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Aggies learn to 'dress for success'

2/25/2015

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Like hundreds of other NFL hopefuls, Texas A&M product Cedric Ogbuehi attended sports' most-publicized job interview, the league's scouting combine, throughout the last week.

An end-of-season injury prevented him from participating in most workouts, but there was still the opportunity to meet and interview with potential employers.

Around this time a year ago, Ogbuehi showed off his tie-tying skills to his teammates while participating in a life skills program the school operates to educate athletes on important lessons they'll use in the real world.

Earlier this month, as Ogbuehi did last year, dozens of Texas A&M athletes learned how to "dress for success."

The seminar, which aimed to teach athletes how to dress professionally when they enter the workforce, is part of a program hatched by athletic director Eric Hyman and his wife, Pauline. The pair started it in its current form roughly 15 years ago when Eric was at TCU.

"We're trying to give them that little bit of an edge," Eric Hyman said. "We've been doing parts of this for a long time, 15, 20 years."

The seminars, which are mandatory once a year for A&M athletes and cover different topics, are meant to help them transition from college to life. Aggies football players were among the dozens of athletes (all juniors) who received a crash course on what types of suits to wear, how to care for them and how to tie a necktie, with representatives from a local men's dress clothes retailer offering the knowledge.

It was an eye-opening experience for some of them.

"For one, I learned how to tie a tie," cornerback De'Vante Harris said. "That was my first time ever trying. I was pretty successful."

Offensive lineman Mike Matthews said he always had his father, Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, tie his neckties for him. But Mike said his dad taught him how to do it during the NFL draft, when Mike's brother Jake was being drafted. Still, the seminar served as a memory jog for Mike, who doesn't often wear ties.

"I learned it for about a week and then I forgot it because I didn't have to tie a tie for a while," Matthews said.

Quarterback Conner McQueen was one of the handful who did have experience with tie knots. The way he learned?

"YouTube," McQueen said.

Before that, McQueen relied on sales clerks.

"Whenever I purchased ties before, I always asked the people at Dillard's or Macy's, as soon as I purchased it, to tie it for me and just loosen it a little bit," McQueen said. "When I got home, I just put it on a hanger so I don't ever have to tie it."

It's not just about dressing professionally. While "dress for success" is for junior athletes, Hyman said the Aggies conduct mandatory seminars for freshmen (discussing consequences of their actions), sophomores (an etiquette dinner to learn how to eat properly) and seniors (networking and job interview skills are taught).

Some schools teach these things in a classroom setting, but Pauline Hyman thought a more hands-on approach would be more effective.

"What I began to learn along the way is that we talk about this stuff, so it came to me, instead of trying to lecture about this in a classroom, why don't we have an etiquette dinner? Why don't we have a dress for success?" she said. "Let them see it, be interactive, have fun. It was sort of evolved into, 'How's the best way to get his message across?'"

The Hymans said feedback over the years has been positive from several who claimed they wouldn't have otherwise obtained those skills.

An added plus for the athletes: The NCAA's Division I student assistance fund allows the school to provide a suit or dress for each of the attendees so they have one for formal events or job interviews.

"It's been phenomenal," Eric Hyman said. "We get a wide cross-section of people from different socioeconomic levels. This is how we'll help support them. They begin to learn the value of having a suit. Some of them don't have one, but now they all will have one."

And one of Hyman's favorite memories came in 2014 from a former Aggies offensive lineman and soon-to-be NFL draft pick.

"We had a tie-tying contest [last year] and Ogbuehi won the contest," Hyman said. "He was so happy that he won it. ... He took great pride in it and told some of his offensive linemen that he won the tie-tying contest. You try to make it a little fun."