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August 19, 2011Life can have funny coincidences sometimes.
Class at Mississippi State started Wednesday, right in the middle of the football team's fall training camp. With that in mind, I asked a few players Thursday night what it was like adjusting back to classes after 24/7 football the last two weeks.
As it turns out, junior cornerback Johnthan Banks and I had already had that talk last summer.
I make a living covering MSU sports and by of doing so I have written about Banks several times. I've told stories about him regularly. In one of those funny coincidences, while I tell other people about him, he went to class last summer and heard all about me.
My dad, Dr. Tom Carskadon, has been teaching psychology at MSU for over 30 years and because a member of the opposite sex once told him it was good look, he wears a blue button up every day.
I found out over twitter that Banks was in my dad's class when he tweeted, "Wish somebody would tell Dr. C to change clothes sometimes dude wear da same thing every day."
I said, "Yeah, that's my dad. 30 years of blue shirts." Banks responded, ""He's da funniest guy I knw but do he really have that many blue shirts?" I told Banks that, yes, he does. He replied, "lol he just got done talking about u."
It was a lighthearted exchange. Though it reminds us of something we tend to forget.
"We're student-athletes first," Banks said Thursday night, emphasis on student.
When I asked players about which classes they were taking, a couple were so taken back they had to gather their thoughts just to remember what classes they are in.
I could see the look on their faces, "You're not asking me about replacing [insert graduated player here at my position, or how [insert injured players' name]'s knee is doing because Dan Mullen won't tell you?"
Yeah, us media folk don't ask these guys how classes are going very often.
The pressure of fans, coaches, friends and billion dollar TV contracts can be put on the shoulders of 19-year old college kids, all while expecting them to do well in school. They're expected to know the opposing team's defense and roster, as well as the periodic table of elements and how to solve complex algebra equations.
Said walk-on fullback Adrian Marcus, "It's tough, but our coaches give us plenty of time and extra study time and we got study sessions set aside from football, extra tutors, whatever you need to get the job done."
Banks said he actually approaches class the same way he does football.
"We're here to go to school," Banks said. "It's something we gotta do to play football. If you're gonna do it, why not do it hard. So just go out there and make the best of what we got."
Of course, it's not all equations, neutrons and world maps.
Banks said his favorite class was one that took place in a dance studio with Debbie Funderburk. If you went to MSU, you know where this is going.
"My funnest class since I've been here was probably my freshman year," Banks said. "I had Mrs. Funderburk. First class I've ever been to. A dance class, had a lot of football players, basketball players, just a lot of athletes. Just go in there and have fun, dance around and learn the history of dance."
For student-athletes, class, like football, is about more than grades or wins and losses. It's not all about memorizing plays or notes.
Dan Mullen often says that football is about teaching life to his players, teaching them how to be good people and have successful lives.
I was happy, and proud, to hear that Banks was able to take some of those life lessons from spending a few hours a week with my dad last summer.
"He had a lot of interesting stories. I actually loved that class," Banks said. "I learned a lot in that class. I got a B in that class. He had some hard, hard tests. Hard work. He gave us this manual we had to fill out. I learned a lot of life lessons in that class. A lot of stuff that will take me on to the next level and just make me a better person, a better man. Just things to do and not do."
Replace "class" with "football team" and Mullen would say it's exactly what he wanted.
I was lucky enough to take my dad's class, too, when I was a freshman. I was doubly-fortunate to take a class with my mom, Dr. Nancy McCarley, who was the head of the Shackouls Honors College. Both were experiences I won't soon forget.
Again, it's the same for the student-athletes. Banks will never in his life forget intercepting Tim Tebow and returning it 100+ yards for a touchdown, I'm sure. He may not talk about it as much, but he won't forget about learning how to salsa with Mrs. Funderburk, either. It's been over a year, but Banks still remembers a story my dad told about accidentally running over one of his children with a truck (not as bad as it sounds). Banks even asked if it was me, but luckily the answer was no.
Heck, even Mullen remembers going off to college for the first time, over 20 years ago.
"I was so excited to get away to college," Mullen said. "I was one of those that, you know, my mom would get all mad because I would only call once a week because I was so excited to be at college and being away, trying to be independent and learn on my own."
So, MSU fans, and all school's fans, honestly: cheer for your athletes on the field, but think about the students in the classroom, too.