John Urschel

John Urschel

Credit: C.Dunn / AP

First down and Ph.D. to go

Basketball great Julius Erving played so brilliantly that fans called him “Dr. J.” When people start calling Baltimore Ravens football player John Urschel “Dr. U.,” however, it will be for more than his prowess as a lineman. Urschel, who has already completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in math and work toward a second master's in math education, all from football powerhouse Pennsylvania State University, has announced plans to spend the coming offseasons pursuing his Ph.D. in math at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Urschel is likely to have an even busier schedule than other graduate students as he tackles his academic work on top of his continuing football career. But having maintained a 4.0 average in college, published a research paper, and taught math to undergraduates while giving enough attention to football to be selected as an All-Big Ten player and a National Football League (NFL) draft pick, he clearly does not lack time management skills. And, with a 4-year football contract worth $2,364,560; a salary this year of $600,000; and a $144,560 signing bonus, he won’t have to endure the penury that many of his classmates may face. 

The self-styled “professional mathlete” describes himself as a graduate student in spectral graph theory, numerical linear algebra, and machine learning. The Amateur Athletic Union, on the other hand, called him “the nation’s best amateur athlete” when it gave him its 2013 James E. Sullivan Award before he joined the NFL.

“He knows what he wants in life,” says Ravens teammate James Hurst, as quoted by The Baltimore Sun. “He knows that [football] is a very short-term opportunity. You can't come back and do this when you're 40. … But at the same time, he loves those things he's good at. He's incredibly blessed to have those [academic] opportunities as well.” Already, in fact, another teammate has a nickname for Urschel, The Sun reports. It’s “The Professor.”

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