By CONOR FEBOS
In the wake of perhaps the most traumatic event in NFL history, a murder-suicide that shocked a football community and a nation at the same time, the National Football Foundation recognized Tuesday some of the sport’s prouder moments when it announced its 2012 National Scholar-Athlete Award recipients.
Fifteen of the nation’s best and brightest collegiate football players, representing schools from California to Massachusetts, gathered at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel among some of college football’s most historic figures during a news conference that preceded the annual NFF awards dinner.
“This year’s class contains some of the finest student-athletes to ever compete in college athletics in any sport,” said NFF President and CEO Steven J. Hatchell. “They have an average GPA of 3.67, which showcases their commitment to excellence in the classroom as well as on the field.”
The NFF’s National Scholar-Athlete program, launched in 1959, is the first initiative of its kind that awards scholar-athletes postgraduate scholarships for their combined athletic, academic and leadership abilities.
Each recipient was awarded $18,000 for their accomplishments.
This year’s class included such prominent student-athletes as Matt Barkley, quarterback from USC, and Barret Jones, Alabama’s star offensive linemen who’s projected to be a high pick in next year’s NFL draft, but also recognized small-school athletes like Shane Zackery, a wide receiver from Saint Xavier (Ill.), who never experienced life in the limelight until now.
“This is an incredible honor to be sitting in the company of such amazing athletes and individuals,” said Zackery. “I never thought I’d be considered for such an award; this is truly amazing.”
Chairman of the NFF and father of two previous National Scholar-Athletes – who’ve also won three Super Bowls, combined – Archie Manning spoke of the need to foster a culture in football that encourages success and order off the gridiron, too.
“Football no doubt has had its share of negative connotations, but these men here today represent all that is right about college football and football in general,” said Manning. “They have displayed the same competitive fire to win in the classroom that has distinguished them as some of the best football players in the country.”
Still trying to understand the disheartening details resonating from the Kansas City murder-suicide by Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, an Academic Momentum Award winner while at University of Maine, Hatchell said that the sport is still doing some “very great things.”
“Events like today remind fans of the finer qualities in football players,” said Hatchell. “These are well-rounded individuals who represent a sport that produces excellent and influential leaders.”
The 2012 National Scholar-Athlete class, which boasts eight Academic All-Americans, were selected from a nationwide pool of 147 semifinalists from among all NCAA divisions and the NAIA.
“I still can’t believe I’m here with all these great football players and even better people, this is a very humbling experience,” said Ethan Peterson, a nuclear engineering and physics major from MIT who balanced an all-conference career with an impressive 3.83 GPA. “Being a football player is more than what you do on the field. You must take the mental toughness and perseverance and apply it to all aspects of life.”
Photo: USC quarterback Matt Barkley