Most athletes hope to be the first to do a task on the playing field. Middle Tennessee senior baseball player Kaleb King is making a new standard in the classroom, though.
When he graduates in the spring with a degree in marketing, King will become the first Blue Raider athlete to complete the Buchanan Fellowship while also playing four years in a sport at MTSU.
"I didn't realize I was the first one to ever do it," he said. "To be the first one to ever do it is really cool."
The Buchanan Fellowship is a program limited to 20 students per year at MTSU. It is the highest award given to entering Blue Raider freshmen.
To be in the program, students must complete a separate application process as incoming freshmen. Then, they have to write a thesis, take 20 undergraduate honors hours and 11 upper-level honors hours, perform service work every semester as a freshman and sophomore, and go through a lecture series, all while maintaining a certain grade point average.
The reward for being a Buchanan Fellow, among other things, is a four-year tuition waiver. King said that was the main driver behind applying when he graduated from St. Louis University High School in his native St. Louis, Missouri.
"I went to St. Louis University High School, a college prep school, and academics were really pushed, and my parents paid a lot of money for me to go there," he said. "When I got out on my own, I wanted to pay them back.
"I've never been able to do an internship because of summer ball, so it takes the place of that kind of thing. It really made me push myself to work at it - that's just my competitive nature, I guess."
With all of the extra work he's had to do in the classroom, his athletics have sometimes had to take a backseat. That's not to say King hasn't been good on the diamond, though. The outfielder has started 76 games in three seasons and last year had his best campaign at the plate, hitting .223.
According to King, head coach Jim McGuire has been instrumental in keeping him focused on his studies, while also being there as a great teacher on the field.
"Mags has been great about everything," King said. "He's always pushing me and tells me to take care of that stuff because he knows it's a really great opportunity. I feel like I owe it to him to go in and make the most of it, and it looks good for our program, too."
The connection to McGuire for King and his family actually started before the senior was even born.
"My dad also played for Coach Maguire during his first or second coaching job when he was a GA at the University of Missouri-St. Louis," King said. "When I was going through and looking at places, he told me he played for coach and that he was a good guy to play for."
Once arriving at MTSU, King quickly found a second home in Murfreesboro.
It was the mentality of the baseball program and, of course, the Buchanan Fellowship that really perked his interest.
"When I came here, I realized it's just the place for me," he said. "There's a blue-collar baseball mentality, and then I got the opportunity in the classroom. I don't know many people who would pass that up."
Now that he has completed three years in the baseball program, King has been able to see the differences in the team from one year to the next. He said this year's squad could have an opportunity to get the Blue Raiders back to the level they are used to playing at.
With a quality group of older players that King said have really bought into being leaders for the team, they are hoping to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.
"We had a really good fall this year," he said. "We just have guys who are more experienced this year and we've come together as a team really well. We're going to make this program right ... traditionally, MTSU baseball has kind of been the program around here, and we're ready to right that ship."
Perhaps more importantly, King is trying to be a role model in the classroom for younger players. With his Buchanan Fellowship accomplishment, it would behoove them to listen.
"A lot of times academics gets overlooked because of what you're doing on the field," he said. "But, we've had a high GPA the last few years and we've really had some guys do some cool things. I think that's a really cool thing for your program."