It’s a typical Tuesday during the Whitworth football season. Hours of classes precede an afternoon of football. Grab some dinner. Hit the books. Turn off the lights around midnight, maybe 1 a.m.
“Math,” sophomore offensive tackle Nate Guthrie says of what will occupy his Tuesday night. “Reading, for at least a couple hours.”
“I have a test (in Social Research) tomorrow,” junior defensive end Ian Schneidmiller says.
“It’ll be Great Christian Thinkers. It’s like a reading seminar; we just read and come together for class discussions,” senior defensive tackle Travis Niles adds.
“Intro to taxation,” junior offensive tackle Zak Richardson offers.
They’ll do it all over again Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, next week and the week after.
Student-athletes across the country know the routine – the challenge of balancing books and athletics, the next game (Whitworth has a big one coming up against Willamette Saturday), the next essay, the next film session on an upcoming opponent, the next deadline for a class project.
And that doesn’t even account for girlfriends, campus life, jobs, staying in touch with family and buddies at other schools.
It’s not easy, even for five of the brightest minds on the Pirates football team. Three were high school valedictorians: senior center Emilio Sulpizio (Mead High), Niles (Mt. Spokane) and Richardson (Tualatin, Ore.). Schneidmiller (Mt. Spokane) and Guthrie (East Valley) had 3.9 GPAs.
This is what they signed up for.
“I’m in pre-med, so I wanted to have a good foundation,” Sulpizio said. “It was a huge factor to decide on a school with a strong academic foundation.”
There are days when there seemingly aren’t enough hours to get everything done.
“One correlation between sports and academics is that, yeah, things are going to be tough and you’re not doing something just because it’s easy,” Niles said, noting the importance of stepping outside of your comfort zone. “You’re doing something because it’s hard and you either have to overcome it or just be overwhelmed to the point of not being able to do anything about it.”
That juggling act requires “prioritizing your time,” Schneidmiller said. “You have to have that work ethic for school and knowing how to get things done. For me, that translates into learning plays on the field, knowing assignments and knowing what to do.”
Head coach John Tully can count on the five to be mostly error-free.
“Offensive linemen have so many things to do and those three guys don’t make mental mistakes,” he said. “Same with Ian and Travis. We do a lot of different things with our defensive tackles and ends. Their learning curve is pretty high.”
Coaches facilitate the learning process, Niles said. “They use auditory, visual and kinetic ways of teaching,” he said. “You see something on the board, you watch it on film and you act it out on the field.”
The five have followed a game plan to achieve in their sport and in the classroom. All five are starters. All carry GPAs between 3.3 and 3.99. They understand everyone in the locker room, as well as athletes from other sports, tackle the same challenges every day.
“Everyone is pretty passionate about football and academics,” Sulpizio said. “You have to push yourself to succeed here. Everyone kind of carries their own weight.”
Asked what they’d be doing in five years, the answers varied. Sulpizio hopes to be in medical school. Niles anticipates additional schooling with the goal of becoming a theology instructor. Guthrie is leaning toward teaching math and coaching football. Richardson wants to be a certified public accountant. Schneidmiller would like to work in federal law enforcement, possibly for the CIA or FBI.
Asked if it’s been worth the hours of dedication, the answers didn’t vary.
“It’s very challenging and very time consuming,” Richardson said, “but at the end of the day I’m happy with where I’m at. And I can go to sleep proud of what I did each day.”
Their coach is understandably proud.
“The neat thing about those five is that they’re all into different things academically,” Tully said. “They have a direction and sense of what they want to do. You hope all young people arrive at that.”