Nebraska sweeps nation with Academic All-American titles
By Katie Knight
In terms of sports and academics, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is the best in the country. And there are statistics to prove it.
As of 2015, UNL has more Academic All-American award winners than any other university in the country, according to the Huskers Athletics website. With a whopping total of 320 Academic All-Americans within the athletic department, UNL leads colleges like the University of Notre Dame and Massachusetts Institute of Technology by more than 70 awards.
In order to earn Academic All-American status, an athlete must have better than a 3.3 cumulative GPA, be in sophomore standing and be someone who is performing at a high level in their sport. Dennis LeBlanc, UNL’s executive associate athletics director, said it is very rare that a sophomore is selected because their athletic credentials might not be that high since they’re only a sophomore, in addition to their GPA being based only on three semesters.
“It’s something now that we’ve made a big deal out of,” LeBlanc said. “We keep the numbers tallied in the stadium, it gets on the television broadcasts, people can see it. so it’s something that’s really creating a culture. and when people come here, they’re like ‘I want to be an academic All-American. not everybody makes it to that point, but it is rather interesting that over the years that number has grown.”
Senior nutrition, health and exercise science major Levi Gipson, who is also an Academic-All American for UNL’s track and field team, said that he appreciates the enrichment and encouragement he regularly receives from the athletic department.
“Nebraska really focuses on developing the whole student-athlete,” Gipson said. “They really emphasize the student-athlete experience, not just the athlete experience like a lot of schools do. I think they really emphasize the whole aspect of being a college student athlete rather than just an athlete or just a student.”
LeBlanc agrees and said that while the athletic department does everything in their power to make students feel welcome and appreciated, he believes it’s truly the students who make the difference. When potential recruits come to visit and see the atmosphere there, people are drawn to it, he said.
“Nebraska is a great situation to be a student-athlete in because there are wonderful resources in place, we’ve got a great university, people are very interested in supporting athletics,” LeBlanc said. “We’ve been very fortunate to recruit student-athletes who are great students. Once you get that started, I think people want to be a part of it.”
Gipson said that the main thing he has enjoyed at UNL is the overwhelming academic support and genuine interest in his academic success.
“Obviously they care about what you accomplish in your sport, but they also really recognize you for your academic excellence,” Gipson said. “I’m not huge into awards, but it’s nice to be rewarded when you do something well. So they actually do a great job of rewarding you when you do well in the community and school.”
Emily Wong, a UNL graduate of 2014 and Academic All-American in women’s gymnastics, said that UNL is always “on top of their game.”
“(UNL’s) coaches, recruiting, everything is top notch,” she said. “They really emphasize school. They put the student above athlete, and they just really want you to be a good, overall person. They allowed us to pursue and exceed expectations for ourselves with the way they set things up.”
According to LeBlanc, the athletic department never sets Academic-All American status as a goal for any of their athletes. Their focus is solely on overall success, and awards often end up being the result.
“I’m not going to say we start out saying ‘Ok, we’re going to have this number (of Academic All-Americans) by this date next year,’” LeBlanc said. “We really focus on graduation, the awards like Academic All-Americans just come along as you go. We always know that Nebraska will recruit great athletes to UNL.”
When Gipson visited UNL as a potential athlete, he said the Academic All-American domination caught his eye, and earning one sat in the back of his mind.
“But at the same time I was like ‘No, that’s kind of a big goal to have. Don’t be too ambitious, you have to start small,’” Gipson said.
Gipson said that he never ended up focusing solely on winning All-American status. He said that if he had focused on that every day, it might have seemed like too big of a task for him. Instead, he narrowed his focus just to being successful both on the track and in the classroom each day. Before he even realized it, his Academic All-American award followed.
“It just kind of happened,” Gipson said. “If I wouldn’t have gotten one, it wasn’t like my whole career would have ended. I remember thinking ‘Oh hey that’s sweet,’ but life just goes on.”
Wong said that winning her Academic All-American status was an honor she never expected to receive.
“(This award) was something I never dreamt of,” Wong said. “Not everyone is rewarded in that way and I was so happy to represent my school school in that way.”
LeBlanc said that when recruits come to visit UNL, they’re almost always surprised with Lincoln’s lack of cornfields and surprisingly active downtown scene.
“(Recruits) walk around and think, ‘Wow, this place has a lot to offer. you’ve got a football stadium that seats 90,000 people, a volleyball arena that’s the best in the world, you have baseball and softball facilities, a brand new one for soccer and tennis. They’re pretty serious about this out here. This could be a place where I could come and see how great of an athlete I could be and at the same time get a great education and be involved in a program that has had the most academic all americans out of any other school in the country,’” LeBlanc said. “We have a lot to sell and a lot to offer.”