thankful you’re just there.”

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Collins, who played softball at Barry, was inspired by the athletic training staff there. She said giving future athletes opportunities like those the Barry staff gave her would be “a dream come true.”

That dream ranked UF’s law school No. 1 on Collins’ list due to its role in the Southeastern Conference and opportunities for networking, she said. At UF, she plans to specialize in sports law and possibly to intern with the UF athletic department.

Collins is the eighth finalist Barry has sent since the NCAA began giving out the award in 1995, Jezek said.

Jezek said Collins was the first student athlete to win the Barry University President’s Award, which is given to the school’s most outstanding senior.

In the meantime, Collins said, she’s humbled to get this far in the competition.

“I do these things not for the recognition, but because I like to help other people,” she said. “But to say it’s been easy would be a lie.”

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