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June 12, 2020

By Jared Shanker

Empowered by RISE's Super Bowl Leadership Program, Nick Izquierdo earns prestigious Champion of Character honor

Nick Izquierdo understood his role on the team as a fifth-year senior. It wasn't to clear the bases batting cleanup for St. Thomas' top-three offense. It wasn't as the ace starter on a top-two pitching rotation in the conference or as the flame-throwing closer.

His role was defined by the intangibles, serving as a leader that encouraged teammates from the field, the dugout and beyond the baselines. His humility, aspirations of leaving the university in a better place and eagerness to learn – both on his own and through RISE's curriculum – helped him forge relationships with everyone on the team and become a guiding locker room voice.

"We had a lot of guys who were really talented that people looked up to, but they didn't acknowledge it or didn't know how to inspire and how to make their presence or influence bigger," Izquierdo said. "I was lucky to have guys that were talented where I can go up and tell them ‘Hey, this is your moment.' "

And the league – not just his own team – took notice as the RISE Super Bowl Leadership Program graduate was recently named the NAIA Sun Conference's Champion of Character in baseball. The award was voted on by the league's coaches and recognizes individuals for their growth and commitment to the core values of respect, integrity, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership.

"My whole point through college was to build a legacy and carry on the legacy of people who've come before me at St. Thomas," said Izquierdo, who graduated this spring with his second degree. And when the Sun Conference gave him the Champion of Character honor, "it was the culmination of everything I've done, because I took it seriously – more seriously than even playing baseball."

This past winter, Izquierdo, a South Florida native, was one of only two student-athletes to be selected by St. Thomas' Athletic Department to take part in the inaugural RISE Super Bowl Leadership Program. Over three months, the course challenged participants, which included approximately 30 leaders in sports from schools and community organizations across South Florida, to examine aspects of perspective, power and privilege, and consider how they can be leveraged to create positive social change. The program empowers participants to be advocates for racial equity and social justice in their communities. In addition to being selected to participate, Izquierdo was also honored as an outstanding performer of the program, and he was invited to attend Super Bowl LIV as RISE's guest, along with three others.

During the program, Izquierdo said privilege was a theme that really stood out to him as he had not thought of it much previously. The discussions on perspective also left an impact, and those lessons carried over to the locker room as one of the team's leaders.

"The whole theme of perspective makes you think from a leadership standpoint," he said. "Sometimes you might think of a leader, they have it all together and all figured out and so there isn't a thirst for knowledge or learning about other people or their perspectives.

"I want to learn more about people and see from their perspective," he said. South Florida is a place where he can more easily hear different perspectives, but "when you look at the entire country, things are completely left or right with no middle ground. And with no middle ground, it's partly from not accepting other views. In my personal life and my team and my groups, one of the great tools we have is perspective of so many cultures and ways of thinking."

Seeking out newer perspectives is part of the reason Izquierdo is leaving the comforts of home for law school. With his baseball career ended – unfortunately cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic – Izquierdo wants to remain in sports with an eye toward becoming an agent. He had an opportunity to remain at St. Thomas, but after earning degrees in business and sports administration and an MBA in sports administration, he felt it was time for a new environment.

In August, Izquierdo is planning to move to Wisconsin to enroll at Marquette. There, he'll learn under Matthew Mitten, the executive director of the National Sports Law Institute and former president of the Sports Lawyers Association.

"I felt I needed to go to a bigger place and personally I'm ready to have the humility and say ‘I'm not going to be the smartest person in the room, so I want to learn from my professors and peers,' " he said. "They'll show me things I've never had to think about."

But Izquierdo leaves St. Thomas only after having done the same – having shown his peers and teammates new perspectives on issues they once had never thought about.

"Since his arrival to St. Thomas University, Nick has only had one goal in mind, to leave the university better than he found it," said Jon Leatherman, a manager in the school's athletic department and Izquierdo's close friend. "Through his excellence in the classroom, ability on the field, impact to the athletic department and now, his work in the community with RISE, Nick has lived up to his goals."

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