Champions Play Here - Football Enjoying Academic Success

Sept. 18, 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - When 39 members of the UCF football program received Conference USA Commissioner's Academic Honor Roll recognition this past spring, sophomore linebacker Lawrence Young (Pensacola, Fla.) was not surprised. Young, who was one of the Knights honored for maintaining a grade point average of 3.0 or higher, expected members of the squad to succeed in the classroom.

His expectations were high due to the emphasis that head coach George O'Leary has placed on academics. O'Leary states to his student-athletes that excellence in the classroom is as important as success on the field.

"That is a big key because the main thing we are here for is our education," Young said. "That is our key goal... to graduate."

The Knights are clearly following O'Leary's instructions. Last year, 30 Knights earned their undergraduate degrees. Four of the graduates - offensive lineman Mike Lavoie (Sanford, Fla.), cornerback Johnell Neal (Baton Rouge, La.) and safeties Sha'reff Rashad (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Jason Venson (Marietta, Ga.) - are still playing for the Knights. Lavoie and Rashad are pursuing master's degrees, while Neal and Venson are working on second undergraduate degrees.

In August, O'Leary was proud to announce that his program is participating in the Scholar-Baller initiative, which recognizes student-athletes for their work in the classroom. As part of the initiative, 66 Knights are wearing helmet stickers this season for maintaining a GPA of at least 3.0, or for earning their undergraduate degrees.

"I am very proud of the progress our football team has made in the classroom," O'Leary said. "Being a student-athlete at a great school like UCF is not just about what happens on the field. This program wants to prepare its student-athletes to succeed in life after UCF, whatever road they choose."

"That is always his number one priority: academics first, football second," senior offensive lineman Patrick Brown (St. Charles, Ill.) said about O'Leary. "It is definitely a main emphasis of his."

Last fall as a senior, defensive tackle Keith Shologan was named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America First Team. He was joined on the all-district squad by Rashad and wide receiver Rocky Ross (Jacksonville, Fla.), who is currently a senior.

According to Brown, the Knights take pride in being recognized for their achievements away from the field. These Knights are not just attending UCF to play football.

"You always hear about people thinking about the dumb jock or something like that. It is definitely not true here."

For the latest news on the Knights, log on to UCFAthletics.com - the official site for UCF varsity sports. The site, which also contains ticket and Golden Knights Club donor information, is also the home of UCF's new online apparel store. Also visit UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pictures.