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January 18, 2013

COLUMN: The fine lines in a college education

So it’s out there that Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel loves a good party, which in the world of college students, let alone athletes, is about as much news as January being declared the first month of the year.

Which makes OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops’ recent remarks on a WWLS sports talk show seem both odd, funny as they were meant to be, yet true.

“If they can keep him out of jail or keep him eligible, he’s going to be pretty good,” the Sooner DC said. “If they can keep him off Twitter, he might win three or four Heismans.”

Stoops earlier this week apologized for the remarks, but it should only be because, well, his defense has had its share of guys who can light up defenses as easily as they can, say, light up joints, or exceed the legal alcohol level, and find their way to a jail. Now, the way his defense played this past year, none were near Heisman-level status.

But hey, Manziel, and closer to the home league, TCU’s Casey Pachall, are proof that it’s not just a defensive problem. Suds flow so well on any part of a college campus that Beer Pong might be confused as an NCAA sport.

In Manziel’s case, the most recent loudest noise comes from his recent trip to an Oklahoma casino. This past summer, well before his Heisman coronation, he was arrested at 2 a.m. one morning for fighting and lo and behold, he had an ID on him that showed him to be 21. He’s short of that.

Given the history, A&M athletic director Eric Hyman met with Manziel and his parents and reminded him that carrying a Heisman banner, not to mention the hopes and dreams of the Corps of Cadets, brings with it a hefty amount of weight on his shoulders. In his case, there’s still three years of playing time left, lest he bolts for the NFL early.

Therefore, a bad choice or two and a sure-fire first-round pick just might begin to nosedive down the forecast charts.

The odds of any starting Division I college player getting to the next level and sticking is steep odds. Players out of high school find that once they’re on a college practice field, they’re no longer the high school stud who stood out in the crowd. Intangibles, such as work ethic and learning — both from textbooks and what you’ve learned about life’s conduct — all come into play.

Kids are kids and college is a culture shock in multiple ways, a sense of expanded freedom that’s hard to handle. Those who have been grounded in solid values and sense of responsibility have a better shot at surviving than those who didn’t.

Some will make it in spite of not having a parent or guardian around to ground them, usually due to coaches who became father figures, but for only a few hours a day. That’s not as much parenting as it is establishing a network of watchdog-like accountability that borders on protector rather than parent, but for some, it’s better than nothing, yet no guarantee of success.

Then there are those whose coaches pampered them because of their special ability between the sidelines, be them ticking time bombs or not, and allowed them plenty of freedom with cover. Consequences were always covered because of their value to the team and some of that continues into the college game. But not every pampered high school stud gets that kind of college skins and those that don’t are usually the first out of the game.

In a few weeks, National Signing Day lifts many of these into the stratosphere of college ball. A lot of it their success, be it D1, D-2, or JUCO, have to do with the foundation they’ve built outside the lines.

The NFL may never hang in the balance, but the degree, and completing something that demanding in honor, will look good on that resume. And you can’t beat the discount on the education bill.

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