UCLA linebacker Shea Pitts is verified on Instagram, where he has 5,200 followers, and has more than 60,000 “likes” on TikTok. With the ability to reach every corner of the world, Pitts can be just about anywhere and everywhere.
But one of Pitts’ most meaningful places as an influencer is in schools sprinkled throughout Los Angeles where he champions education and student success.
“Growing up, I would always look up to the kids who played football at UCLA,” said Pitts, who was raised about 30 miles north of UCLA’s Westwood campus in the suburb of Agoura Hills and whose parents are both alumni. “To be able to use the UCLA platform to emphasize important things like school, being good with your family, just other stuff outside of football — that’s really cool.”
Pitts started volunteering in local schools shortly after enrolling at UCLA as a freshman in 2018. Even though it was an adjustment getting into the faster pace of college life, in particular the demanding football practice schedule, finding time to work with children in the community was important, he said.
“I remember my first college practice at UCLA,” said Pitts, who has since received his bachelor’s degree in political science and has completed a transformative coaching and leadership graduate program at UCLA. He’s currently in graduate school. “Everything was moving. Everyone knew what to do and I felt like a lost fish at sea.”
Pitts’ volunteering efforts were coordinated through the athletic department and faculty in his leadership graduate program. Pitts ventured beyond Westwood, going to sites such as 186th Street Elementary School in Gardena and Crenshaw High School, a historically underresourced school serving one of Los Angeles’ predominantly Black neighborhoods.
While visiting schools, Pitts would speak to students about the importance of staying in school and balancing academics with sports. He also joined a pen pal program at Horace Mann UCLA Community School, which has allowed him to correspond with students over several years.
Pitts has been mentoring one boy since the student was in second grade. Now in middle school, Pitts’ mentee is preparing to play high school football and focusing on getting his grades up. The student, who recently made a visit to UCLA to observe football practice, was excited to report to Pitts on the academic progress he’d made.
“You don’t really realize how much you can influence people at that age until you go back and talk to them,” said Pitts, whose father, Ron, played defensive back for the Bruins in 1980s. “They all see the football stuff, but none of that’s possible without grades.”
Pitts attributes his dedication to helping others to his family.
“Growing up, my parents said they always saw me as a natural leader,” said Pitts, who was raised in a football family — both his dad and his grandfather, Elijah Pitts, played in the NFL. Elijah had a 10-year playing career before going on to coach college football and the Buffalo Bills. He was posthumously elected to the Black College Football Hall of Fame last month.
UCLA’s Sun Bowl matchup against the University of Pittsburgh marked the end of Pitts’ college football career. He said that he’s looking forward to putting all his energy toward his graduate program in legal studies at UCLA Law and working toward a long-term goal of becoming a sports agent for collegiate athletes.
“As a kid, I always thought UCLA was one of the most beautiful schools ever,” he said, “and now to be able to walk on campus every day, it is really a surreal feeling.”