This story previously ran on Big12sports.com.
NORMAN, Okla.-- When you’re a student-athlete, deciding what to do after your collegiate career is over can be a difficult task. Choosing between going pro or finding a job in the corporate world isn’t exactly easy and could have a major impact on your life.
But for some student-athletes, such as senior tennis player Whitney Wofford, deciding what to do after graduation wasn’t a tough choice at all.
“I’ve loved the Nike brand for so long,” she said. “I’ll always be an athlete who cares about sports.”
Wofford’s opportunity to work for Nike after college got a head start after spending the summer of 2013 in Beaverton, Ore., at the company’s headquarters. She was a part of the annual internship program and spent 12 weeks working for a company that’s valued at over $10.7 billion.
The opportunity came about as part of OU’s partnership with the company. OU student-athletes are encouraged to apply for the internship program each year due to the allowing for at least one student from the school to be guaranteed a spot. The process is difficult, extending from October to March and involving multiple interviews and personal projects.
“They weed you out through three different interviews,” Wofford said. “You submit a video and a project along the way. Showing that you had a true passion for Nike at every step was crucial and I believe that is how I ‘won’ the spot OU had to offer.”
After the extensive process, Wofford wasn’t even sure she was going to be selected for the program. By the time the middle of March rolled around, she was nervous about whether or not she would receive a phone call saying that she had been chosen.
“I honestly didn't plan on anything else,” she said. “I just prayed on the Nike internship.”
Once her phone showed a number calling from Oregon, Wofford knew that she was either going to be spending her summer on the West Coast or looking elsewhere for an internship that wouldn’t live up to her expectations.
“My phone went off in the middle of class and it says Oregon on it,” Wofford said. “I knew then it was from Nike and so I left class and was so nervous.”
“The man I talked to actually joked with me first and said, ‘Sorry, you’re not going to get a final round interview.’ But then he said, ‘We’re going to hire you now instead if that’s okay.’
Wofford moved to Oregon and spent her summer days improving the global brand marketing for Nike tennis, from social media to consumer research and managing retail accounts.
“As interns, we did everything,” she said. “We got to explore Oregon and all the cool things in Portland. We also got to work with some of the most creative people on the planet.”
All of her hard work led up to a two-day span that concluded with events of which most major sports fans only dream.
Wofford managed to get a high-five from LeBron James who was participating in a company-sponsored basketball week followed by a chance to meet Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant.
“There were several special events on Nike campus during the summer that were amazing to be a part of,” she said. “Literally every day you were doing something incredible.”
Though these two events were certainly exciting, Wofford was given one more opportunity to have a chance of a lifetime.
During the summer, each participant submitted proposals for new projects that Nike could implement. The interns then voted on whose idea was the best, with Wofford being chosen.
“It was a great sense of accomplishment,” she said. “I was put into a very foreign environment and proved to myself that I can be at the top of the game with something. I was very humbled and proud at the same time.”
Nike CEO Phil Knight was rumored to be attending the luncheon where Wofford would be presenting her idea. Her nerves suddenly increased with the idea that Knight might be there to witness the presentation.
“All the sudden he walks in with his sunglasses and trademark look,” Wofford said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Phil Knight!’ I got really nervous, but I ended up doing a good job so I was pretty happy about it.”
Wofford graduates in less than two months and will be closing out her tennis career. OU women’s tennis head coach David Mullins is just one person who will miss the efforts that Wofford puts into everything she does.
"It does not seem fair that Whitney is graduating this May,” he said. “I have learned a great deal from her through the years and she has helped me to become a better coach in many areas. Whitney always tries her best to give 100 percent effort in every area of our program and works hard to make our tennis program and our athletic department the best that it can be."
Though she’s turning the page and moving on from the tennis chapter in her life, Wofford knows that it’s time to take a step in a new direction.
“I feel like the timing is right,” she said. “Tennis has taught me so much and I am so thankful for that chapter, so honored to have gotten to be a Sooner, and truly blessed to have experienced everything I have been a part of.
“Now, I’m ready to see what the 'real world' has in store for me.”