By Anthony Rhoads
Football for dummies? Not hardly.
While football is definitely a tough, physical sport, that doesn't mean that those who play it are barely-literate Neanderthals who don't care about their school work.
Being successful on the football field requires some of the same things it takes to be successful in academics ? discipline, hard work, time management and intelligence.
"Football is a difficult sport; it's difficult physically but really it's challenging mentally," Eagle's Landing Christian Academy head coach Tim Luke said. "Dummies don't succeed in football. Football requires intelligence. If a kid is getting it done on the football field and not in the classroom, it's a lack of effort on his part."
Here in the Southern Crescent, there are many student-athletes who taking care of business both athletically and academically.
For the past two years, Eagle's Landing Christian Academy's Alec Huber has been regarded as one of the best football players in the Southern Crescent.
Last year, he was one of the top tight ends in the Georgia Independent School Association and this season, he has been a big reason the Chargers are off to a 4-1 start in their first season in the GHSA.
But Huber's skills extend way beyond the football field as he has excelled in the classroom as well.
Many colleges including Northwestern, Ohio University, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Duke, Auburn and Tulane have expressed interest in him.
Right now, it looks like he will go to Northwestern.
"He's being recruited very heavily," Luke said. "It's been very exciting to see the interest in Alec Huber and it's especially exciting to see the Ivy League school of the Big 10 to want to offer him a scholarship."
Huber has his sights set on playing college football while majoring in mechanical engineering.
"It's great," Huber said. "I'm looking forward to playing college football. I've worked hard the past four years and it's paying off."
He said excelling in sports and academics boils down to time management.
"You've got to know when to study, when to play football and when to have fun," he said.
Over the summer, Huber's teammate, Cole Springer, went to Princeton's quarterback camp and emerged as one of the top three quarterbacks out of 65 players. On top of that, his team won the camp's passing league championship.
Springer, who wants to major in architecture, is also being recruited by Columbia, Harvard and Davidson.
"I feel great," he said. "I've always played sports and academics has always been a priority of my parents. They always made me do it even when I didn't want to."
For Springer, being successful in football and schoolwork has taken plenty of dedication.
"You can't just practice during the football season, football is 12 months out of the year," he said. "When school rolls around, you can't just forget about school because of football. You have to get it done in the classroom; academics comes first and football comes second."
Luke said academics and football go hand-in-hand and that the experience of being a student-athlete will pay off in the future.
"It's exciting," Luke said. "I couldn't be happier for them. This is the product of the hard work in the classroom and on the field. We're talking about well-rounded kids, dedicated, committed young men. We're talking about two young men that people will be saying ?yes, sir' to in the future because they have what it takes."
Luke said Huber and Springer are exactly the kind of guys he wants on his football team. They're both hard-nosed, aggressive football players who are serious about their commitment to the team but they are both exceptionally bright.
"These two young men are the prototype of the ELCA way," Luke said. "When Northwestern says you're good enough to play in the Big 10 and when Princeton says you can play in the Ivy League, it is a tremendous compliment to ELCA and its mission. It's very rare to have two boys like Alec and Cole on one football team."
Lovejoy High School has sent several players to the Ivy League, most recently Ethan and Ray Waters to Columbia and Shannon Mayfield to Cornell.
"It's neat," Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes said. "I can't even spell Columbia. Ray and Ethan were two outstanding young men and Shannon was a fine young man. They were a pleasure to coach and were neat to be around. They were intelligent enough to go beyond the Xs and Os."
This year, Lovejoy again has a good crop of athletes who are doing well on the field and in the classroom.
Keith Fitzhugh, who has verbally committed to Mississippi State, is scheduled to graduate from high school in December and if he wants to, he can start college in January.
"I think it comes from home and from families who stress the need for an education," Hughes said. "We're very fortunate to get young men like that."
Mt. Zion head coach Jackie Green stressed that being solid in academics is a lifelong process. It's not something you can just pick up when you get to high school. Academics has to be emphasized at home by the parents and if that foundation isn't there, it's going to be more difficult for the student-athlete to succeed.
"I think if someone does well all through school in elementary and middle school, when they get to high school they know how to work and know how to study," Green said.
One of Green's brighest students, J.R. McNair, was a textbook example of a student-athlete. McNair excelled academically, helped lead the football team to the state championship game and was a state champion in wrestling.
He went on to Wofford, where he was on the football team that made it all the way to the NCAA Division I-AA national championship game last season. A well-rounded student, McNair not only was immersed in academics and athletics but was involved in numerous campus activities including being elected as student body president.
"You can't just start at the high school level. You've got to prepare yourself all the way through school and J.R. was one of those student-athletes," Green said.
Eagle's Landing High School football coach and AD Bob Stinchcomb said football players who do well in the classroom are in a unique position to be a positive influence students at their school and for younger kids.
"It's an opportunity to be a role model for other students at the school," he said. "That's an opportunity to stress that one is just as important as the other. It's part of being a role model when you represent the team. It's not just what you do on the field but how represent your school."
While getting his master's degree at Florida State, Stinchcomb studied how athletes do with their academics during the season.
He said athletes tend to do better in their school work during the season because of the structure and they're required to manage their time more wisely.
"These guys really step up especially during their seasons," he said. "They can get it done."
At Union Grove High School, Justin Pair has been getting it done in athletics and academics.
He's not only one of the top linebackers and special teams players in the area but has a 4.0 GPA.
"You've got to manage your time wisely and set your priorities," Union Grove head coach Mike McDonald said. "Football is important but school is the most important thing."
In the last several years, Union Grove has sent several former players to college including Troy Wood to the Naval Academy, Nick Ellis and Eddie Gadson to Charleston Southern and Joey Waters and Antonio High to Union College in Kentucky.
"It makes you feel good to know you've got quality kids that get it done of the football field and in the classroom," McDonald said. "They're character kids and those are the kind of kids you want in your program."
Riverdale head coach Nick Davis believes in discipline and stressed that kids need it to be successful in whatever they do.
"They just need to apply themselves," he said. "When you have discipline, it takes care of itself in the classroom and on the football field. If a kid does well in the classroom, I know I can depend on him on the football field. If he doesn't do well in the classroom, I know I can't depend on him because he's not disciplined enough."
Terrance Thomason is Riverdale's top senior with a 4.028 GPA and he's a member of the school's High Q team.
Riverdale has produced several top student-athletes in the last several years including Cedric Mason and Kevin Wilson, who are now playing football at Duke.
As a former NAIA Academic All-American at Fairmont State College in West Virginia, Stockbridge head coach Danny Fairbanks knows what it takes to excel in athletics and academics.
"It takes dedication to both aspects of playing football and do their work in the classroom," he said. "You have to give up a lot of fun stuff. You've got to shake your head and say ?no I'm going to study for this test and ready for this test tomorrow. It's a matter of managing your time and preparing yourself for what you've got to do the next day."