CINCINNATI — Among the thousands of names announced at the University of Cincinnati's fall commencement this year were several handfuls of UC football players — all of whom have worked to excel as much off the field as they do on it.
"I think (Luke Fickell) stresses that, like, everything you do in life you do like the same way," said Alec Pierce, wide receiver for the team. "So if you're going to be cutting corners in the classroom, not caring about academics or not caring in the weight room, stuff like that. It's going to reflect on the football fields."
Fickell isn't the only one pushing members of the team to take every aspect of their college life seriously: Academic team members Joe Luckey, executive senior associate athletic director and Keri Thoman, associate AD for student-athlete support services, are right there, too.
"It's unique in that you're with them almost the entire year," said Luckey. "So you feel like you really get to know the coaches, the players and then our staff that are with them daily. It's a tremendous opportunity."
The academic team works with each student athlete, both individually and as a group — which starts with team study hall every day at 8 a.m.
"So team study hall is an opportunity for them to get away from all the distractions. We actually tell them to put their cell phone up in a cell phone basket, so they don't even have their cell phones with them," said Thoman. "And they're completely locked in."
The formula seems to work: Pierce got his degree in mechanical engineering in just three and a half years, while playing football and pulling a GPA above 3.3.
"I think it reflects everywhere, you know, you got to — a big part of football is film study and there's a lot you got to know. A lot," said Pierce. "You got to remember. So I think if you're smart, if you're academically smart and you build those habits in the classroom, you can reflect on the football field, too."
The academic team said that mentality starts at the top, with Fickell and his coaching staff.
"We're recruiting a different type of kid right now. That's not to knock the previous regime, because they were all fantastic, too," said Thoman. "But these people that he's recruiting are special and they're driven in a way that I've never seen before."