By Ray Boyd
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Former Penn State Nittany Lion and current Baltimore Raven John Urschel exemplified the balance that every college athlete should strive for. Not every student-athlete will achieve the things that Urschel did, but his attitude toward school is exactly what they should all have.
Urschel was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The offensive Guard is now in training camp with the Ravens hoping to latch on with a team not far removed from a Super Bowl title.
Prior to heading down to Baltimore, Urschel was a member of the Penn State football team. Urschel started at Guard in all 24 games over the last two seasons at Happy Valley. Urschel was also named an Associated Press Third Team All-American for his senior season.
His accolades on the field were indeed impressive, but what he did in the classroom is something that warrants attention.
Urschel, along with fellow teammate Ty Howle, was recently named to the National Football Foundation’s Hampshire Honor Society for the 2013 season. To be considered for the society, a player must have a 3.20 GPA while being a starter or significant reserve player at an accredited institution.
Urschel embodied those traits and then some. He possessed a 4.0 GPA and graduated with an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in Mathematics.
One would think that it would be incredibly hard, perhaps impossible, to achieve the balance necessary to gain two degrees while starting for a major football program. Urschel managed the task rather successfully.
“For me personally, I found that there were more than enough hours in the day to take care of what I needed to academically and athletically,” Urschel told CBSPhilly.com. “When I was at Penn State, I loved playing football for the Nittany Lions and I love math.”
Urschel’s success in both realms can be attributed to the love he had for both. He did not merely hold athletics in high regard. He took his education seriously as well.
“Because I was passionate about both my academics and athletics, I was able to succeed,” Urschel said. “I also managed to have a little bit of a social life.”
Every athlete enters college with a different approach to it. For some, their sport is a vessel to allow them to attain their education and compete at a high level athletically while doing so. For a select few, the education is somewhat of a formality as they pursue their athletic career.
For Urschel, one never carried any more importance than the other and that was the case from day one.
“My mother is very, very big on academics and my father is a very accomplished man,” Urschel said. His parent’s high regard for academics is evident in Urschel today. In fact, his mother’s passion for knowledge almost led her son away from State College.
“She wanted me to go to MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology],” Urschel admitted. “She actually called the head football coach and asked him about recruiting. If my mother had her way that’s where I’d have played college football.”
Urschel would have spent his college years at a school where he said the coaches told him there were no tryouts or cuts. When it comes to football, he made the right choice.
He also believes that he made the right call in terms of his experience in class as well.
“With respect to [Penn State] academics, great professors, world class researchers. It really allowed me to grow mathematically.”
Urschel spoke about math with as much passion and depth as he does football. It is evident how much he loves the field. Just take a look at his aptly named Twitter account, @MathMeetsFball. “With math, it’s about the beauty,” Urschel described.
“There is real elegance in math at a higher level and I just love that it allows me to problem solve and to just work through things to really produce some beautiful things.”
There may not be a direct correlation between math and playing on the offensive line, but Urschel did mention that he feels that his intelligence does aid him in being able to recognize when things are going awry so that he can make a quick calculated adjustment.
Although the former Nittany Lion is just getting his first taste of what it means to be a professional football player, he is very well aware of what he wants to do when he hangs up his cleats.
“I want to get my PhD in math,” Urschel explained. “I’d like to get it from a top university like an MIT, a Stanford, a Princeton and then from there either become a researcher or a professor.”
Urschel took the time to touch on what he would tell other student athletes that are beginning their college journey. “I’d say that they should really evaluate the things they are doing,” Urschel said. “Decide what’s most important and really focus on the important things in life and make sure they get taken care of first.”
His accomplishments on and off the football field continue to speak for themselves. In addition to being named to the Hampshire Honor Society, Urschel was named the National Football Foundation’s William V. Campbell trophy award winner. The award is regarded as the academic equivalent of the Heisman.
Sometimes it is forgotten that in the title the word “student,” comes before “athlete.” That was a reality that Urschel was well aware of while in college and he appears to be applying his analytical approach to his life moving forward.
In a time where we see one too many stories regarding academic scandals surrounding our college athletes, it is refreshing and encouraging to see those like Urschel who strive to achieve in every part of their college experience.
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