Last spring an East Tennessee newspaper columnist brought considerable embarrassment upon the University of Tennessee by revealing that members of the 1998 national champion football team had registered failing grades in courses such as "Walking" and "Jogging."
Meanwhile, across the state at Vanderbilt University, you have football players like Jonathan Shaub. The Commodores' starting strong safety, who is on track to receive an Arts & Sciences degree next May with a double major in Philosophy and Religious Studies, is believed to be the only VU football player in the last decade to pursue a degree in either major.
So what, one might wonder, might a Philosophy and Religious Studies major be taking in the fall semester of his fourth year, while playing major-college football on Saturdays? Try these course names on for size:
· Pre- and Post-Modern Conceptions of Embodiment
· Comparative Studies in Religion
· Studies in Shakespeare
· Creative Writing
"Yeah, none of those P.E. classes like 'Golf' or 'Bowling,'" laughs Shaub, who maintains a humorous outlook on life despite his demanding schedule.
Those who question whether it's possible to succeed in both realms need only examine the 6-1, 210-pounder from Brentwood. On Sept. 28 against South Carolina, Shaub turned in a masterful performance with an interception, a timely sack, and forced two fumbles on safety blitzes. Meanwhile he is a perennial Academic All-SEC.
When football aficionados say that a player "could have gone anywhere," typically it means that football coaches were tripping over themselves to obtain his signature on a grant-in-aid. In Shaub's case it additionally means that the top academic schools nationwide were eager to lure him to their campus.
Shaub, many fans will recall, scored a perfect 1600 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test-- a fact he has subsequently been unable to live down, much to his chagrin. (TV commentators, it seems, find it difficult to refer to Shaub without referring to this personal factoid. They fail to mention some of the players he lines up against on Saturdays got little on their SAT's besides drool.)
As a senior at Nashville-David Lipscomb High School he accomplished just about everything there was to accomplish. Student body president. National Merit Scholar. Over 4,900 yards rushing. Mr. Football in Class AA. (Almost a little sickening, isn't it?)
The young Shaub-- with such a rare combination of academic success and athletic prowess-- decided that Vanderbilt offered him the best place both to play major-college football and to pursue his lofty academic goals-- all the while allowing him to stay close to home.
"It was always my dream to play for Vanderbilt," said Shaub, who grew up attending Vandy games with his grandfather, Joseph Ross, a former associate vice-chancellor.
Shaub chose the Commodores over offers from football factories like Alabama, Notre Dame and the in-state University of Tennessee. Like some other Vandy fans, his experiences with Rocky Top U. had left a bad taste in his mouth.
"I remember driving over to the UT game in Knoxville when I was about ten," said Shaub, chuckling at the memory. "It was me, my dad and my granddad. I was decked out in black and gold. I think they beat us about 45-0."
Some years later, when Vol coaches called to determine his interest, he reportedly politely told them he wasn't at all interested.
If Philosophy and Religious Studies seem two incongruous majors for a football player, the brainy Shaub contends good-naturedly that there is actually some carry-over between the study of philosophy and the hard-knock world of college football.
"Yeah, I think so," says Shaub. "I think the philosophical studies you get give you a basic outlook on life. It puts the game in perspective. I can go out there and have fun with it-- you know, not make it a bigger deal than it is, but also put my whole self into it."
If nothing else, his football-playing has taught him about "The Problem of Human Suffering." A series of injuries which began two years ago forced him to have both shoulders completely reconstructed and to sit out the 2001 season with a medical redshirt.
"For the left shoulder, I had a big metal contraption that went all the way over one shoulder and kind of wrapped around my midsection," said Shaub. "One side was all plastic and metal. It basically immobilized the shoulder for eight weeks.
"The second time I just had a sling on for eight weeks. Neither one was very fun. Those were both pretty tough times.
"I think football does teach you about suffering more than most things. You play football long enough, and you're going to have some suffering to get through. It's a good learning experience to go through in itself."
The introspective Shaub is a voracious reader, and also finds release in writing poetry and short stories.
What will he do with his double major? He's not sure yet, but graduate school is a possibility. If he graduates in May as planned, he'll need to gain acceptance at one of Vandy's graduate schools to insure a fifth year of eligibility.
In the meantime, on Saturdays he's attempting the inglorious task of tackling giants like South Carolina's Andrew Pinnock-- while on Mondays through Fridays he tackles the giants of the philosophical world, such as Aristotle, Socrates, Hegel and Nietschze.
With the Southeastern Conference taking an image beating recently, due to a lack of academic integrity, among other things-- Shaub is a student-athlete to whom both the SEC and Vanderbilt can point with great pride.