BOCA RATON, Fla. - Matt Rhule is a big believer that success in the classroom transfers to the field. The Temple football coach doesn't have to look very far to see a prime example.
While Temple (10-3) will attempt to set a single-season school record for wins when it meets Toledo (9-2) on Tuesday in the Boca Raton Bowl, a more-impressive statistic was compiled away from the field.
Before Temple boarded its jet Thursday for Florida, the Owls had 26 players on the team who have already earned their degrees.
Five players - defensive linemen Hershey Walton and Brandon Chudnoff, receiver John Christopher, safety Will Hayes, and tight end Saledeem Major - played this season as graduate students. The rest of the 26 finished their course work during the recently completed fall semester.
Of those 21 players, nine are slated to return next year. They are receiver Sam Benjamin, defensive lineman Avery Ellis, quarterback John Loughery, defensive back Khiry Lucas, linebacker Stephaun Marshall, defensive end Praise Martin-Oguike, center-guard Brendan McGowan, tight end Colin Thompson, and running back Roy Wesley.
The other 12 seniors who just earned their degrees are guard Shahbaz Ahmed; linebacker Boye Aromire; fullback Michael Felton; center Kyle Friend; defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis; offensive lineman Eric Lofton; linebacker Tyler Matakevich; kickoff specialist Tyler Mayes; receiver Brandon Shippen; defensive lineman Nate D. Smith; and two players who served as student assistants after suffering injuries, Damiere Shaw and Rob Dvoracek.
"Success in the classroom is one of the top predictors of on-the-field success," Rhule said. "If you have the discipline, if you believe everything counts, if you have the competitiveness to stay up late and get your work done . . . and you want to be the best student you can be, then you will probably also be competitive on the football field."
In addition, Time magazine published a list of the top academic teams that appeared in the final College Football Playoff rankings. The results were tabulated by the Washington think tank New America. Temple, which was No. 24 in the final CFP Poll, ended up seventh in the academic rating.
"That is incredible, especially making the strides we have over the past few years," said Ioannidis, who earned a communications degree in 31/2 years.
Ahmed, a two-year starter on the offensive line, is another Temple player who earned his degree in 31/2 years. His major was political science.
"None of it could be done without our coaches, academic staff, and teammates," he said.
Nobody should underestimate the role of teammates.
A sort of peer pressure has developed among the group. If a player is slacking off in his work, he is liable to hear it from a teammate.
"Just being around people on the team who are positive and successful has been helpful," said Ahmed, from South Jersey's Paul VI High.
Christopher, one of the five players taking graduate courses, earned his undergraduate degree in kinesiology and will begin attending chiropractic school in April. He said that Rhule, the third-year coach, sets the academic tone.
"It is a real credit to Coach Rhule because he has put such an importance on academics," Christopher said.
The fact that a player has a degree doesn't mean he can stop a receiver from breaking a big play, but the discipline that is needed in football and in school is interchangeable, something Temple has readily experienced this season.