Former Husker Eric Martin is proud of his 2015 Super Bowl ring, but says his graduation ring is much more important.
Photo by Randy York

Graduation Ring More Important Than Super Bowl Ring

By NU Athletic Communications

58 Huskers Earn Degrees Saturday

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Randy York N-Sider

Official Blog of the Huskers

I don’t know why the number 10 is used 242 times in the Bible or why God gave the 10 Commandments to man. But I do know a 10 when I see one, and Saturday afternoon was another perfect Nebraska Student-Athlete Graduation Reception for 370, including 58 graduates who celebrated on Memorial Stadium’s third-floor plaza level.

Two Husker gymnasts, who have reached that stellar standard of 10 to signify excellence, are woven into my conclusion, but let’s keep this simple. Nebraska deserved a 10 for historic reasons, reaching a milestone of 6,000 student-athletes who have now graduated from UNL and earned a varsity letter.

Saturday’s graduates came to Nebraska from 21 states, as well as Slovenia and Jamaica. The 58 graduates who pushed Nebraska Athletics’ overall total to 6,003, received their degrees in 31 different majors and represented 21 of the Huskers’ 24 sports programs. They came from cities and towns stretching from Anchorage, Alaska, to Miromar, Fla., and from Phoenix, Ariz., to Kingston, Jamaica, a tiny country, land of beauty and decade-upon-decade recruiting pipeline for Nebraska's championship-caliber men's and and women's track and field programs. Success stories dancing in the heads of these dedicated student-athletes are all compelling, and we're focusing on 10, featuring five Saturday and five Sunday.

Martin: Nebraska Graduation Ring Way More Important than Super Bowl Ring

The Eric Martin story was an easy choice for No. 1. Why? Because Martin's journey back to Lincoln was loaded with perseverance and compares and contrasts with one of the biggest rings presented in all of professional sports the Super Bowl ring that he earned last year with the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

Flanked by fellow Huskers Greg McMullen (above left) and Charles Jackson, Martin feels like one of the luckliest guys in the world. "Woke up to the best text!!! and 7½ years later, I'm done!!!" Martin tweeted, acknowledging a note with a "B" grade that confirmed his participation in commencement. It was a good way for Martin to poke a little fun at his academic timetable that got lost in the shuffle of his NFL career, which, by the way, he is now pursuing as a free agent.

"I thought one of the best moments of my life was getting that big Super Bowl ring, but I was wrong," Martin told me Saturday. "Wearing that huge ring put me on cloud nine, but this much smaller graduation ring is way, way, way more important to me, especially when I'm done with football. I'm expecting to get a call from some NFL team sometime, but having this new ring covers me because my lifetime goal is to coach high school football somewhere."

Executive Associate A.D. Leblanc: Scholar Athlete Rings Pack Powerful Punch

Without that coveted graduation ring, Martin probably would have to be a volunteer coach, not a paid one. "The message on this Scholar Athlete ring is not long. In fact, it’s simple but very powerful," Dennis Leblanc (pictured above) told Saturday's spring graduation honorees. Nebraska's executive associate athletic director for Academics said "the word 'SCHOLAR' is because you are now a college graduate. The word 'ATHLETE' represents you earning a varsity letter, and the 'N' signifies your university, The University of Nebraska! Wear this ring with pride. You are now a Nebraska Scholar Athlete!"

Martin recently bought a house for his dad, Eric Martin Sr., in Rosharon, Texas, located 40 minutes south of Houston. He also brought his father with him to Lincoln for a graduation day that's been a long time coming. Friday marked the first time his dad had ever flown in an airplane and Saturday marked the first time his dad had ever stepped foot on Tom Osborne Field. The magical response for the second "first"? "My dad screamed Go Big Red!" Eric said, "and I told him 'welcome to the family!'"

Tennis Standout Maggy Lehmicke Found Her Calling: Community Involvement

Maggy Lehmicke, a native of Kirkland, Wa., was Nebraska's top female tennis player for the past three seasons. Receiving her post-eligibility opportunity award Saturday from Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst, Lehmicke was one of two student-athlete keynote speakers at Saturday's  reception, and her message struck a chord with fellow graduates. 

"Even for those of us who think we've had a nearly perfect college experience, it hasn't been without adversity," Lehmicke said. "With anything that involves competition, as with life, there will be obstacles to overcome. After I arrived at Nebraska, I realized that you don't have to fight those battles alone. When you open your heart to help others, you can accomplish things much bigger than yourself."

When Lehmicke came to Nebraska from the West Coast, she found her calling to be community involvement. "I wanted more than just to be happy," she said. "I wanted to have a purpose. As athletes, a lot of us are used to the attention being all on us because we have to be somewhat self-seeking just to be good at our sport."

Lehmicke thanked her journalism professors, her motivational academic counselor and all of her teammates over the years, as well as her coaches and parents for believing in her from day one. "I thank everyone in Life Skills for inspiring me to be a better person every day," she said.

Keith Zimmer, Nebraska's senior associate athletic director for Life Skills and N Club, says Lehmicke reflects all the important qualities to be successful, including hard work, accountability, perseverance, teamwork and integrity. He points out that Lehmicke is one of five Nebraska student-athlete graduates who will fly to the Dominican Republic Sunday morning for a one-week service abroad trip to help those less fortunate.

Among the 21 student-athletes participating in the Husker trip abroad are four other Saturday graduates, including Michaela Cunningham, Swimming & Diving (Saverna Park, Maryland); Calvin Freeman, Men’s Golf (Humboldt-Table Rock-Steinauer, Nebraska); Jaylyn Odermann, Soccer (Gretna, Nebraska); and Krista Van Wie, Swimming & Diving (Grand Island, Nebraska).

Growing Up Watching Nebraska's Historic Program, Lottman Leaves Own Niche

Ethan Lottman, a 2016 NCAA first-team All-American on pommel horse and a finalist for the coveted Nissen-Emery Award, was Saturday's keynote speaker representing Nebraska's male student-athletes. "I grew up watching one of the most historically accomplished gymnastics programs and dreaming that someday, I would have the opportunity to wear the N on my chest," Lottman said. "In gymnastics, as in other sports at the collegiate level, there is no professional league. Unless you're one of the eight men on the national team or a part of the five-man Olympic team, there is no career that comes out of this sport."

Outside of academics and athletics, Nebraska's Life Skills department holds a very special place in Lottman's heart. "Keith Zimmer runs a very successful program that not only has prepared me to enter the professional world, but has given me a passion for giving back to the community," he said. "I have so much help in networking, resumes, cover letters, job interviews, outreach events and basically anything real-life related. Life Skills has helped me through multiple job applications and has been a major part in landing me an internship in Colombia this summer.

"I could go on and on about every person who's touched my life here," Lottman said, mentioning strength and conditioning coaches, sports psychologists, sports nutritionists and administrators. "You all have made being a Husker student-athlete an unforgettable four years of my life."

DeZiel: Gymnastics’ Life Lessons Team-Oriented, Based on Never Giving Up

Nebraska’s 2015 Female Student-Athlete of the Year, Jessie DeZiel was an NCAA first-team All-American in all-around. One of the Huskers’ most decorated gymnasts in its tradition-rich history, DeZiel received her degree Saturday in Nutrition, Exercise & Health Science.

“My best memory from Nebraska is being able to be on a team and being surrounded by people who supported me through everything,” DeZiel said, mentioning that the Huskers making the Super Six at the NCAA National Championships “was a dream come true.”

Being on a team and sharing the same goal with others “makes it much more fun when you’re trying to do something that no one thought you could,” DeZiel said. “My teammates were my family, and I will always cherish all the inside jokes I had with them. They are very special to me.

“I’ve learned to never give up and to always keep pushing through, even if your mind is telling you to stop,” DeZiel said. “When you keep pushing through to reach your goals,  you know that sometime throughout the season it will pay off.” 

Undersized and Overlooked Foltz: Anything’s Possible if You Believe in Yourself

Sam Foltz (pictured above) is Nebraska’s All-Big Ten punter and 2016 preseason All-America candidate who shares a mindset with DeZiel. “The greatest life lesson I’ve come away with from this place is that anything is possible if you believe in yourself and set your mind to it,” Foltz told me, pointing out that 1) he was not highly recruited; 2) he was undersized; and 3) he was overlooked. “But that didn’t stop me from wanting and achieving a starting role, earning a scholarship and making all-conference honors on the field and academic honors off the field."

Having to balance schoolwork while competing at the highest level in collegiate athletics "is no easy feat, I will admit,” Foltz said, “but it has made me a man and has prepared me for the future grind of life. I will be forever grateful to this University for giving me all these opportunities to capitalize and thrive on.”

Foltz’s fondest memories are “all the relationships I’ve built at this great institution over the past five years,” he said. “I’ve met so many great people who have become my best friends and my brothers for the rest of my life.”

Following his senior season, Foltz will will turn his focus to training for the NFL in an attempt to “live out another dream and goal of mine,” he said. “I want to play in the NFL. Along with training for pro football, I will be looking into getting a job in the Ag Field somewhere in the Midwest because my full intent is to go home at some point and farm with my family.”

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