Niswanger in the running for Heisman

For LSU senior center Rudy Niswanger, being a "student athlete" means being perfect two equally difficult fields.

Niswanger graduated in May with 4.0 GPA in pre-medicine, but decided to put off medical school for one year and return for his senior season as a Tiger


Last week, Niswanger was named a semifinalist for the Droddy Trophy.  Nicknamed the "Academic Heisman," this award recognizes an individual for outstanding academic success, excellent football performance, and dedicated community service.


Niswanger is one of 184 semifinalists from every collegiate division vying for this prestigious recognition.

He has also been named to three straight SEC Academic Honor Rolls and was recognized as First Team Academic All-American last year.


For most students, the pressure of school work is overbearing, but Niswanger takes on both roles as best he can.


"It's all about just balancing it," he said, "just realizing certain things are important."


For Niswanger, balancing school and football requires a strong will and dedication to his work.


"You're going to be tired after practice, but you've still got to study, you've still got to do certain things that you may not feel like doing," he said.


Although it takes a lot of time away from schoolwork, football has helped Niswanger stay focused in his studies.


"You kind of learn from playing," he said. "You don't always feel like you want to practice, but you know if you don't, it's going to hurt you, and if you do, it's going to help you."


In addition to graduating at the top of his class, Niswanger is also one of the top guys on the field.  He has proven his versatility by playing in all five positions on the offensive line before being taking over at center midway through his junior year.


Niswanger was named as starting center this year, but has been hampered by an ankle injury in all three games.  That injury combined with a fluctuating practice schedule has created a rocky start to the 2005 season.


Although the moved games and shortened practice weeks create an inconvenience for the team, Niswanger said having a routine is not an absolute necessity for the team.


"I think it's important, but I think it's like anything else, you can adjust to what you're in to," he said. "You don't have to have it, but does it help? I believe it does."


So far this season, the team has lacked resemblance of a normal schedule, but Niswanger remained positive about the future of the season.


"Cross our fingers, barring any strange weather patterns in the future, its going to be fairly normal from here on out."


The beginning of the season has been awkward, to say the least.  In the Tigers' first three games, they have witnessed an improbable fourth quarter comeback victory against Arizona State, followed by a fourth quarter loss to Tennessee, and a host of tricky play calling against Mississippi State.


Niswanger was especially pleased with the return of the highly effective bubble screen pass.  The pass, which usually goes to wide receiver Skyler Green, has Niswanger reminiscing of two seasons ago.


"Things like that were our bread and butter not too long ago," he said. "It's really good when you get to bring something back and it starts working for you again like it did in the past."


Although he is excited about the return of the bubble screen, Niswanger insisted he does not have much opinion on which plays should be called.  He does not mind whether the play is a run or a pass, as long as it is successful.


"For me, what I'd like to see is anything that gets us in the end zone," he said.


In the first three games of the season, the offense has had success putting the ball in the end zone.  Against Mississippi State, the Tiger offense was able to score a season high 37 points.


Niswanger said that while the arrival of new head coach Les Miles has had some change to the team, they still have the attitude going in to the game.


"We're a balanced attack," he said. "We keep them on their toes with passes while being able to run and create some good matchups on the outside."


Even with a similar game plan and play calls, Niswanger agreed that this year's football team does have some differences from the ones coached by Nick Saban.  A change in quarterback, an injury at running back, and a hiring of new coaches has forced the team to re-evaluate themselves.

"It takes a little while to find, to take a term from Coach Saban, your identity of the team," Niswanger said. "I think we're still doing that, but our identity is LSU, the team we've been and the team we're going to be."

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