Hail Varsity! Pepin-Coached Team Makes History
Randy York's N-Sider
Official Blog of the Huskers
The best moment in college athletics is the academic excellence student-athletes achieve at the same time they’re competing for conference championships and All-America stature. Take Gary Pepin, whose men’s and women’s track and field teams have combined to win 70 conference titles in the Big Eight, Big 12 and Big Ten Conferences.
That unprecedented achievement never gets old, and neither does a Thursday in June when a legendary head coach learns that a senior, a junior and a sophomore on his men’s track and field team all earned CoSIDA first-team Academic All-America honors on the same day.
Those triple exclamation points pushed Nebraska's nation-leading total to 320 Academic All-Americans since the 1950s. Appropriately, Hail Varsity was triumphantly blasting on the telephone while Pepin walked to his office to hear the good news on a great day for Nebraska Athletics; for Husker men’s track and field; for senior John Welk, the Bismarck, N.D., native who was named CoSIDA’s Capital One Academic All-American of the Year; for junior Levi Gipson from Lincoln; and for Drew Wiseman, another Bismarck native whose first-team Academic All-American honor helped Pepin’s team make Husker history.
Tracking History with Three First-Team Academic All-Americans
For the first time, a non-football Husker men's program produced three first-team Academic All-Americans in the same year. For the first time in 22 years, the Husker men’s track and field team matched the Academic All-American trifecta that football remarkably has achieved five times but not since 1993 when Trev Alberts, Terry Connealy and Rob Zatechka earned that status in the same season. For the record, the only other years in which Nebraska’s nation-leading Academic All-America harvest had three first-team All-Americans in the same season were: 1990 – David Edeal, Pat Tyrance and Jim Wanek; 1989 – Gerry Gdowski, Pat Tyrance, and the late Jake Young; 1981 – Ric Lindquist, Dave Rimington, and Randy Theiss; and 1980 – Jeff Finn, Ric Lindquist, and Randy Schleusener.
Let the record also show that Nebraska's nationally prominent volleyball program is the only other Husker sports program to reach that milestone. In 2007, Christina Houghelling, Sarah Pavan and Tracy Stalls all earned first-team Academic All-American honors in the same year, making it the first and only Nebraska women's program to pull off the academic trifecta.
Pepin Recruits with High Character, Strong Work Ethic in Mind
Pepin is not a historian, but he is an appreciative practitioner of Nebraska’s constant quest to excel academically as well as athletically and in reaching out to the community.
“We have really special people who take great pride and put a lot of emphasis in academic excellence and graduation,” Pepin said. “We recruit young men and women who have good character and strong work ethic, and Dennis Leblanc and his academic team do a great job keeping them focused on the right accomplishments.”
Nebraska led men’s track and field’s 15 first-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honorees with three selections, followed by Stanford with two and 10 other NCAA institutions with one each.
“Dennis was a volunteer for our track and field team before he became an administrator,” Pepin said. “His work ethic and follow-through is reflected in his terrific staff, and we feel fortunate to have someone like Mike Nieman supporting our program. Mike does a really nice job working with our student-athletes and getting them to study and achieve at a really high level.”
Smart Husker Athletes with Great GPAs, Well-Respected Majors
Nieman says Nebraska’s success in the classroom begins with the caliber of student-athlete the Huskers recruit.
“Those three track and field first-team Academic All-Americans this year are all smart,” he said. “They all have very high GPAs in well-respected majors (Welk 3.990 in nutrition science; Gipson 3.950 in nutrition, exercise and health science; and Wiseman 4.000 in electrical engineering). All three also have the same kind of drive."
The Nebraska men's and women's track and field teams now have a total of 55 CoSIDA Academic-All America selections all-time, including a nation-leading 41 since 2002. It also marks the sixth consecutive year the Husker track and field teams have combined for at least three Academic All-Americans.
No wonder Nieman downplays his role as an academic counselor for Welk, Gipson and Wiseman.
"Every one of those guys decided when they got here that they were going to get everything out of the experience that they’ve put in," Nieman said.
That's a good reason to honor this historic trifiecta with another: 1) mission accomplished; 2) reputation reinforced; and 3) history made.
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