Being a U of T student athlete is a title that I see as an honour and a privilege. Even though the two words contradict one another on many occasions, it’s a challenge that I take on with appreciation and happiness.

I have had the opportunity of holding the kicking position for the Varsity Blues football program for the past three years now, a position that I take very seriously and sometimes put above my “student” title.

In grade 12 I received a call from the university’s head coach at the time, asking me what my marks were. I told him that I have a 74% average and even though my marks weren’t as good as other high school students applying to get into the same humanities program, I received an acceptance for my athletic ability. The athletic department had me accepted into UTM, where I now study English and professional writing with the hope of pursuing a future career in writing.

Athletes seem to prioritize their role on the team, which for me was the case initially, but as I made my way through my first year of university I realized the emphasis on academics at UTM and discovered that my new role as a student was of equal importance.

Firstly, every athlete must complete three credits every year to have the opportunity to play again the following year. They must also maintain a 2.1 GPA to keep themselves off a list that would require them to report to academic supervisors that follow their progress and achievements to ensure they stay eligible and pass the minimum required credits.

Even though for many students that are primarily academic, a 2.1 GPA is an embarrassment, it isn’t very hard to find yourself in a sticky situation when you’re on an athletic team. Personally, I put in approximately 48 hours a week into football, for things like the dreadful shuttle bus ride to St. George for practice, the hours of meetings needed to prepare for practice and games, and the three-hour practices and games each week. It seems impossible to find time to study during 10 weeks of the year.

Besides the academics, there’s a financial burden that comes along with playing on the team. Every football player has to pay a minimum of $450 each year to participate, which for some students isn’t manageable. There are players on the team who have to hold part-time jobs, even during the athletic season, to pay the minimum deposits required both to study at the university and to play on the Blues.

Many student athletes would agree that their classes, essays, tests, and exams become exhausting—the stress builds to a point where they feel like they can’t take it anymore.

Imagine going through your class schedule, but devoting seven hours a day to a sport that demands excellence. Coaches expect 100% effort from every player who steps onto the field, but to bring that kind of effort leads to exhaustion.

Besides the burdens of academics and finances associated with an athlete at the university, there are tremendous bright spots that keep us coming back for more. I feel as if I have learned values and lessons that I would not have learned in the classroom, at such an influential point in my life. I have met fine individuals who teach me how to interact with adults and peers on a professional level, working as a team striving for a particular goal.

Being a part of a team has taught me what it means to belong to a brotherhood. The love in a locker room is unconditional and genuine. My perseverance in sport has taught me lessons that will help me in life—time management above all else.

Yes, you learn a lot as a student, but how much can you get from a textbook or a classroom? Sport has taught me more about life than anything else: that even when you fail a test you can still accomplish something great, and that the hundreds of people on your side will remember your name for the rest of their lives.