Penn State has long been proud of the academic success of its athletes.
The goal, they say, from President Eric Barron to Athletic Director Sandy Barbour to the coaching staffs, is to have every player in every sport graduate.
“We need to educate and provide experience both in the classroom and outside the classroom,” said Barbour earlier this year.
“That is the expectation, from everyone. It’s part of our recruiting,” said Russ Mushinsky, executive director of the Morgan Academic Support Center, the study hub for university athletes.
On Saturday, a former player will don a cap and gown, even if it is a couple years late.
Chaz Powell was a Penn State cornerback. He majored in criminal justice when he came from Susquehannock High School, but after a 55-yard run in the season opener of his sophomore year, Powell’s career started heading toward the gridiron more than the courthouse.
In 2011, he turned his attention toward the NFL, an effort that was rewarded when he signed a free agent contract with the Oakland Raiders. They released him, but he went on to spend 2012 with the Green Bay Packers and 2013 with the New York Giants, living a dream most kids have to let go.
But he had to let his degree go to do it. According to Penn State, it was the very day he submitted the paperwork to the university to finish his degree that he got the call from the Packers. And going back to school is hard between practice and football season.
I came to play for Coach Paterno. He preached that you need to go to class and get your degree because football isn’t going to last forever.
“I came to Penn State to play for Coach (Joe) Paterno and attend school at a great University. He always preached to us that you need to go to class and get your degree because football is not going to last forever. And he was right,” Powell said in a release from Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics.
He only needed four credits from a statistics class. The university approached him to see about wrapping them up. He said yes.
After leaving the NFL, Penn State says Powell was working as a plumber, working toward becoming a licensed pro. Still, he commuted from York to State College every Thursday to finish the credits for that criminal justice bachelor’s.
He will now receive that delayed degree.
81 percent Nittany Lions football team graduation success rate
72 percent FBS and Division I average
“I was gifted enough to play in the NFL for three years, with a couple practice squad opportunities here and there,” Powell said. “But like Coach Paterno said, football didn’t last forever. And I learned that having your college degree can take you anywhere in the world. It will mean a lot to me.”
A total of 14 football players will graduate Saturday.
According to Penn State, the Nittany Lions football team has a graduation success rate of 81 percent. The Division I and FBS average is 72.
Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce