Football Tigers Graduating Early Again

Auburn, Ala.--It's a challenge for many college students to earn a degree in four years.

It's an even bigger task for a busy college football player to do it with year-around demands on his time at a high-profile program like the one at Auburn University.

Doing it in three years and playing football is extremely impressive, but three members of the 2005 Auburn team have accomplished that feat. Tommy Jackson, a first team All-SEC noseguard last season, picked up his degree on Monday, three years after enrolling at the university. Lee Guess and Ben Obomanu, a pair of receivers for Tommy Tuberville's Tigers, also will be playing this fall as students who finished their degrees in three years.

"There was a lot of hard work put into earning this degree," says Jackson, who graduated with honors in public administration. "On the field something can happen to you and you may have to give up the game, but once you have your degree it is for life," he says. "It is something that can never be taken away from you.

"I am proud that my degree is from Auburn University," Jackson adds. "It means a lot to me."

Jackson says starting fall semester he is going to work on a second degree in education. The big noseguard says he never would have imagined he would be an early graduate when he arrived at AU from Opelika High School. "My momma used to tell me she worried about me going to college because she didn't know if I would apply myself like I should," Jackson says.

"In a way I didn't know if I would either, but when I got here and saw what the other guys were doing as they tried to be successful off the field as well as on the field. I decided it was time for me to step up and do the same thing."

Athletic Director Jay Jacobs congratulated Lee Guess (right) and other new graduates.

Guess, who will be a redshirt junior this fall, received his degree in marketing on Monday. "We have always been taught that first we are students and after that we get to do our sports," he says. "Being able to finish up in the time I did is an achievement I can always feel good about. Getting done in three years and having it (the degree) in my back pocket is a good feeling to know that it is there when I get done with football. Hopefully, I can continue on and earn my MBA and that will help me even more."

Guess says he didn't start college with a goal of finishing early, but notes that "it just sort of came up on me."

"Being here in the summers taking classes helped a lot," says Guess, who notes that Tuberville encouraged him and his teammates to achieve in the classroom. "He has congratulated everybody who is graduating. He puts the student first in student-athlete. He applies that to everybody who comes here as a freshman and tells their parents to make sure everybody understands that they are here for an education. Then he pushes for the football achievements after that."

Another key player on the 2005 team who picked up his degree on Monday is senior Cooper Wallace, a second team preseason All-SEC selection. "It means a lot to me," Wallace says. "It means that I am about ready to step out into the real world, but it is also nice to be back this fall for a final season. I am excited to get my degree done before the season started."

Wallace notes that he was nervous about attending Auburn after arriving from Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, where he helped the team to its first state football title. "I was from a really small high school so I was kind of worried about the big classes, but it worked out well," he says. "It taught me a lot about how to interact with people in groups. It has been a good four years."

Cooper Wallace (left) and his mother (center) pose with Tommy "T.J." Jackson (right) on graduation day.

The tight end says he appreciates the emphasis Tuberville and his assistants place on the value of an education. "I think that is one thing that sets Auburn apart from a lot of other schools," he says. "From what I read and hear about other places, a lot of other schools don't seem to place as much an emphasis on academics as we do. I think is one of the big reasons we are successful is that we are dedicated on and off the field."

Last year, the majority of the senior class finished their 13-0 football season as graduate students and that will be the case in 2005. Nine of Auburn's 15 seniors will take the field as graduate students when the Tigers open the season vs. Georgia Tech. Two of the three-year graduates will be playing for wide receivers coach Greg Knox.

"Ben and Lee have done a great job for us both on the field and off the field," Knox says. "I have never had a player graduate in three years, much less two of them. I am proud of them."

All-SEC senior Travis Williams and another starting linebacker, Antarrious Williams, have already earned their degree. Starting fullback Jake Slaughter and starting deep snapper Chas Crofoot are graduates, too. Steven Ross, a leading candidate to start at center, also enters the season as a graduate.

Virgil Starks, associate athletic director for student-athlete support services, says he is excited every time an AU athlete completes his or her degree. "I think the tradition of Auburn is one that is found in the (Auburn) creed--we believe in a sound mind and a sound body," he says. "Athletics allows many of our student athletes to reach their potential. It also develops their character and earning that degree says a lot about their character."

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