Longhorns continue successes in the classroom, graduate 39 in December
While his college football career ended Nov. 3 when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament against Oklahoma State, Dallas Griffin wasn't through making his mark at The University of Texas.
Griffin, who actually graduated in the spring of 2007 in honors business/finance and then started in the McCombs School MBA program, won the Draddy Award from the National College Football Foundation and Hall of Fame in early December.
The Draddy, which is considered the academic Heisman, is given to the top scholar-athlete in college football. Griffin became the first UT player to be so honored.
There was more for Griffin as he was selected as a first-team Academic All-America, along with defensive tackle Derek Lokey.
"It was the first time since 1972 that Texas had two players on the first team," said Brian Davis, the assistant athletics director for academic affairs who handles football.
For Lokey, being an All-America in the classroom and the field was his goal. He finished with a 3.5 GPA.
And this was only one of highlights as Lokey and 14 of his teammates on the 2007 squad walked across the stage to receive their diplomas during December commencement ceremonies.
Jaime Carvajal, Brandon Foster, Marcus Griffin, Erick Jackson, Nate Jones, Drew Kelson, Robert Killebrew, Thomas Marshall, Ryan Moench, Justin Moore, Frank Okam, Limas Sweed, Freddy Torres and Gilbert Zapata were the other members of the football team who graduated in December.
Joining them in the ceremonies were 24 student-athletes from 11 other sports highlighted by Terrence Rencher, the all-time leading scorer in UT men's basketball history (2,306 points) who received his diploma 12 years after leaving school.
Rencher, who coaches basketball at Regents High School, had his parents, wife and daughter in the crowd for the day.
"It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime feelings," the 34-year-old Rencher said.
Rencher, who originally came to Texas in 1991 from the Bronx, N.Y., returned to Austin two years ago and indicated that he wanted to complete work on his degree.
"Terrence ended up as a gift for us," said Dr. Randa Ryan, senior associate athletics director for student services. "He's special and he's helped us in many ways."
Rencher, who by his own admission wasn't the perfect student when he played at UT, has spoken to Coach Rick Barnes' team about the importance of concentrating on their studies and making sure they earn a degree. Rencher has made himself regularly available to the players.
Swimmer Katie Robinson, an All-America in the pool and in the classroom, also received her degree last month, graduating with highest honors in kinesiology. The Lawrenceberg, Ind., native already is student-coaching and is set to start graduate school.
LaTashia Kerr, a National Champion and All-America in track and field, was an honors graduate in nursing.
"Tashia's story is one of my favorites of all time," Ryan said. "She came to Texas wanting to be a nursing major, but it was almost impossible with track practices and the timing of her degree requirements for NCAA eligibility purposes. She was so determined and her grades were such that she earned the chance to try.
"She declared another major, but worked on her pre-nursing requirements until she was accepted into the Nursing School. Tashia served as a mentor and tutor and is already working as a full-time nurse."
Infielder Chais Fuller, who has signed with the Atlanta Braves, took 18 hours this fall to graduate.
"Chais always was a disciplined student," Ryan said. "But he even amazed me by working through some very difficult hours, taking English literature, statistics, anthropology and communication studies.
"He said he was determined to finish to help continue the standard of graduation for his Longhorns baseball teammates."
In addition to this quartet, others who took the walk across the stage were: Dorothy Baden-Mayer, rowing; Connie Brown, swimming; Michelle Carter, track and field; Stephanie Connors, soccer; Jessica Curtis, volleyball; Hector Diaz-Ceballos, golf; David Donaldson, swimming; Brandy Magee, volleyball; Catherine Medici, rowing; Ian Mooney, basketball; Tyler O'Halloran, swimming; Aaron Peirsol, swimming; Ashley Prust, golf; Derek Randall, track and field; Clifton Robbins, swimming; Carrie Schmit, soccer; Josh Smith, baseball; Landra Stewardson, track and field; Brad Buckman, basketball; and Elizabeth Tinnon, swimming.
Davis lauded Lokey and Frank Okam, who both received a degree in sports management.
"Drew (Kelson) got his degree in corporate communications," Davis said. "Both he and Frank got their degrees in three and a half years."
Davis explained that Nate Jones has only a correspondence course to finish.
"One of the things we've been able to accomplish is to have so many guys in their fifth year be able to graduate in December with less than a full-time load," Davis said. "Limas (Sweed) had only six hours this fall and Robert (Killebrew) had just nine hours."
Sweed was philosophical on the occasion of his graduation.
"It's another steppingstone in life," he said. "I think it is a positive thing to show that you can go to college, graduate and be an athlete. It's a great day for a lot of things."
The plethora of December graduates from the football team has enabled head coach Mack Brown to bring in high school student-athletes who have verbally committed to Texas and have graduated from their high schools in December.
"This can be done without exceeding the maximum number of scholarships," Davis explained.
Of course for Davis, the "numbers" he is most interested in -- and proud of -- are 3.0 and 4.0 as in his football student-athletes with honor roll stats.