Randy York’s N-Sider
A Midwest area scout for the current Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens was in Lincoln last week checking out Nebraska’s senior football class for NFL prospects. Jack Glowik was gathering and processing every stat imaginable when he sensed a possible aha moment. “How many seniors on this team are already college graduates?” he asked Dennis Leblanc, Nebraska’s senior associate athletic director for Academics. The nature of the question gave Leblanc a certain measure of inspired insight that became as intriguing to him as the NFL scout.
A quick check of the records turned into a moment of sudden realization for a dedicated leader who’s worked for the athletic department for 30 years. “Counting Pat Smith, our transfer kicker who graduated from Western Illinois, we have 10 seniors on this team who’ve already graduated,” Leblanc said. “I don’t know if we’ve tracked those numbers every year, but I’m fairly certain this year has to be the most college grads I can remember that we’ve had heading into the season.”
The unofficial record triggered another thought, and Leblanc quickly reached for more academic records within the confines of his office. Less than two minutes later, he had another meaningful stat. “If everyone stays healthy and we qualify for another bowl game this year, we’ll have 19 college graduates going to a bowl,” Leblanc said, adding that would be two more college grads than the 17 Nebraska took to the Capital One Bowl last year in Orlando. "And I'm fairly sure that was a record, too,” Leblanc said.
Bo Pushes the Envelope, Sets the Tone
Before acknowledging Husker players with feet planted firmly on the academic accelerator, I ask Leblanc what’s behind the record thrust. “Bo Pelini,” he said. “Bo pushes academics when he recruits, and he sets the tone once they get here.”
Cole Pensick, one of the 10 college graduates participating in fall camp, reaches the same conclusion in split-second fashion. “Bo’s always stressing academics,” Pensick said. “You get grades in both football and academics, and if you go about either one half-way, that’ll be the result both ways.”
Pelini, a three-time All-Academic Big Ten football player at Ohio State, sees academics as a challenge of manhood. “He tells all of us that we should sit in the first row of every class, pay attention at all times and take notes throughout the class. He’s like my dad, who says we’re getting a free ride, so we better take advantage of it.”
Pensick, the Huskers’ projected starting center, lives with two other current UNL grads who will play pivotal roles this fall – fullback C.J. Zimmerer and offensive tackle Brent Qvale. Pensick worked hard to complete his degree in agribusiness in just 3½ years, but marvels at Zimmerer’s 3.815 GPA in criminology and criminal justice in the same 3½ years and Qvale’s 3.630 GPA in nutrition, exercise and health science.
Kitchen Table Its Own Busy Study Hall
“We have a kitchen table that seats six, and four of us are sitting at the table studying almost every night,” Pensick said, adding that senior walk-on offensive tackle Brandon Chapek is probably the smartest student-athlete in the house. “Brandon’s GPA is better than a 3.8 in biological sciences. We all work hard and try to have fun competing.”
Joining Pensick, Qvale and Zimmerer as current Huskers with a college degree are defensive end Jason Ankrah (child, youth and family studies); cornerback Andrew Green (ethnic studies); cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste (sociology); defensive tackle Thad Randle (ethnic studies); Mo Seisay (child, youth and ethnic studies); and offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles (management). Roommates Pensick and Zimmerer graduated in December 2012. Ankrah, Jean-Baptiste, Qvale, Sirles and Patrick graduated last May, and Green, Randle and Seisay will be among the first class to graduate at Pinnacle Bank Arena Saturday.
Jeff Jamrog, a former Husker walk-on who became an Academic All-American, is Nebraska’s assistant athletic director for football. “Our mindset is pursuit of excellence in academics, life and football,” Jamrog said. “We’re coming off the highest team GPA we’ve ever had here in football (above a 3.0 overall), and we continue to set goals in the classroom.”
Pelini’s Trust Applies On, Off the Field
Those goals are aggressive and in alignment with Pelini, who strongly believes that if he can’t trust players in the classroom, he can’t trust them on the field either.
In addition to the 10 college grads competing in fall camp, Leblanc expects nine more players will have sheepskin diplomas in hand when the bowl season begins. They include captain/quarterback Taylor Martinez (ethnic studies); captain/All-America and Academic All-America candidate offensive guard Spencer Long (biological sciences/pre-med); twin brother/tight end Jake Long (biological sciences/pre-med); quarterback Ron Kellogg III (ethnic studies and sociology); offensive lineman Scott Criss (construction management); safety Seth Jameson (mathematics); linebacker Colby Starkebaum (agronomy); defensive tackle Jay Guy (business administration); and the aforementioned Chapek (biological sciences/pre-dentistry).
This Philosophical Sign Taken to Heart
The attention to academic detail proves that Nebraska adheres to the standards of its own sign that greets student-athletes as they come through the front door of the Student-Life Complex from the second concourse level:
In Essence, an Athlete.
By Merit, a Scholar.
This, a Harmony Students
Endeavor to Achieve.
The scout from the world champion Ravens told Leblanc that he has never seen so many graduates still playing football at a Division I school, and he left impressed, not even knowing that two fifth-year senior captains are oh-so-close to graduation right now. Martinez needs only three more hours of credit and Spencer Long only four more hours. Nebraska’s fourth-year senior captains – wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (economics) and cornerback Ciante Evans (business administration) – are 20 and 28 hours short of their respective degrees, and both are scheduled to graduate on schedule next May.
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