Thinking Outside the Box
Sept. 15, 2008
Lafayette has seen a lot of football players come and go over the years. Every year, fans, coaches and players see something on the playing field they've never seen before. They witness landmark events, such as the breaking of a rushing record, making a spectacular game-winning catch, extending a record win streak or perhaps capturing a championship title.
The players on the 2008 Lafayette football team are hoping to be the authors of more historic events this season. After falling short of a championship title last season, everyone is eager to get to the top of the Patriot League and with several players on the verge of breaking into all-time lists, fans should have plenty of opportunities to witness events they'll be talking about for years to come.
However, there are significant accomplishments that occur off the field that are perhaps more noteworthy in the bigger picture. Student-athletes at Lafayette take their playing careers seriously but for nearly all of them, the sports arena is not where they will pursue a career, making the time they spend in the classroom of the utmost importance.
Their "landmark" academic achievements may not get them a write-up in the local paper or an interview with a local television station, but they should. It takes dedication to balance a full schedule of coursework, practice and games and the student-athletes at Lafayette deserve credit for all the time they put into each of their pursuits, on and off the playing field.
Academics take priority at Lafayette and the benefits of that emphasis are far-reaching. Head coach Frank Tavani is not blind to the problems that make the sports page headlines about student-athletes at colleges and universities being suspended or kicked-off their athletic teams for behavioral and even legal issues. While he knows Lafayette is not completely immune to such problems, he believes the importance Lafayette places on academics is a main reason he has far fewer headaches to deal with than other football programs.
"It's refreshing to be here at Lafayette and the Patriot League where academics are the emphasis and the priority," he said. "A lot of people don't understand the commitment of the student-athletes here which makes them so special. These guys are here because they love the game and they get a great education and a great experience. It's great to be able to coach these student-athletes."
The statistics and facts about academic successes do not tell the whole story, however. They fail to mention the projects, experiences, lessons and opportunities that student-athletes are able to be a part of off the playing fields at Lafayette. The academic experience at Lafayette is not all about going to class, cramming for exams and leaving College Hill with a degree. There are many opportunities to learn outside the four walls of a classroom.
Junior kicker Chris Cosgrove is just one player who has taken advantage of the chance to further his education outside of the classroom. In addition to his own academic responsibilities, Cosgrove also helps fellow student-athletes achieve similar successes by serving as a peer mentor. As one of three peer mentors on the team, Cosgrove is matched with first-year student-athletes to help guide them through the first year of college.
"Our goal as mentors is to help each individual develop into academically successful student-athletes," he said. "One of the greatest benefits of this position is being able to build personal relationships and motivate other athletes to thrive, not just survive, here at Lafayette."
Teammate DeAndre Morrow is also a part of a unique group on campus. He is a McKelvy Scholar and one of just a handful of students that live together in a historic off-campus house. The group meets weekly to debate on a variety of subjects and every member was nominated by a professor to join the program. The prestige and honor of being a part of this elite group is not lost on Morrow.
"I can say that the honor has definitely enriched my experience while here at Lafayette," Morrow said. "Being exposed to so many people from different cultures and countries is a great opportunity. Educationally, it is enriching because being a McKelvy scholar is viewed by many as prestigious and this prestige makes me want to achieve more."
In addition to these unique learning opportunities, a large majority of the players' learning is done in the classroom and the courses offered at Lafayette are so diverse that students are exposed to topics and ideas they may never have otherwise stumbled upon if not for their time on College Hill.
Junior Rob Curley is in the midst of a season in which all eyes are on him as the starting quarterback for the Leopards. On a day in early September at the team's weekly media luncheon, his attention was being pulled in a number of directions--a radio request here, a television interview there, a meeting with a local newspaper reporter. He patiently answered all the questions pertaining to football but the History major's eyes lit up when asked an unexpected question about some of the unique classes in which he was enrolled.
"I'm actually taking a class right now called Extraordinary Women in Latin America which focuses on the 1500s-1900s and it's a small, seminar class," he said. "I'm also taking some religion classes which focus on the African part of the colonial Latin America experience. They're both really different and really interesting classes."
Cosgrove also spoke about some of the unique classes in which he'd had the opportunity to enroll.
"As a Biology major, I obviously take great interest in courses pertaining that area of study," he said, "but one of the most interesting courses I've taken has been World Music Traditions. The class was not only a welcome diversion in my science-heavy schedule, but was a great opportunity to experience the incredible diversity of music found in cultures around the world."
Mark Leggiero, an Engineering major, has been able to get hands-on learning experience in the classes he takes. His coursework this semester is focused around his minor, Architecture. Rather than being taught by a professor, one of his classes is taught by an architect working out of Bethlehem who comes to Lafayette's campus once a week.
"He gives us an interesting perspective on what it's like to actually be in the business," Leggiero said. "He talks about the real-life experiences he has and what happens in the field and in the design process."
A second of Leggiero's classes is a surveying course in which the learning takes place outside of the classroom.
"We have the opportunity to go around and get the lay of the campus," he said. "We get outside and take elevations work with GPS and survey the land where an engineer or an architect might come in to build projects or buildings."
The courses in which the football players are enrolled are as different as each of the individual players. While the players can be found in the likely places around campus--the weight room, football house, practice field, classrooms or the library--each one can also be found helping others, debating global issues, learning about foreign cultures or getting real-life experiences from professionals. Players leave College Hill with not only a valuable education, but with experiences both on and off the playing field to which no one else can lay claim.
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