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Ecampus flexibility helps OSU football players stay on track

Cummings, Gwacham thrive in Oregon State’s online courses, making them better able to focus on a storybook season

Obum Gwacham

Obum Gwacham is an Oregon State sophomore with a newfound reputation as one of the best students among Pac-12 Conference football players. (Photo by Jesse Skoubo / Corvallis Gazette-Times)

Life is uniquely demanding when you play for one of America’s best college football teams. Practices become more intense. Games take on a higher level of importance. The ESPN spotlight shines brighter. “Friends” ask for more tickets.

And, lest we forget, there’s that little thing called classwork.

It’s the most important aspect of the college equation, obviously, and when Oregon State wide receivers Kevin Cummings and Obum Gwacham and their teammates aren’t writing the next chapter of OSU’s storied football season, they’re buried in their studies.

That’s often easier said than done. Being a college athlete is equal to having a full-time job, what with practices, games, travel, workouts, film sessions and so on. It’s helpful, then, when the academic component can evolve to help prevent players from falling behind in the classroom.

Nothing has spurred the evolution of higher education quite like online learning, and Gwacham and Cummings – with ringing endorsements from other Beavers players – quickly realized the benefits of taking online classes with Oregon State Ecampus while pursuing degrees in campus-based programs.

“I talked to other guys on the team who are business majors like me, and they told me it can be hard to fit (traditional) classes into your schedule,” said Gwacham, a sophomore and native of Nigeria. “The alternative was to take online classes, so I took an anthropology class to get a feel for things and really liked it. After that I determined it was something I should keep doing, especially during football season.”

The mix-and-match method is working perfectly for him. He’s in three Ecampus courses this fall and one on-campus class, and in mid-November he was named to the Pac-12 Conference’s Football All-Academic Team as an honorable mention.

Kevin Cummings

Junior Kevin Cummings is one of the Beavers’ primary receiving targets, having caught 26 passes for 313 yards the past two seasons. (Photo by Andy Cripe / Corvallis Gazette-Times)

You’d have a hard time convincing diehard OSU fans that Gwacham’s honor was more impressive than the Beavers beating two nationally ranked opponents this season, but Cummings says coach Mike Riley stresses academic success just as much as the on-field variety.

“That’s the first thing he talked about when my family met him. Obviously he brought me here to play football, but he wants us to come out of college with a degree that means something,” said Cummings, a junior from Culver City, Calif.

“He talked to me about the business program specifically and how going to school at OSU was a really smart move for the future and the opportunities it will provide. The online classes are a big part of that for me now.”

As the popularity and quality of online education soars, it’s likely that student-athletes at Oregon State – and nationwide – will take advantage of the benefits it provides.

“Some student athletes take Ecampus courses because of the amount of time committed to their sports. Sometimes a class may be offered at one time only, and it is in the middle of practice,” said Megan O’Quin, an academic counselor within OSU’s athletic department. “When there is an online option, it can give the student an opportunity to keep moving forward in his or her degree.”

Cummings and Gwacham, who have each played in all 12 games for the 13th-ranked Beavers (9-3) this year, are on track to graduate. And they were able to transfer the same dedication they showed in the classroom to the practice field this summer.

The goal was simple: Erase the memories of a 2011 season that resulted in a 3-9 record. Even Gwacham is a little surprised at how well it’s paid off.

“I expected huge things from us this year, but I didn’t think we would, at any time, be ranked one of the top 10 teams in the nation,” he said, referring to OSU’s season-high ranking of No. 7 on Oct. 21. “This summer was huge for us because a lot of us hung around. … We worked out every day, and we were able to build that bond.”

OSU is fresh off a 77-3 victory over Nicholls State on Dec. 1, a game in which Gwacham and Cummings each caught a touchdown pass. One game remains on the schedule – a Dec. 29 date with No. 23 Texas in the Alamo Bowl, and that leaves open the possibility that the Beavers can claim just the third 10-win season in team history.

Coupled with their academic success, that makes this season – one that put the program back on track after recent pitfalls – all the more enjoyable for the players.

“Last year sucked – losing all those games and the stress involved with all the losing,” said Cummings, “but this year is so much better because everyone became serious about winning. We all brought a new level of intensity, so I’m not surprised with how well we’re doing. It’s been a great year.”