Back in the Nest: Former student-athletes return to KSU as coaches

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jun 21, 2023

Former student-athlete Brea Dickey will always remember Kennesaw State as the place where she rediscovered her love of softball – twice. 

Brea Dickey
Brea Dickey
She first came to KSU as a heralded player from Lawrenceville, Georgia, earning ASUN all-conference honors and setting a Division I-era school record for batting average. Today, Dickey is one of a handful of former student-athletes who have returned to campus as a coach to lead the next generation of Owls. 

Brea Dickey, Assistant Softball Coach

Dickey’s path to the dugout had a few twists and turns. 

Growing up in an athletic household, it was almost a foregone conclusion that she would take to sports. She recalls picking up her first softball bat at the age of three and spending much of her childhood playing travel ball. Following an illustrious career at Collins Hill High School, Dickey began her collegiate journey as a member of the University of Georgia softball team. Having played for more than a decade in highly competitive environments, however, she began to feel fatigued by the sport and decided to step away to focus her attention on academics. 

After transferring to Kennesaw State in 2019 to be closer to home, she unexpectedly rekindled the passion she once had for softball after meeting head coach Tripp MacKay.  

“He changed my view of softball for the better and made me appreciate it again,” Dickey said. “You don’t come across that kind of coach often. He genuinely wanted us to succeed as a team, but he cared for us as people, too.”

After earning her degree in 2021, Dickey briefly served as a teacher in Gwinnett County but found the prospect of coaching her school’s softball team while teaching challenging. Just as she was considering a career shift, her phone rang. On the other end was MacKay, who offered her an assistant coaching position on his staff. Dickey could feel the fire igniting once more. The 2023 season marked her first since joining the coaching ranks. 
"I can still see that passion of hers in her coaching role,” MacKay said. “It's always a great feeling to have a former player in the coaching world. But, to have one join your staff is even better. It has been a pleasure working with her and watching her grow as a coach."

Having once again discovered her passion for softball, Dickey said she aims to pay it forward. She recalls mentoring younger teammates while an upperclassman on a talented Owls team. Some of those players are entering their senior season with Dickey leading from a different vantage point.

“Now that I’m on the other side of things, it’s rewarding to see our players grow and find their success,” she said. “It’s important to me to be a positive role model to them and to show that women belong in the profession, too. I hope that 10 years down the road, they will come back and say that I’ve made a difference in their life.”

Chandler Burks, Assistant Football Coach 

Chandler Burks
Chandler Burks
Like Dickey, former football standout Chandler Burks finds himself emulating the coaching style that made him an all-American on the field and a two-time Big South Scholar Athlete of the Year in the classroom. The most decorated player in KSU football history, he remembers sitting in head coach Brian Bohannon’s office before the first ball was ever snapped at Fifth Third Bank Stadium. 

“I was sold on a vision,” said Burks, who now serves as a quarterbacks coach at his alma mater. “I knew that I would be leaving home and that I wanted to be surrounded by people who would develop me into a good man, husband and father. This was the perfect fit for me.” 

Burks holds the distinction of being KSU’s first football signee and was part of a cohort of student-athletes who built a winning culture from the ground up. The team lives by two mantras, he said. The first mantra – effort, attitude and toughness – calls on players to exhibit these qualities in the field of play. The second – win the day – challenges players to always strive to be the best version of themselves off the field and in the classroom. 

The mantras have become so ingrained that Burks never misses an opportunity to celebrate his players, even rescheduling recruiting trips to watch them cross the stage at Commencement.

“Our coaches always told us that how you do one thing is how you do everything,” Burks said. “It was important for me to set the standard. I knew that if I took care of my business off the field that it would translate to success on the field, and I ask my players to do the same.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in sports management at KSU, Burks spent a year on the Wofford College football staff. When a position opened at KSU, he immediately picked up the phone to express his interest in coming home. 

For Burks, it was an opportunity to mold young men at a place he holds dear. For Bohannon, it was proof positive the football program was succeeding in developing student-athletes into professionals. 

“Our goal as coaches is to provide an opportunity for our players to become the best version of themselves, not only on the field but as young men,” Bohannon said. “Seeing Chandler come back to coach at KSU gives a firsthand view of what the product of doing things the right way within our system looks like, and I could not be prouder of the hard work he has given to this football program.”

Simon Pritchard, Assistant Tennis Coach 

Simon Pritchard
Simon Pritchard
While Burks’ leap of faith brought him to Kennesaw via Douglasville, Georgia, former KSU tennis star Simon Pritchard landed at KSU by way of Wales. From the first moment he stepped on campus, he knew that he had found his second home. 

During his tenure as a student-athlete, Pritchard set school records for wins in singles and doubles. He would go on to earn the ASUN Male Conference Student Athlete of the Year award in 2016 and was twice named ASUN Scholar Athlete of the Year. Despite his success on the court, he chose to leave the sport to enter the workforce after earning a bachelor’s degree in economics.

“I had an unreal experience at the Coles College of Business and being a part of the Coles Scholars Program really opened up a lot of doors for me as an intern and later as a professional,” Pritchard said. “After working some long hours in the private equity field, however, I started to realize that I needed to find something I was more passionate about.”

During a meeting with KSU director of tennis Matt Emery over a cup of coffee, Pritchard was offered an opportunity to rejoin the program as a graduate assistant. 

“It was the best of both worlds,” said Pritchard, who now serves as an assistant coach. “I was able to pursue my MBA whilst also finding something I was more passionate about. I knew early on that coaching was going to be something I wanted to do long-term. 

Now after three years on the coaching staff, Pritchard said Kennesaw is where he wants to plant his roots. It’s the place where he met his wife and where they purchased their first home. 

“There’s a sense of pride having both played and coached here,” he said. “I’m hugely passionate about tennis; I’m just as passionate about KSU. This university has given me so many opportunities.”

–  By Travis Highfield
Photos by Darnell Wilburn and Matt Yung

This article was first published in the Spring 2023 issue of Kennesaw State University Magazine.

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