(Source: Greenville Online)
To Harris Roberts, being an engineer was just as important as being a quarterback. But he could not be both at Furman University.
Furman, a liberal arts institution, was the only Division I school to offer Roberts a football scholarship, but it could not offer an engineering degree.
To pursue his second aim, Roberts had to go the extra mile. The extra 30 miles. To Clemson University.
Roberts is enrolled in a cooperative educational exchange program that allows students to play at one school while pursuing their desired degree at another. Roberts earned a bachelor’s degree in pre-engineering from Furman in three years. He is scheduled to earn a second bachelor’s from Clemson in mechanical engineering.
While juggling the curriculum and the commute, Roberts is also competing for Furman’s starting quarterback role. When Furman opens the season against Clemson on Sept. 1, Roberts could lead his teammates against his classmates.
“I don’t know of any students that are going to be playing against the school that they’re actually enrolled in,” Furman athletic director Mike Buddie said with a laugh.
According to Furman sports information director Hunter Reid, through the last 30 years, several Paladins participated in the partnership with Clemson, but never concurrent with any of Furman’s previous 58 games against the Tigers.
“This was my best opportunity to play high-level football and study engineering. I jumped at the chance,” Roberts said. “The drive back and forth sometimes gets a little monotonous. That takes a lot of time out of the day that I could use for studying for class, studying film or taking a nap. Being able to manage my time is the most difficult part, but it’s been going well.”
Roberts said Clemson students and professors are initially stunned when they discover why he wears a slightly different shade of purple.
“Once they figure out that I play football at Furman, they’re kind of shell-shocked,” Roberts said. “They just kind of think it’s funny that they’re going to class with someone who is going to play against them.”
The minimum grade point average to declare for the dual-degree program is a 2.60. Roberts has compiled a 3.66. He was named to the Southern Conference Academic Honor Roll in each of the previous four seasons.
“He’s not just been a good student. He’s been an exceptional student and an exceptional young man,” said Furman coach Clay Hendrix, who often adjusts his practice and meeting schedules to accommodate his players’ educational ambition.
“I tell people this, and some people may not want to hear it, but I think few places play with true student-athletes. We’re one of those places,” Hendrix said. “Guys are taking real classes, and they’re challenged in the classroom. Certainly, that’s always first, and we’re also trying to play elite football.”
Roberts backed up All-SoCon quarterback P.J. Blazejowski last season. In reserve duty, Roberts rushed for 71 yards on five carries and completed nine of 13 pass attempts for 110 yards.
Despite his limited playing experience and the pending position battle with redshirt freshman JeMar Lincoln, Roberts did not consider a graduate transfer for his final two years of eligibility. He relished a shot at the starting spot, a chance seldom granted to Clemson walk-ons.
“It’ll be exciting, because I’ve kind of bided my time for four years, and I finally have an opportunity. I just really want to make the most of it,” said Roberts, who was elected team captain earlier this month.
According to Hendrix, the educational exchange program has assisted Furman on the recruiting trail. Promising prospects, like Roberts, can sign with Furman without compromising any of their aspirations.
“We’re really fortunate to have partnerships like that with Clemson, because if we didn’t, we would lose guys like Harris,” Buddie said. “What a great story to be able to tell, if he leads us on to the field and plays well (in Clemson), and moves on and becomes a successful engineer like we know he will.”
More power to the man. I had classes with the long snapper at Illinois and always heard the stories of studying for engineering midterms while getting to know the game plan for the game on Saturday. There is a lot time management and discipline for the student-athlete to compete at such a high level both in the classroom and on the field. Harris Roberts is doing it at two different schools. I guess when Furman plays Clemson this fall, the outcome of the game doesn’t matter for Roberts, he wins both.