What's It Like to Play NCAA Division I Football?

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Feb. 18 2014 8:23 AM

What's It Like to Play NCAA Division I Football?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Myles Jackson, Rutgers defensive end No. 49 and Goldman Sachs intern:


Playing football in college is a full-time job.

When people say that athletes have no right to complain when they have a "free" ride, it is quite puzzling. First, let's examine the word free. According to Webster's, the definition of free is: "not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being; choosing or capable of choosing for itself." Division I athletes, especially at the upper-echelon of schools, do not have the capability to choose for yourself. You are told where to go and when to be there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That might include practice on Christmas morning (yes, it does happen), missing Thanksgiving because you're on a plane headed to a game, giving up your summer vacation because you have "voluntary" team workouts (which are just called that due to NCAA rules—everyone knows they're mandatory), and don't forget the daily toll you put your body through by running into 300-pound men for about two hours a day at practice.

That's just the athletic side of things. On the academic side, contrary to popular belief, you are required to maintain a certain level of excellence in the classroom. Now, of course you are given plenty of resources to ensure that you succeed, but the majority of the work rests on your shoulders. On the recruiting trail, schools love to tout their graduation rates. It's a way of luring the parents into letting their beloved children go to a school. The NCAA's Academic Progress Rate and the amount of tutors available to a student matter to parents when talking to coaches. In order to back up that talk, the current players have to do their job in the classroom to make the numbers look good. Now, yes, every team has certain classes with certain professors who almost guarantee you an A, but not every class you take is like that. This is where the tutors come in. When you're the only player in a political science seminar class, the tutor helps put the lessons into more common language so you can understand better. Do I think this is unfair? Not at all. Nonathlete students have access to tutors and study groups as well. It's just not mandatory for them.

All that aside, playing football in college is the greatest thing in the world. Playing in front of your family members in the stadium and in front of millions more on TV on Saturdays is so gratifying after all the work you've put in during the week. It becomes more than just a game when you've been playing it since you were 9 years old. Your teammates become your brothers, and your coaches become father-figures and long-lost uncles. The real joy of collegiate football doesn't come from the moments on the field, though; it comes from the hours of laughing and joking around in the locker room after practice, the video-game sessions in the players' lounge, group trips to the dining hall, and all of the other bonding activities you go through as a team. At the end of the day, I know I can trust my brothers on the field because I've looked in their eyes as we've gone through countless hours of training and I've seen the determination inside them. It pushes me to be better so I don't let anyone down. After college, I'll have a group of friends that will last me a lifetime—a group that I know I can rely on if I ever needed anything, and they know I'd have their back as well.

Even after the football is over, I can say that having that on your resume might be one of the biggest attributes in an employer's eyes. They already know that you can work on a team and handle adverse situations. It also creates great talking points in an interview. I've gone through interviews where the person seemed like they were more interested in hearing some of my football stories than the actual job at stake, though I would go so far as saying that playing football got my foot in the door to the current position I just accepted.

Long story short, playing football in college in hard yet extremely rewarding. Just getting to this stage is an accomplishment worth noting, and getting through it is an even bigger one. Football is a lifestyle that requires 100 percent dedication. If you're not in it all the way, you won't succeed and it will be miserable. Yes it might be hard and yes you might think there's no end in sight sometimes. You'll question yourself and wonder if you made the right decision in what school you chose or even if you're good enough to play at all. Once you get through that, though, it's smooth sailing. It's something that you can leverage to do even greater things in life.

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