By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tommy Openshaw doesn’t have much free time as a student-athlete in the SEC. But when he does, the Vanderbilt placekicker uses it to help others.
Last month Openshaw, a fifth-year senior from Jacksonville, Fla., returned from his fourth mission trip abroad during his Commodore career. Openshaw ventured to Costa Rica with a campus chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), where he took part in service projects to help local children.
“To me, one of the biggest things about these trips is the opportunity to get outside of yourself,” Openshaw said. “Life is not about what you do for yourself. It’s about what you do for others.”
Openshaw’s group participated in a number of projects while in Costa Rica. They helped build ramps and steps at a government-sponsored boys’ home, served food at a children’s food kitchen and cleaned and played with locals at another boys’ home to end the week. Openshaw’s journey included a number of other Vanderbilt student-athletes, including football players Bailey Granier, Reid Nelson and Caleb Peart.
A penchant for helping others is nothing new to Openshaw. Prior to his jaunt to Costa Rica, the senior joined other campus groups on a pair of trips to the Dominican Republic and a third to St. Lucia earlier in his Vanderbilt career. In experiencing first-hand the issues that plague other parts of the world, Openshaw said his perspective has shifted on his purpose in life.
“Living in America and being a student-athlete at Vanderbilt, we’re blessed with resources and opportunities that others don’t have,” Openshaw said. “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone and see what the rest of the world looks like. It can really shock you when you see it, and it makes you rethink what your priorities are.”
Now Openshaw enters the offseason as a nominee for the national Good Works Team, which is co-sponsored by Allstate and the America Football Coaches Association. He graduated in May with a dual degree in engineering science and economics and begins his graduate program in leadership and organizational performance this fall. Later, Openshaw hopes to serve in the military; his mother, Susanne, was a gymnast at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Openshaw has also made his mark on the field on West End. He’ll kick off the fall as a fourth-year starting placekicker for the Commodores, a veteran who sits just 80 points shy of Vanderbilt’s all-time scoring record. Last season, Openshaw was responsible for 81 points, third-most in a single season in Vanderbilt history, and made 15-of-19 field goals and all 36 extra points.
But amid his athletic success, Openshaw views his time on mission trips among his most rewarding experiences while at Vanderbilt.
“We don’t have a ton of time as student-athletes,” Openshaw said. “But for me, it’s important to make time for stuff like this. These trips have been some of the most impactful things I’ve done in my college career.”