From track stars to lacrosse players, student athletes have long been the subjects of both fanatical admiration and deep resentment. The robust college sports industry, estimated at $749.8 million this year alone (and likely to grow as the back to school season begins), leads many to assume that the life of kids on athletic scholarships are padded and glamorous. Incidents like the 2006 academic scandal at Auburn University, in which student athletesâ€™ grade point averages were inflated, doesnâ€™t help prove them wrong. More recently, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel resigned after covering for students in violation of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules, once again drawing negative attention to students on athletic scholarship.
There are certainly those students that break the rules or just see college sports as a stepping-stone to professional leagues. However, there are many others who see college athletics as a means to get an education they couldnâ€™t afford otherwise. For those kids, playing sports while trying to thrive academically is no picnic. â€śWe just donâ€™t get things handed to us, we donâ€™t get grades handed to us, they donâ€™t change things up for us because weâ€™re athletes,â€ť says Alterraun Verner, defensive back for the Tennessee Titans.
Verner attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) on a football scholarship and graduated with a degree in math. â€śWeâ€™ve got to work just as hard as the next person and on top of that we have to worry about the athletic side and off the field obligations,â€ť he says.
It wasnâ€™t just Vernerâ€™s athletic ability that landed him a spot on the Bruinâ€™s roster. He thinks his prowess in the classroom made him an attractive recruit among players that were bigger and faster. â€śMost people that did recruit me, recruited me because they felt like I was a safe bet,â€ť he says, â€śbecause they knew I probably wasnâ€™t going to get into trouble in school in academic areas because I was successful in [academics] in high school.â€ť
Verner was ranked in the top 10 of his graduating high school class, had a 4.15 GPA and scored over 1,700 on the 2,400 scale SATs his junior year. â€śA lot of schools were intrigued by that, with me handling the rigors of being an athlete and still being able to perform those types of scores,â€ť he says.
Brandon Bridge, a quarterback at Alcorn State University, says balancing school and class work isnâ€™t the only source of anxiety. â€śIn the universityâ€¦ the coaches jobs are on the line,â€ť he says. â€śThey just push us harder as football players and as students.â€ť
Despite feeling pressure to win, Bridge says that ultimately his coaches want him and his teammates to leave with a skill set to help them flourish in the world off the field. â€śTheyâ€™re making us better men and better individuals,â€ť he affirms. â€śNot just football players.â€ť