By Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune reporter
6:47 PM EDT, August 20, 2013
A year ago, the question was whether Penn State football would crumble because of actions relating to a sexual predator.
Now that the transfer-without-penalty window has closed and Penn State's top-level leadership is unquestioned — Bill O'Brien won three prestigious national Coach of the Year awards — the attention returns to the hash marks.
"This year, for the most part, we are hearing football questions," Penn State offensive lineman John Urschel told reporters at Big Ten media day. "Last year your focus was slightly elsewhere."
But to ask Urschel only football questions would be a waste, like getting a sit-down with George Foreman and only asking about his grill.
Urschel is hailed as "the embodiment of a student-athlete" in his Penn State bio, and that doesn't even cover it. How about "student-athlete-teacher"?
Having earned undergraduate and master's degrees in mathematics with a 4.0 GPA, Urschel this fall will teach Math 232 — Integral Vector Calculus — to Penn State students who don't care whom he blocks on Saturdays — or that he's 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds.
"My students don't respect me because I'm old (22) or I look professional," he said. "I can teach in a T-shirt and shorts. They respect me because I know math and I'm good at conveying concepts to them."
Urschel developed slowly while growing up near Buffalo, N.Y., His mother offered to send his film to Division III MIT, but the coach there replied that anyone who showed up could play. Princeton/Ivy League football then came into play.
But three major schools offered scholarships based on his senior tape, and Urschel said he fell in love with Penn State's college atmosphere, choosing it over Stanford and Boston College.
He made first-team All-Big Ten as a guard in 2012 and last month was selected from among all conference players to deliver the annual speech at the Big Ten luncheon.
"I took a course in public speaking my sophomore year, but unfortunately for me, it was online," he told the crowd, drawing laughs.
Without reading from notes, Urschel laid out four goals for college football players: "To master your craft as football player; to make your mark in your community; to help young players that follow in your footsteps; and to prepare for the day when your football career ends."
Penn State linebacker Glenn Carson, himself an Academic All-Big Ten selection, said this of Urschel's future: "I honestly think he will impact the world somehow. He's not an introvert, not on a chalkboard somewhere. He can talk, can play football and do math. The sky is the limit for him."
Up next: Michigan State
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