Special to Page 2
EDITOR'S NOTE: Erica Lucero, a sophomore at Southern Cal, will provide Page 2 with periodic updates from campus this season as the Trojans attempt to win their third consecutive national championship.
Whenever I walk around campus with Jeff Tola, I can't help but laugh. Decked out in his football gear, Jeff, who is 6-feet tall, has all kinds of girls turning their heads. I only wish they could see the Jeff that I do: We eat cereal and fruit snacks together, I beat him at poker, and he sings TV theme songs louder than anyone else. I've known the guy since high school and, in my opinion, he's anything but a football player.
Jeff is playing defensive end this year for the Trojans, specializing in the Leo side ("Leo" is team terminology for the left side). At 240 pounds, he is one of the lightest players on the team, often affectionately referred to as "Rudy." His practice schedule is the equivalent of a full-time job, about 40 hours a week. An average day sees him up at 6:30 a.m. (during the offseason, it's at an even more ungodly hour) for lifting, and then meetings and practices run intermittently throughout the rest of the day. Saturdays are spent at the latest massacre -- like this weekend at Oregon.
And then there's that biomedical engineering major.
He's set to graduate in four years (the spring of 2008) as long as he takes six classes every semester (the average student takes four). In rare moments when he's not in class or out on the field, he's battling through molecular biology and differential equations. There is no doubt he is passionate about academics. However, the real question is whether he's unique.
It is well-known among us girls at USC that, if you take ballroom dancing, you will most likely get to waltz with a football player. Rumor has it that this is the only class Matt Leinart is taking this semester. In general, it is widely whispered that many players' schedules consist entirely of these non-academic classes. However, when I mention this to Jeff, he tells me flat-out that I'm wrong.
What he wants people to understand is that football players don't deserve the label of "stupid." When I raise my eyebrows, he starts rattling off teammates' stats -- and I don't mean rushing averages. Brandon Hancock has a 3.9 GPA. Jeff Byer took AP classes in high school. The Ting twins have pulled a 4.0 every semester. And this academic superiority does not exclude the stars: Reggie Bush, aka "The President," makes consistently good grades every semester.
If Jeff is unusual when it comes to academics, then his personality is even more so.
The other night a group of our friends were headed into a party, when a frat boy serving as a bouncer objected to the entrance of the guys (fraternities rarely let guys in who aren't members).
They all turned away. I pleaded, "But he's a football player!"
The reaction was quick: "Really? Do you have ID?"