Athletes must 'man up' about education
Posted September 25, 2013
T.A. McLendon was a high school superstar in Albemarle, North Carolina. He won a state championship and racked up 9,000-plus yards rushing.
"I didn’t think I would get to go to college. " he told the WRAL Documentary unit in an interview for "College $ports: #MissionorMoney." McLendon's upbringing – dad was "around as much as he could" – and economic situation put college out of reach. Until he started scoring those touchdowns – 178 of them over four years at Albemarle High.
So he got an opportunity that most boys in his hometown and thousands of other small towns across the country do not. He got to go to college.
And more than that, he got the cheers and the support that your average student doesn't get as he grinds his way to a degree in architecture or engineering or chemistry.
McLendon signed with North Carolina State University. “I know I can’t make it at Duke. I’m not smart enough,” he said.
And he was a star on a whole different level. His 18 touchdowns as a true freshman earned him the ACC Rookie of the Year for 2002 and a nickname. T.A., to Wolfpack fans, stood for Touchdown Anytime.
Where he was not spending any time was on his studies.
"I wanted to go there and red shirt," McLendon said. "I kind of got thrown into the fire."
You know what comes next. The body takes a beating in football and McLendon missed four games to injury in 2003, as a sophomore.
But he was sure he was going to "The League." That's what all these kids think. Thousands play college football each year. A couple hundred get drafted to the NFL, and even fewer make it as pros.
My question to that top recruit is: What's your backup plan? You've got the opportunity to get an education, so you better take advantage of that.
What's more, so-called student-athletes have access to better academic support than every other student on campus. You've got a team – it's the coaches, counselors and tutors who are committed to seeing you succeed, or at least stay academically eligible. If you sit in those classes, something's got to sink in.
McLendon said he was "the training room man," spending more time in there than anybody on the team.
Where did that get him? Right back to Albemarle 10 years later.
"You want to go to this NFL because it’s so big and it’s so luxurious looking, but you want to do so well on the field yet you lose sight of what you really need to be doing," he said. And that is getting a degree and preparing for the day when the field lights dim.