Dec. 5, 2011
Liz Mannis, Texas Media Relations
After countless hours dedicated to attending classes, studying, finishing homework and taking tests, a group of distinguished young football players earned their degrees from the University of Texas on December 3, 2011. The Texas Longhorns graduated 15 student-athletes and two former student-athletes this past weekend.
Emmanuel Acho, Tray Allen, Blake Gideon, Ian Harris, Ahmard Howard, Kyle Hix, Cody Johnson, Dravannti Johnson, Patrick McNamara, Tré Newton, Luke Poehlmann, Keenan Robinson, Christian Scott, David Snow, Justin Tucker, Rodrique Wright, and Alex Zumberge make up the graduating class of December 2011.
The accomplished class includes three players who appeared in all 51 games of their career - Gideon, Snow and Tucker; one player who started in all 51 games - Gideon; and two former Longhorns who returned to Texas to complete their degrees - Hix and Wright.
These young men do not overlook the value of their degree. They recognize that first and foremost, they are here to get an education.
"In today's world you need a degree to get a good job and support your family. It feels fantastic. Especially to get a degree from such a prestigious place as the University of Texas," said senior offensive guard David Snow. "It's something my family always dreamed about."
Former running back Tré Newton, who earned his degree in Corporate Communications, made the tough decision to prematurely end his football career last year after suffering several concussions. It was his education, the primary reason he came to Texas, which allowed him to make the decision knowing he would have success after football.
"If I had been slacking off and hadn't been on top of my grades, especially with my injury, I would have been up a creek with nothing to fall back on," explained Newton. "But you can always fall back on your academics. That's always going to be there for me, and will carry me for the rest of my life."
Newton and other Longhorns credit their experiences with football with assisting their success in the classroom.
"Football is very structured. So it's helped me in that aspect," said Newton. "Football helps with your discipline and it carries over to the classroom, and other parts of your life as well."
"When I came to the University of Texas, time management was big. That's something that we learn with [director of high school relations and player development] Coach [Ken] "Ruck" [Rucker], the tutors, and our academic staff," said senior offensive guard Tray Allen. "We learn time management. We learn how to be a better all-around person through our academics and through the help we have here at the University of Texas."
Graduating college with a degree is an accomplishment for anyone. But to be a student-athlete and exceed expectations in the classroom and on the field makes obtaining a degree even more special.
"It shows everybody that we really have two different lives. Once you're in class you're focusing
on class. Once you're on the field you're focusing on football," explained senior tight end Ahmard Howard, who graduated with a degree in Applied Learning and Development. "Being a student-athlete is better than just being an athlete. It's better than just being a student, because you get the best of both worlds."
"It's four years of commitment. Four years you put into it. Four years of studying. Every day and every night. Graduation is the culmination of all things coming together," remarked Snow, who graduated with a degree in Corporate Communications.
Junior linebacker/defensive end Dravannti Johnson completed his degree prior to his senior season, a milestone that his family holds dear to their heart.
"To be someone that's graduating in three-and-a-half years, and to get a degree while I was still playing, is a huge accomplishment," remarked Johnson, who earned his degree in Physical Culture and Sport. "I'm proud of myself and I'm proud that UT helped me a lot."
"The degree was the most important thing. I'm the only person in my family to have a degree from a school like UT," added Johnson. "I feel like my mom is going to be extremely proud of me. That's all she ever wanted. She didn't care what I did on the field, as long as I got that degree."
Allen had already mastered graduation once, receiving a degree in Physical Culture and Sport this past May. He decided to stay at Texas for another season and earned his second degree this weekend in Youth and Community Studies.
"It's the best university in the world. I came here to play football, but I also came here to get an education. Spending five years here I was able to rack up two degrees. It's something that a lot of players can't say they've done," said Allen.
"When I received my first degree in May, to see the happiness and pride my mom had on her face, nothing in the world could top that. I was just really grateful that she was there to experience that with me. I was really grateful that I could give that to her."
Former Longhorn defensive tackle Rodrique Wright was also looking forward to sharing this special moment with his family this weekend. Wright returned to Texas to complete his degree after playing professional football for three years.
"When I left I always had the plan to come back. Mom and Dad made me promise I'd get the degree," said a smiling Wright. "I thought it was going to take longer than this. So to be getting my degree now in 2011, is actually faster than I thought."
Wright was excited to have the opportunity to come back to Austin and finish what he started years ago.
"It's going to be a good day. To graduate from college, let alone from the University of Texas - the best school to get a degree at - is huge. I accomplished a lot on the field here. So to be able to come back and do it at the place I love so much is great," said Wright.
Wright racked up recognition and accolades for his athletic abilities while here at Texas. He was named a finalist for the Lombardi Trophy and tabbed first-team All-America by the Walter Camp Football Foundation and the Associated Press. Wright was drafted out of college by the Miami Dolphins, and includes receiving his degree in Applied Learning and Development as one of his greatest accomplishments to date.
"It's a great feeling. A great accomplishment. The biggest accomplishment I've had definitely outside of sports," said Wright, who now serves as a volunteer student coach for the Longhorns. "To be in a position to coach as well, that's the biggest deal for me. To be able to do it all and then move on to another career. I'm really grateful."
It is a tradition for graduating letterman to receive a T-ring, something that players look forward to obtaining. It serves as a constant reminder about their accomplishments and hard work at Texas.
"I had a lot of jokes from guys who already have [T-rings] that I played with. I'm definitely looking forward to it. I'm definitely looking forward to flashing that around," said a smiling Wright.
"I've received my T-ring and been a part of the great athletic brotherhood that's here at the University of Texas. That is something that's really special," remarked Allen, who received his ring with his first degree in May.
The 16 young men that received their degrees this weekend will have no shortage of great memories about their time in Austin. For most, however, it seems like just yesterday that they began their journey.
"What I think of when I think about graduation is how quickly everything goes by," reflected senior placekicker/punter Justin Tucker. "When we come in here as freshmen, we're looking at the older guys for some leadership. Now we're in a position where younger guys are looking to us. Not just on the field, but off the field as well."
For Tucker, whose entire immediate family has spent time at the University of Texas, he is proud to join them on the other side as Longhorn Alumni.
"I'm proud to come from a family of Longhorns. We're five-for-five in our immediate family. Both of my parents graduated from Texas. My older sister did, and my younger sister will graduate in two years," explained Tucker. "So being able to go five-for-five, as a kicker I can tell you 100 percent is always a good thing!"
This accomplished group of current and former Longhorns will leave Texas a better place than they found it. With them they will take fond memories of their time on the football field and in the classroom, and leave prepared for whatever lies ahead.
"Matriculating through the system and seeing everything come to an end is huge," said Tucker. "We're moving to greener pastures, and new beginnings. It's a very exciting time for all of us."
Fall 2011 Graduates