Monday, December 14, 2009

The Greatest Student Athlete Of All Time

RT Staff Note: With apologies to Mark Ingram...he was a very deserving Heisman winner...Toby Gerhart is a role model for every student athlete on this planet. Unfortunately, the Heisman goes to the best on the field...but when you consider the load that Gerhart is taking on, nobody in recent memory has achieved so much both on and off the field. We have made it a mantra here on this blog to stress that being a student athlete is very, very hard. Toby makes it harder. He is also a starting outfielder for the Cardinal. Just recently, we posted that baseball in of itself, is the toughest sport in collegiate sports from a time management standpoint. Football is right behind that from a commitment standpoint and this young man does both AND carries an insane class schedule.

The following is an article that ran Saturday in the San Francisco Chronicle. It's an amazing story about a very gifted young man.

By: Al Saracevic, Tom Fitzgerald,Ron Kroichick, Chronicle Staff Writers

Toby Gerhart is not your average running back. Come to think of it, he's not your average anything.

The Stanford senior, who's in New York today waiting to see if he wins the Heisman Trophy tonight, is that rare combination of athlete and academic, capable of muscling through 300-pound linemen and 300-page textbooks.

While carrying Stanford's football team on his back this season, Gerhart was also carrying a 21-credit course load, featuring courses like Prehistoric Archaeology and Integral Calculus. Your average Stanford student takes 15 credits.

Throw in the fact that he's also the starting center fielder on Stanford's baseball team. And that he was the valedictorian at his high school. And that he's majoring in management sciences and engineering. And that he's the all-time leading rusher in California high school history. And that he leads the nation in both rushing yards and touchdowns this season. You get the picture of an extraordinary individual.

Now, Gerhart hopes to become the first Stanford man to win the Heisman since Jim Plunkett brought it home back in 1970. To many, a Stanford/Gerhart victory would be a win for those who believe top-notch academics can co-exist with athletics.

"I think (winning the Heisman) would help recruiting tremendously," said Gerhart, in an interview from New York. "I tell kids, 'Don't be afraid to excel in the classroom.' I think people shy away from that. They buy into the stereotype that athletes shouldn't be smart. That it's not cool. Don't do that. The people who can do both (academics and athletics) are special people who get a ton of respect in the long run."

Of course, Gerhart would not be the first smart guy to ever win the Heisman. Two of this year's finalists - Florida's Tim Tebow and Texas' Colt McCoy - were also finalists for the William V. Campbell trophy, commonly referred to as the "Academic Heisman." Tebow, the Heisman winner two years ago, took it home Thursday night.

But not too many top football players carry the academic workload Gerhart does. And none of this year's Heisman finalists does it at a school of Stanford's caliber. It was just four years ago that USC quarterback Matt Leinart returned for his senior season, after winning the Heisman as a junior, needing only two credits to graduate. He famously took a ballroom dancing class.

Gerhart took five courses this quarter. He chose Integral Calculus because the professor has a good reputation. He enrolled in Introduction to Prehistoric Archaeology because it sounded interesting. He also took Investment Science, Introduction to Optimization Engineering and High-Technology Entrepreneurship.

"That's a pretty heavy load," said Gino Torretta, a Pinole Valley High grad who won the Heisman as the University of Miami's quarterback in 1992. "Based on those classes, he must be a math whiz. ... It's pretty amazing to carry those kinds of credits."

What's the hardest class Gerhart has taken? "That's a tough one. I'd probably say Stochastic Modeling," said Gerhart. "It had something to do with optimizing production. ..."

As Torretta knows well, the time demands on a major-college football player are substantial. He pointed out that Gerhart, as a running back, probably spends significant time in the training room every week, trying to recover from the pounding he takes.

Throw in practices, games, travel and video study - plus all the schoolwork - and there's obviously little wiggle room in Gerhart's schedule.

"It's definitely all about time management," Gerhart said. "You have to get up, go to class, work out, go to practice, study. Just long, long days."

If he can add a Heisman to his trophy case, that balancing act will be even more impressive. Gerhart faces stiff competition for the top award, having pushed himself into contention with a string of outstanding games against the likes of USC, Oregon and Notre Dame. But whether or not he takes home the hardware, he's set an amazing example for future student-athletes who may shy away from a big workload or a tough school like Stanford.

"The image of Stanford would be helped tremendously, not just because of the Heisman but because he's that kind of student," Torretta said Friday from New York, where he will attend today's Heisman presentation. "It probably would help every institution with very high academic standards.

"If someone wants to be a communications major at Northwestern, (school officials) could say, 'Hey, Gerhart won the Heisman with calculus classes at Stanford, why couldn't you do it here?' It would help a lot of schools recruit."

With only three courses to go before he graduates, Gerhart looks to be that rare Heisman candidate who actually graduates in four years. If it looks like he'll be a high choice in the NFL draft, he'll probably leave school early. If it doesn't, he'll be back at Stanford in the spring, taking graduate courses and playing baseball.

It's all enough to make a mom real proud.

Of course, Lori Gerhart is used to that feeling. Her son's achievements read like some kind of wish list for a doting parent.

Toby never had a grade lower than an A until he got to Stanford. Once he got to Palo Alto, he's maintained a better-than-B average. Not bad for a guy who called his mom the first week of school worrying aloud that he was the stupidest person on a campus full of intellectuals.

When his mom decided to go back to Riverside community college when she turned 40, 13-year-old Toby took the classes with her to boost her confidence.

Mom and son had meetings to study philosophy, public speaking, biology and anthropology. Their biology professor didn't think a 13-year-old could do the work. She graded Gerhart's first exam in front of all the students.

To her disbelief, he had earned the highest score in the class.

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