Excellence in the classroom and on the field

Football team leads nation with 15 named to the NFF Hampshire Honor Society

Nathan Lesch, Executive Editor

Case Western Reserve University’s men’s football team had the honor of sending 15 players to the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame 2021 Hampshire Honor Society, leading the nation.

The Hampshire Honor Society recognizes student-athletes with significant accomplishments on the field and in the classroom. To qualify for induction, players must have “completed their final year of playing eligibility in 2020-21 (or not plan on using any remaining eligibility), met all NCAA-mandated progress towards degree requirements and have been starters or significant contributors,” according to a press release from CWRU’s athletic department. 

Dominic Barandica, Jacob Berg, Joshua Clopp, Kanyon Combs, Donny Genetin Jr., Dee Gose, Zach Hall, Travis Johnston, Nick Kadlecik, Austin Subler, Kyle Turcovsky, Brian Victor, Skyler Wadas, Jack Williams and Chase Witte were all inducted. Only 897 players from 256 schools across four NCAA divisions qualified for membership this year.

Fifteen inductees is a record-setting number for the football team.

“The reason there’s a higher number this year is a combination of two things, one would be [that this is the] biggest senior class ever … And [secondly] they were certainly one of our better academic classes,” explained Head Coach Greg Debeljak.

Offensive lineman Dee Gose, who majored in accounting with a secondary major in finance and is now working on a Master’s degree, and linebacker Travis Johnston, who is majoring in business management, attribute some of their class’s exceptional academic performance to being student-athletes.

“I think in plenty of cases you may learn something by being an athlete that would help you in the classroom, and vice versa,” Gose explained. “Just a few examples of the skills and qualities that can be used in both areas are teamwork, leadership, grit, work ethic and dedication.”

Johnston and Debeljak both concur with Gose—school and sports can exist symbiotically. Debeljak, however, believes that sometimes one area is better suited to teaching an individual important life skills than the other.

“The one thing with sports, I think that it teaches—that maybe the classroom doesn’t [as well]—is working together as a group and leadership skills,” Debeljak outlined.

None of this is to say that being a student-athlete is easy, though. On top of CWRU’s notoriously difficult and time-consuming academics, football players also have to spend considerable time in the weight room, practicing on the field, traveling and actually taking the gridiron.

Despite having to juggle both their academic and athletic responsibilities, Johnston believes that many football players enjoy school more—and perform better—during their competitive season.

“I know a lot of the guys prefer school in the fall during the season because it provides a very structured schedule to their day,” Johnston said. “They know when they have to get schoolwork done.”

More specifically, though, both Johnston and Gose recognized that the culture their coaches have fostered within the team contributed significantly to their successes.

“I think [our achievements speak] to the amount of emphasis that the coaches put on academics,” Johnston said. “They’ve always been great about being mindful of our time and focusing on academics first, because we are student athletes.”

Gose explained that “[playing] alongside like-minded individuals and [having] coaches who are experienced and care about your growth as a person” meant a lot to him.

“It’s a very supportive structure,” Johnston added. “And that, I think, is the biggest factor in having 15 guys nominated.”

Debeljak had high praise for the inductees.

“To be recognized as the top academic class of this year in college football. I mean, I think it says a lot of what they’ve accomplished off the field,” Debeljak said.

That being said, Debeljak still feels that this past year was deeply disappointing to his team.

“I’m sure they would rather be playing football and competing than getting this award,” said Debeljak. “They came here to have an academic experience—but another big part was to play the sport they loved, so I feel that they didn’t get that opportunity this year.”

Johnston certainly felt the type of disappointment that Debeljak described.

“It’s definitely disappointing [that we didn’t get to play our last season] just because we were gearing up to have one of the better seasons that we have had. We [had] a lot of returning starters, a lot of experience on the field … The only consolation is knowing that you are going through it with [your] teammates, and a lot of other teams around the country,” Johnston said.

Still, both Gose and Johnston were happy that they were able to end their collegiate football careers on a high note.

“I think, first of all, it is awesome to be inducted next to 14 of my other teammates to form the nation’s largest 2021 induction class; it is always a good feeling to represent CWRU, especially on the national stage,” Gose noted. “Being inducted to the NFF Hampshire Honor Society means that the dedication to being a student-athlete and the time and effort it takes to excel on the field and in the classroom is worth it and is recognized by a respectable institution.”

This award was especially meaningful to Gose as a capstone to his football career.

“I also received an NFF award at the end of my high school career, so being recognized at the end of my collegiate career feels somewhat full circle, “ Gose explained.

That being said, Gose is not done with athletics—he merely intends to trade his pads for clubs. After graduating this spring with his Master’s in Finance, alongside working at the Keybanc Capital Markets Industrials Investment Banking group, Gose plans to work on his golf game.

As for the future of the football team, Debeljak has high expectations for returning student-athletes on and off the field.