Putting the ‘student’ back into student-athlete

Look up the definition of “student-athlete” in the dictionary and you might just find a picture of Utah State wide receiver Nnamdi Gwacham. Not only has the 6-foot-3 senior already graduated with a degree in exercise science, but he did so with a 3.63 grade-point average while competing for both the Aggie football, and track and field teams. Currently a graduate student, Gwacham’s list of on-field and academic accomplishments over the past four years is extensive. On the football field he caught 20 passes for the Aggies in 2008, and is well on his way to another productive year this season. He was second team all-WAC in the high jump in 2007, and finished fifth in the event at the conference championships in 2008, again earning all-conference accolades. A member of the Utah State Student-Athletes Mentors program, he also serves as President of both the Utah State Student Athlete Advisory Committee and the WAC Student Advisory Committee. He was also named a semifinalist for the 2009 William V. Campbell Trophy (formerly known as the Draddy Trophy) Watch List, an award given to the nation’s top senior scholar-athlete in college football. Shortly before the season began, Gwacham was named one of 30 NCAA football student-athletes to be nominated for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, which is given annually to a senior who has shown notable accomplishments in the classroom, community and on the field. For the player who is known as “Dr. Nnamdi” amongst his teammates, the balancing act of football and academics is a challenge, but one which he embraces. “It’s very hard to do, but I do the best that I can to schedule as much as I can,” Gwacham says. “It’s not easy to do; you’ve got to have a mindset that you can get things done.” “I’m a goal-oriented guy, so I do everything that I can to put myself in a position to accomplish the goals that I’ve set,” adds the three-time academic all-WAC selection. If Gwacham exemplifies the spirit of hard-work and determination in the classroom, perhaps it’s because he has a first-hand understanding of the value of a college education. Gwacham, a native of Nigeria, didn’t come to the United States until he was 11, and did not start playing football until his junior year of high school. Even then, he says, football was a means to achieving his goal of earning a college degree. It’s an attitude which seems almost unheard of to many current NCAA student-athletes, who all to often view their college experience as just a way to try to make it to the professional ranks. “My cousin played football at the University of Nevada-Reno,” explains Gwacham “It came to a point where I was looking for a means to ?nance my college education and he talked to me and told me, ‘You should get into athletics, you should get into football. You have considerable size and it’s not incredibly difficult to understand, so if you get into it and you love it, it might be something that might help you pay for your college education.’ I got into it and it took off from there.” Adds Gwacham, “Until that point, football to me was soccer, which is what we played in Nigeria. It was a completely foreign sport.” Utah State head coach Gary Andersen was impressed with Gwacham since the moment the former Utah defensive coordinator was hired in December “He’s one of the most tremendous young men that I’ve ever been around,” says Andersen. “His work is an understatement to how good of a young man he really is.” Amy Crosbie, who serves as Assistant Director of USU Student-Athlete Services, says that Gwacham has been an outstanding asset for her department, and that his example is one all student athletes can learn from. “Nnamdi is an exceptional young man that has made his mark on Utah State University,” she says. “He sets the bar high for student-athlete’s performance in the classroom. He is always willing to help in the community with various projects.” While he excels as a possession receiver for the Aggies, Gwacham isn’t looking to take his game to the next level, at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, “Dr. Nnamdi” is looking to go pro on a field far beyond the Xs and Os of the gridiron. But not too far. “I would like to be an orthopedic specialist, something that would keep me around student-athletes and athletics in general,” says Gwacham, who hopes to be accepted into medical school by 2012. With a strong work ethic and proven track record at achieving the goals he sets for himself, there is no doubt that Gwacham’s dream may soon become his reality. Until then though, he’s more than happy to put the “student” aspect back into “student-athlete.”

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