July 27, 2013
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
CHICAGO -- The topic of conversation at Big Ten Football Media Days was logically football, football, and more football.
Answering questions and signing autographs on behalf of the University of Iowa program were senior student-athletes Christian Kirksey, James Morris, and Brett Van Sloten. All three took turns talking football, but they also scored a game-winner for academia.
Kirksey and Morris are fourth-year seniors and both are taking six hours of classes this summer. Kirksey is enrolled in elementary statistics and media & society; Morris is taking a class in bio-statistics and doing an honors research project for the political science department.
So while a majority of the other 33 Big Ten Conference football athletes were spending three days enjoying free time and seeing the sites of Chicago, Kirksey and Morris were hitting the books.
When the trio left Iowa City on Tuesday, driving chores were assigned to Van Sloten, who refers to himself as a "super senior" since he used a redshirt in 2009 and had an extra year to complete course load for his degree.
"They both mentioned that they had homework to do and I asked if they had a light because we were driving at night," Van Sloten said. "Chris knocked out a paper in the back seat, and they were studying (Wednesday), too. That shows that there is a student-athlete portion to it and it's a credit to them to focus on school even when they are on a trip like this."
There has been no time for Kirksey to relax in the classroom. During the summer he has taken three tests and written three papers. He emailed a completed paper to his professor Tuesday, a night before beginning a two-day run of more than three hours of interviews and two hours of signing autographs and posing for photographs. In the fall Kirksey will enroll in six more hours.
"I'm up for the challenge, this is what it's supposed to be: I'm a student-athlete," Kirksey said. "This is what I'm here for, so you have to learn to adjust and balance things."
"If you're a student-athlete, there are three parts of your life: school, football, and fun. But you can only have two. What is fun for you becomes different. You set goals, and it's more fun to achieve a goal than it is to pursue whatever it is college students pursue every night."
UI middle linebacker
Morris and Van Sloten were among 15 Hawkeyes named to the 2012 Big Ten Fall Academic All-Conference team. Morris also received a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar Award. In April, he was recognized with the Third House Scholar Award for 2013-14 by the UI Department of Political Science.
"If you're a student-athlete, there are three parts of your life: school, football, and fun," Morris said. "But you can only have two. What is fun for you becomes different. You set goals, and it's more fun to achieve a goal than it is to pursue whatever it is college students pursue every night."
Morris is also chasing a degree in pre-law. Instead of taking fewer classes during the 2013 season, he will tackle 15 hours in the fall and seven more in the winter before graduating with a bachelor of science degree.
"I don't know about other places, but I know at Iowa nobody is writing papers for you, nobody is taking tests for you," Morris said. "Our guys are graduating, and they're getting degrees."
Since Kirk Ferentz took over as head coach of the UI in 1999, 38 Hawkeye football student-athletes named to a district or national Academic All-America team, including Morris in 2012.
"We're proud of that," Ferentz said. "The lasting, significant accomplishment a player is going to achieve in college is getting their degree. It's great to win the Doak Walker and the Outland and all that stuff, but football is going to end at some point and that degree is going to be there for a lifetime."
Van Sloten will earn his diploma in business management.
From all accounts, he is a pretty decent chauffeur, too.
Single-game tickets for all seven Hawkeye home contests inside Kinnick Stadium are available on hawkeyesports.com. Iowa opens the season Aug. 31, hosting Northern Illinois at 2:30 p.m. (CT).