SSU golf graduate - Brandon Caniff - Russell to SSU

In life, humility can come when you least expect it, and in ways that are completely unpredictable.

However, if those humble moments are handled correctly, a person can harness those moments into a great future moving forward.

For Shawnee State graduate Brandon Caniff, that's exactly what the former Russell Red Devil did.

As one of SSU's best all-time golfers, Caniff has parlayed a successful career at Shawnee State into a successful business career as Acuren Inspection's Southeast Regional Sales Manager.

The title, one that Caniff has held since January 2016 as part of a promotion from the company whom he has represented over the past decade, is a career that Caniff credits to his experiences at Shawnee State as a student-athlete.

"Shawnee State and the athletic department holds a special place in my heart," Caniff said. "They gave me the chance, and I got to play down there and got to be really good friends with (former SSU Athletic Director) Jim Arnzen."

In high school, Caniff quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with, leading Russell (Ky.) to Kentucky High School Athletic Association state tournament appearances in all four seasons of his career while becoming one of the state's best golfers in the process.

During his junior season, the 1998 Russell High School graduate finished as the 10th Region runner-up from an individual standpoint as a junior, then won the KHSAA 10th Region Tournament outright as a senior -- even edging eventual state champion in Powell County's Brad Morris -- in the regional championship.

Russell, who posted a score of 674 as a team the year prior en route to finishing in 14th overall, utilized a 75 over Caniff's first 18 holes of competition and a 79 in Caniff's final 18 regulation greens to lower their stroke total by 48 en route to tying North Hardin for a fifth-place state finish as a team. Caniff's 154 allowed the senior to finish in a tie for 22nd as an individual in the state realm.

As a result of his successes on the golf course, Caniff received NCAA Division I scholarship offers throughout the state, with Louisville, Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State, and Western Kentucky all handing out offers. Caniff ultimately chose Louisville, leading the charge on a team that saw six players sign with D-I programs, including Eric Willenbrink, AJ Riley, Tyler Riley, Sean Riley, and Brad Muncy.

Beyond the golf course, Caniff, a 1998 graduate of RHS, praised his alma mater for its stringent academic requirements back in his heyday.

"Russell prepared me for college more than I ever could imagine," Caniff said. "You were always a student first. Russell actually put that first and promoted the term 'student-athlete.' If you didn't make the grades, you didn't play. Russell didn't stay with the state mimimums on keeping people eligible with a D average. They had higher standards for you than that, and if you didn't keep that standard, you sat. They not only taught me to be accountable, but taught me how to be a decent human being. That school system and that community will always be home for me. I go from Maine to Florida for my job, but Russell, Ky. is where I'm from and it is where I will always proud to be from."

While high school success certainly came quickly for Caniff, so, too, did a dose of reality once Caniff got to college golf. A change in coaches resulted in a change of direction for the golf program. That, in turn, led to Caniff not having a scholarship at Louisville.

Over the summer, Caniff pondered his next move. Eastern Kentucky offered a scholarship out to Caniff again, but due to transfer rules, Caniff was going to have to sit a year.

Like it was fate, a friend of Caniff's ended up asking the junior-to-be if he wanted to play at the Elks. There, his future unfolded.

"A good friend of mine was going to Portsmouth to play, and wanted to know if I was going to go," Caniff said. "I said, 'Sure.' So we jumped in the car, drove down to the Elks, and played with Roger Merb. He asked if I wanted to play at Shawnee State, and to be honest with you, I was a 19, 20-year-old kid who had played NCAA Division I golf. I don't want to say that I was arrogant, but at the time, I simply thought, 'Well, I don't want to do that.' However, Coach Merb sold me on the fact that it was a good place and was close to home. Plus, the Elks was and is still a beautiful golf course."

Initially set on just playing at Shawnee State for a single semester, Caniff ended up finishing his career at SSU in what is still one of the best golf careers in school history. Within one calendar year at SSU, Caniff won two invitationals, then won three more in one semester by winning invitationals hosted by Miami-Hamilton, Cedarville, and Central State the following spring.

In his last season of competition, Caniff added in two more victories to become the second-winningest individual golfer in program history with seven medalist honors, and earned All-American Mideast Conference honors for the first time in his career. To this date, he's one of only four golfers -- the others being Bryan Sturgell, Doug Joseph, and Brad Washburn -- to win three invitational events in a single calendar year.

His ability to post a career average well under a stroke of 75 is one that Caniff credits to the top-notch teammates that played alongside him at SSU.

"Shawnee State had a lot of guys that could've played Division I golf when I was there. They just happened to stay in Southern Ohio. We enjoyed ourselves, made a good name for Shawnee State, and followed appropriately in the footsteps of guys like Lanny Rice, Tony Brown, and Bryan Sturgell."

Along with his college teammates, Caniff credited former SSU Athletic Director Jim Arnzen, current Sports Studies Program Director Dr. Steven Rader, and Merb for his successes. Caniff ultimately graduated in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in business adminstration and management.

"He judged you appropriately as both a person and as an athlete," Caniff said of Merb. "He was like a father figure. He made sure that you were taking the right steps and doing what you were supposed to be doing both on and off of the golf course. He let us know that it was more important to get that piece of paper and get a college degree than to make a two-footer to win a tournament. To this day, he's still a very special person to me and, for that matter, my entire family."

As good as Caniff proved to be, he freely admits that his successes pale in comparison to his younger sister, Laura. A four-time national All-American while in high school, Laura signed to play at North Carolina and enjoyed a four-year career with the Tar Heels there after her blue-chip high school career. Laura was inducted into the fifth Russell High School Athletic Hall of Fame as part of the 2019 HOF Class.

"I was a good golfer, and was able to travel to on the AJGA Tour," Caniff said. "However, I will be the first to say that my sister was the better golfer. She was recruited by over 60 schools. There was no doubt who was the better golfer was in our family. It, by far, was her. I know she played alongside Michelle Wie a great deal and they got to know each other well."

For Caniff, the game of golf has carried him a long way, and while he doesn't play at the highest levels of the sport any longer, the personal lessons that he's learned from the sport have helped him close crucial business deals -- with quite a few of those, undoubtedly, being closed on the golf course.

He credits that poise to the times when he was younger, when he was paired with adults from various backgrounds as a young kid growing up due to the lack of kids playing in his age bracket.

"Those experiences taught me to treat everybody the same," Caniff said of playing with older peers. "It makes you mature a lot sooner because you're playing with men and women. You're playing with adults. If it was you and your core buddies out there, you might be able to get away with acting up a little bit, but when we would play, it always seemed like a pretty substantial community member. The second part of it is with golf, you have to be self-dedicated and self-driven. That's helped me as I've gone through life, as well. Most of the time, I'm closing deals on the golf course, and being able to handle myself and go through school on different levels has helped open so many doors for me throughout the years."

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