NAU football graduates reflect on academic careers

NAU football graduates reflect on academic careers

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Over the weekend, 10 current and former members of the Northern Arizona football team earned their degrees as part of the 2020 Spring Commencement Ceremony.

The members of the graduating group had a wide range of reasons for attending NAU, with many different influences during their academic careers.

After spending one year at Diablo Valley College in California, defensive back Anthony Sweeney transferred into the Lumberjacks program with a plan in mind for his future.

"I think my whole life, I've always wanted to help people. At first I kind of got into the whole physical therapy kind of thing, but I found out quickly that's not the way I wanted to help people," said Sweeney, who earned Big Sky All-Academic honors in January. "I wanted to help people by talking to people. So I got into sociology, ethnic studies and psychology."

With sociology and psychology intertwining in many ways, Sweeney said he found the two fields easier to manage. And for his second minor, Sweeney said it was a way to understand a larger portion of the population.

"I feel like with all this stuff going on in the world and the world we live in, why not? And I had a blast in my ethnic studies program," said Sweeney, who will now begin a master's program in applied sociology with an emphasis on culture and community as he continues his football eligibility. "And again, you're learning about all different kinds of people."

A professor in his Sociology 210 course, Douglas Degher, helped Sweeney fall in love with sociology early on as he spoke passionately about the subject. From there, Sweeney cited James Bowie as another important part of his time as an undergrad.

"It was awesome seeing how a lot of those professors care about you outside of the classroom as well," Sweeney said. "Obviously that's their first love and that's what they're there to do, is to teach. But creating those bonds where you can talk about my life outside the classroom and my life on the football field, that was really welcoming."

For kicker Luis Aguilar, his time in the School of Communication also allowed him to develop close relationships with his professors that will carry on past his time at the university.

"I'm going to be talking to them for the rest of our lives just because of our close relationship," said Aguilar, who has one more year of eligibility left. "A few of them are going to be my references when I apply to jobs."

A native of Nogales, Aguilar added that he's found a great balance of moving away from home while still being close enough to return when he wants.

"It was far from home, but not too far. It was like the perfect medium," Aguilar said. "And I think I just fell in love with the campus and the four seasons."

Punter DJ Arnson, who earned his third Big Sky All-Academic honor this year, drew inspiration from his grandfather when deciding what degree to pursue.

"I've had a goal as long as I can remember to go into the medical field and be a doctor and kind of follow in my grandfather's footsteps," Arnson said. "So I knew that was the first major I picked and that's what I immediately wanted to do when I got up there."

Facing a challenging degree, especially when combined with the time dedicated to football, Arnson said he was more proactive in his planning around the two busy schedules. With many classes scheduled three days a week, Friday exams would conflict with Arnson's football schedule. As a result, he'd find himself taking the exam ahead of the rest of his class in order to work with his professors.

And like some of his teammates, Arnson found professors he's been able to draw inspiration from.

"Once you start getting toward your junior and senior years, the classes get a lot smaller and you can really actually have relationships with the professors," Arnson said. "Dr. David Pierotti -- he did the anatomy and physiology classes -- is a really, really cool guy. I could always go into his office hours for help and clarification on stuff. He really helped me through the kind of earlier years and the more challenging classes.

"More recently, Dr. Robert Kellar, the general pathology instructor, has some kids that are playing sports in high school and we kind of connected on that level. He's just a really, really cool guy and an awesome mentor for me."

Arnson added that the advice of football's coaching and advising staff to introduce yourself to professors, sit up front and stand out helped develop relationships moving forward.

"I think it's such a great place, and everyone I've talked to, they really enjoy their professors," Arnson said. "It's definitely not a small campus, but it's still kind of a small town feel to it."

Meanwhile, tight end Joey Gatewood also had an interest in the medical field when he transferred into NAU from Glendale Community College in the Valley. The transition caught him off-guard at first, with the time required for both his sport and classwork more demanding than at his previous college.

"But then I ended up doing really well and I ended my last semester with a 4.0," said Gatewood, who found his footing once settling into the university. "And next thing I knew I got into a master's program that had about a 10% acceptance rate."

Gatewood, a Type 1 diabetic, said he had an idea of what he wanted to pursue at the university due to his personal experiences, but networking with people around the campus allowed him to learn more about what it would take to achieve his goal.

"I just knew I wanted to be somewhere in the medical field, I wanted to set myself up to be able to get a graduate degree," said Gatewood, who earned Big Sky All-Academic honors in addition to his place on the Big Sky Community Service Team. "And I wanted to eventually work with kids who had diabetes; that was an ultimate goal. I just figured out that I want to work with diabetics and be a dietitian, and a prime opportunity opened up at NAU. I talked to the right people and made the right moves."

While the interest in his degree came in part from his uncle's line of work, running back Joe Logan said the camaraderie of his teammates within the programs stood out from his time in Flagstaff.

"All my friends on the team made me not just want to go there, but stay there. We're real close," Logan said, listing recruiting classmates such as Luke Rudolph and Carson Taylor, as well as the class immediately preceding him.

A member of the 2016 Big Sky All-Academic Team, Logan's bachelor's degree stands as an important achievement for him and his family following his four years at the university.


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