Bowling in caps and gowns
Jan. 2, 2009
Jeremy Sharpe, Texas Media Relations
When the Texas senior class takes the field for the final time as Longhorns on Monday against Ohio State in the 2009 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, they will be seeking to match the 2005 team for the most victories in school history with 45 and will try to become the second consecutive senior class to win four straight bowl games. However, even more impressive, the entire 23-man crew has either earned a degree or is on pace to do so this spring.
"When DeLoss (Dodds) hired me and our staff, he told me he wanted us to graduate kids, give them a good experience and represent the program right, not just win," said Texas head coach Mack Brown. "It really makes you feel good when all those things are happening, while you are winning a lot of football games."
Graduates playing in a bowl game are part of a growing trend for The University of Texas that started with the 2005 National Championship team. In that game, 16 of the 32 seniors had earned their degrees, including 13 of 22 scholarship players. Then, in 2007, 15 of the 24 seniors that were victorious in the Holiday Bowl had already earned degrees. It has continued in 2008 when all but three of UT's 13 scholarship seniors will play in their final bowl game after receiving their degrees.
"Since the 2001 freshman class that went on to win the National Championship came in, we've really ratcheted up our efforts in the summers and the offseason to help the players graduate as soon as possible," Associate Athletic Director for Student Services Brian Davis said. "The way the NFL evaluation works, that spring semester gets taken up by a lot of different things and it just becomes too much some times. So now, not only are we helping the guys who redshirt get their degrees, but we're working to give those guys who don't redshirt an opportunity to earn their degrees before moving on."
Over the last two seasons, six Longhorns have graduated in three and a half years. In 2007, WR Nate Jones, who is now with the St. Louis Rams, S Drew Kelson, DT Derek Lokey, who is on the Kansas City Chiefs' roster, and DT Frank Okam, who plays with the Houston Texans, earned their degrees in under four years. This year, All-Big 12 DT Roy Miller received his degree in communications studies after just three and a half years, and Academic All-America RB Chris Ogbonnaya finished the first of his two degrees, which was in history, in the same timeframe.
Ogbonnaya is another decorated senior who will be playing his final game on Monday. Not only did he earn his history degree in three and a half years, but he will receive a second degree this May in corporate communications with the hopes of moving on to a master's degree in the future.
"I take a lot of pride in being named an Academic All-American," stated Ogbonnaya. "I think a lot of the other guys are taking pride in what they're doing in the classroom. We've had so many guys graduate and a bunch of guys on Academic All-Big 12 teams. You can see that it is important here and I think we're all better off because we're going to have degrees from The University of Texas when football is over for us and we enter the real world."
The Longhorns have led the Big 12 in Academic All-Conference selections for each of the last three years. In 2008, the Horns had 22 players named Academic All-Big 12 with 17 of those players being named to the first team. Texas' 17 first-team honorees were more than all but two other schools in the conference had in combined first- and second-team selections.
One of UT's most high profile players in unanimous All-American Brian Orakpo also received his degree in December. One day prior to being named the Nagurski Trophy winner, his first of three national awards along with the Lombardi and Hendricks Awards, Orakpo crossed the stage at Texas' graduation to claim his degree in youth and community studies.
"My number one goal coming into school was to graduate," Orakpo said. "All the other awards are just icing on the cake. My main focus was to be successful both on and off the field. As a team leader, I wanted to set a good example to the other guys on the team and all the kids that look up to us and make sure I got my degree. The staff at Texas helped me a lot in that process, helping me reach my goals both on the field and off."
Texas had 40 players earn at least a 3.0 GPA during the 2008 fall semester, including four who claimed perfect 4.0 GPAs. One of those that earned a 4.0 GPA, junior OT Adam Ulatoski, graduated in December with a degree in corporate communications and will begin work on a master's in advertising this spring.
"It's awesome that all of our seniors have either graduated or are going to here in the near future because that shows the importance of academics in the program," explained Ulatoski. "It's a huge reason that I came here. I wanted a program that would offer me the chance to win a National Championship and get a degree that I could be proud of. It shows me that I made the right decision because we are winning a lot of games and so many of the guys are getting their degrees."
That number of guys will be 23 when the 2008-09 academic year comes to a close.