Why Ravens Running Back John Urschel Picked Math Over Football

Urschel is pursuing his Ph.D. at MIT.

John Urschel
JERSEY CITY, NJ - MAY 01: Football player John Urschel attends Liberty Science Center's Genius Gala 4.0 at Liberty Science Center on May 1, 2015 in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Nicole Craine/WireImage)

John Urschel, former running back for the Baltimore Ravens, has a new challenge in front of him, and it’s got nothing to do with a football field. At 26-years-old and after only three NFL seasons, Urschel decided to trade in the football for a pencil and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. at MIT.

Urschel had been on the road to retirement for a while. He applied to the doctoral program at MIT for math and was taking classes in his free time. He had applied late though, so the school wasn’t exactly sure what to do. But when they googled him and saw video of him destroying defensive tackles and also giving lectures on advanced mathematical concepts, they deemed it a special case, writes Sports Illustrated.

During the NFL offseason in the spring of 2016, Urschel enrolled in four classes at MIT. He was loving it, but had to remain a full-time student even once the NFL season started again. He was still turning in “consistently excellent” work, according to one of his professors, during the fall season. But he found he didn’t have time to study for the qualifying exam he was supposed to take in Feb. — and was required to pass to stay at MIT — because of football.

So once the season was over, he spent 12 hour days just studying. He passed, and was able to continue at MIT but with a lighter class load. But then, Sports Illustrated writes, he started to feel guilty about his football career affecting his math career.

Urschel has always loved math, ever since he was a kid. And when he settled in at MIT, he saw what his life could be post-football. And impending fatherhood initiated a conversation about where football fit in with his family’s future. Overall, he had fallen hard for the life he saw himself having at MIT.

“It’s my favorite place in the world,” he said to Sports Illustrated, grinning from ear to ear. “I love being here. I love every day I’m here. The happiest I’ve ever been in my life is when I’m at MIT. Ever in my life. EVER in my life! Happiest ever.”

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