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Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Former student-athletes return to complete college education
By Jordan Blum
Staff Reporter

Former TCU football player Jay Davern said he was the top sales representative in his market and knew he was up for promotion.

However, Davern, now 28, said he was passed over because he did not have a degree.

Former football player Jay Davern came back to TCU to get his degree after he left. Davern is like many athletes who decide to finish college even though their playing days are over.

After talking to friends, Davern said he decided he wanted to get out of sales and go back to get his degree. This would let him fulfill his lifelong dream of coaching college football. Now he is on track to graduate in May 2002 with a degree in general studies.
Davern is not alone. More and more former student-athletes are returning to their former college campuses not to rekindle memories of glory days past, but to complete their degrees.

Several former athletes said assistance programs offered by TCU made their return to the classroom possible.

Davern said he received consultation from Jack Hesselbrock, associate athletic director for internal relations, and learned he could come back to TCU and apply for a scholarship through the NCAA Degree Completion Program. The program awards full scholarships to former athletes who have used up their eligibility for institutional financial aid and are within 30 hours of graduating.

Milton Overton, director of athletic academic services, said TCU annually ranks among the top 10 in degree completion awards handed out, and 15 former athletes have completed their degrees in the past three years. Notable grads include Ryan Tucker, a starting offensive lineman for the St. Louis Rams, and former Cowboys receiver Jason Tucker.

Overton said TCU’s overall student-athlete graduation rate of 57 percent from last year will be closer to 90 percent if taken 10 years from now to include students who returned to get their degrees. In figuring graduation rates, the NCAA allows student-athletes six years to complete their degrees.

Davern’s football career at TCU was riddled by injuries and off-the-field problems when he wasn’t making tackles at the linebacker position.

After being arrested for a second time for assault by threat and public intoxication, Davern was kicked off the team by former head coach Pat Sullivan in 1997.

“After the incidents I shut football out of my life because I felt it put me in my position,” Davern said. “I didn’t even watch football for two years.

“I was 22, young, playing football and having a good time,” he said. “Now I’m six years older, and the time in between has been a learning experience for me. I learned you can get a second chance if you deserve it. I’m 28 and it seems my life is just beginning.”

Davern credited his friends and people in the athletic department at TCU for helping him to realize his dreams.

“My friends kept telling me football was my calling, and I should use my gifts and past experiences to teach others and help them avoid the same mistakes I made,” he said. “Hesselbrock helped me apply for the degree completion award and (Athletics Director) Eric Hyman helped me get back in TCU. Their help was the biggest blessing I’ve had in a long time.”

Overton said academic programs for athletes can help students get ahead in their graduation plans as well as helping students who have completed their eligibility.

Curtis Fuller, a strong safety for the Seattle Seahawks, said he earned his master’s in liberal arts while still in his final year of athletic eligibility.

Fuller thanks Hyman and former head coach Dennis Franchione for encouraging him to do the extra work to get his master’s degree while still playing.

“I wanted to take a long-term approach, because I know football won’t be there forever,” Fuller said. “The coaches always encouraged me to get further along with my education. Some guys are just naturally faster or slower, but the coaches always told those who had a chance to get further to go and get it.”

Fuller said balancing extra classes and football wasn’t as difficult as he expected. Advising on time management proved helpful as well.

“I was able to take late classes so (football practice) didn’t interfere with class times,” he said. “A lot of guys on the team didn’t understand why I was working to get ahead and just told me to chill out. But most of them understood why I was doing it, and they knew we could get hurt any day.”

J.P. McFarland, a former offensive lineman, is another former athlete who has returned to get his degree. He transferred to Stephen F. Austin State University in 1997 to play football because he “needed a change.”

In March 1996, McFarland was involved in a bar fight that also involved Davern, which got him a temporary suspension from the team. However, McFarland said the incident had nothing to do with his leaving TCU.

McFarland said he always planned on getting his degree but that he never believed he would get the chance to return to TCU. He is on track to graduate in May 2002 with a degree in psychology.

“I played a little minor league ball with the Shreveport (La.) Knights, and I worked a couple years in sales,” he said. “When I found about the degree completion program, I was able to come back and be a part of the family here again, like I always was.”

McFarland praised people in the athletic department for going out of their way to help him return.

“They took care of me when they didn’t have to,” he said. “They help make things available for me too. I can use the (John Justin Athletic Center), the computer labs and tutors that are available for us.

“I’m not an athlete anymore, and I’ve gotten a little older and a little wiser,” he said. “I feel like I still fit right in. I just turned 26, so it’s not like I look 40.”

Jordan Blum


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