Players often liken the demands of major-college football to a full-time job, which might explain why Ryan Schlothauer needed to set his alarm for 5 o'clock on a still-dark morning so he could complete a paper for a business course and still manage to ice his sore ankle and squeeze in weightlifting, film study, meals, afternoon practice and a four-hour evening class.
Sometimes it seems there are barely enough hours in the day for the Maryland special teams player and backup tight end to succeed in his double life as student and athlete. Schlothauer (Eastern Tech) became a rarity this fall — a football player enrolled in Maryland's demanding Master of Business Administration program. He often studies when he should be sleeping, stealing hours late at night or before dawn.
His life is filled with long days and energy drinks consumed on the fly. The former walk-on has played in 36 Maryland games in a row and earned a scholarship last year.
Schlothauer and Maryland (4-7, 2-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), which has lost its last five games, will complete the season Saturday when they travel to North Carolina (7-4-4-3 ACC). It will be the fourth start for Maryland's Shawn Petty, a linebacker who will start at quarterback because of injuries to four quarterbacks since training camp began.
The Tar Heels entered the day one-half game off the ACC Coastal Division lead but can't play for the conference championship because of NCAA sanctions.
Schlothauer is an example — albeit an extreme one — of a player trying to keep his eyes fixed on two potential prizes at once: professional football and the business career he hopes will follow when his athletic career is done. After graduating in the spring as a business operations management major, he was accepted into the MBA program in Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.
"All the years that I've been coaching, I don't remember having a player in the MBA program," said Maryland coach Randy Edsall, who permitted Schlothauer to leave practice early on Wednesdays so the player could make it to his four-hour, once-a-week night class on business leadership and teamwork. Schlothauer is also taking an economics class.
On an early-season Wednesday afternoon, Schlothauer showered quickly after practice, changed into grey slacks and a black button-down shirt and drove to the Metro station to catch a train to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, where the class is held. As he waited on the subway platform, the only clues that he was a football player were his size (6 feet 5, 260 pounds) and a red Terps backpack with his number ("81") on it.
He got back to campus around 11 p.m., ending his 18-hour day.
The NCAA says in promotional literature that college players must be "students first, athletes second." But athletics sometimes comes first, particularly in football and men's basketball. The NCAA is raising the minimum Academic Progress Rate scores for athletes over the next several years, meaning more schools could be in danger of being denied postseason play.
Maryland says Schlothauer's example illustrates that it's possible to pursue a particularly challenging degree while playing football. "He's a guy that's got his priorities in line," Edsall said.
But it sure can be taxing. "It truly is a full-time job. We have practice even on Sundays," Schlothauer said. "It exhausts you. I make sure I have my 5-Hour Energy."
Schlothauer worked as a summer intern at Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor. But, like many Terps who grew up watching NFL games, he is not yet willing to abandon his dream of playing professionally.
"I find it overwhelming to think that my childhood fantasy has actually become completely attainable," the player wrote in a recent class paper on his business goals. He added in the paper that he is "a realist" and understands that he needs to prepare for a career other than football.
For Schlothauer, the games can be a release from studying. In Maryland's season opener, he raced downfield and located William & Mary punt returner B.W. Webb. Schlothauer lifted Webb up, spun him around and slammed him to the turf — one of the most memorable tackles of Maryland's difficult season.
"It wasn't the best-form tackle, but I got him down," Schlothauer said. "He was squirmy, but once I got ahold of him, I made sure he wasn't going anywhere."
North Carolina (7-4, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) vs. Maryland (4-7, 2-5 ACC)
Site: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Time: 3:09 p.m.
Broadcast: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM
Series: North Carolina leads 36-21-1
Last meeting: Maryland def. North Carolina, 17-15, on Nov. 15, 2008, in College Park.
Maryland offense vs. North Carolina defense: Maryland has won five of the past six meetings. The Terps will play their fourth game (0-3) since linebacker Shawn Petty took over at quarterback after the previous four incumbents were injured. North Carolina defense ranks fifth in the ACC, surrendering 388.3 yards per game. But it leads the ACC with 15 interceptions.
North Carolina offense vs. Maryland defense: North Carolina ranks third in the ACC in scoring offense (40.2 points per game). This could be the last game for Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard, who leads the ACC with 118.3 yards per game. He might skip his senior season and opt for the NFL draft. North Carolina receiver Quinshad Davis tied an ACC and school record with 16 catches in the last game at Virginia. Maryland ranks second in the ACC in fewest yards allowed (322.5 yards per game).