In ‘Student-Athlete,’ student comes first
He wakes up at 5:30 every morning for either a weight-lifting session or a run with his football teammates. After a meal, he comes back to his room and attempts to get an extra half hour of sleep before his first class at 9:10 a.m.
After classes, he starts his homework. Next, he might have a captains’ meeting for the football team. Throw in another meal or two and an afternoon workout, and there is a typical day for Bill Gerdes at McDaniel College.
In the off-season.
Gerdes, however, doesn’t mind his schedule, which other college students might consider exhausting. Originally from Old Bridge, New Jersey, Gerdes attended Colts Neck High School and was very involved. Not only did he play lacrosse and run track, but he committed himself to dozens of hours of community service annually. He was also the company commander of the naval ROTC program.
Gerdes understood in high school that his first priority in school was academics. Being involved in extracurricular activities was considered a privilege in his household. “My parents made it clear that being the best student I can be was more important than trying to make it to the NFL” says Gerdes.
Gerdes plans to graduate with a degree in business administration. His professor of accounting, Susan Milstein, suggests that Gerdes’ hard work has earned the respect of his teachers and his classmates.
“Billy is always paying attention, unless a pretty girl walks into the classroom,” jokes Milstein. She notes that he rarely, if ever, misses class for a football-related activity and that football never seems to distract him from his work.
While his professors may not see him sweat, Gerdes does feel the pressure of performing in the classroom and on the field at times. “There will be days when I have two practices, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and in between that I’ll have two quizzes or a presentation. It can get a little crazy at times, but that’s when I know I have to come through in the clutch for my teammates, my parents, my teachers, and myself.”
To make things easier for himself and other college athletes, Gerdes says he would like to see the scheduling of classes changed. Early classes would leave more time in the afternoon and evening for things other than sports, such as homework, food, and leisure time.
McDaniel finished with a 5-5 record this season, its most wins since 2006. Gerdes says a conference championship would cement a successful career as a defensive lineman for the Terror. He lists three things as his essentials to accomplish his goal: “commitment, hard work and perseverance… both on and off the field.” Junior Michael Ford, a fellow defensive lineman, notes that Gerdes’ work ethic makes up for his lack of natural abilities.
“He may not be the tallest or fastest defensive lineman we have, but he is the hardest working. Eventually, that dedication is going to pay off.” It already has paid in the classroom, as demonstrated by Gerdes’ 3.1 GPA.
Does Gerdes take pride in the notion that he has earned the respect of his teammates, coaches, teachers and friends? “Not exactly,” says Gerdes. “I appreciate how other people view my work ethic, but if I get too complacent with where I am now I will stop progressing.” Gerdes recognizes that since high school, his mother would give him academic goals for each marking period. If he got anything lower than a B for two consecutive periods in the same class, he would have to stop playing sports.
“I think it really stuck with me, to be a student before an athlete. It’s just become a habit.” Just as habitual as waking up at 5:30 every morning.