Gorman: Jacobson makes Pitt proud
With all of the controversy in college football, from the pay-for-play debate to scandals rocking powerhouse programs, sometimes you have to search for a story that serves as a reminder of its mission.
Then Chris Jacobson subtly shares news that would make most seniors shrug but an offseason story warmly welcomed by Pitt because it's not related to the police blotter. After taking a final exam Thursday, Jacobson has enough credits to graduate with an administration of justice degree.
"It's a great feeling," he said. "It's nice to have in your back pocket."
Jacobson arrived from Keystone Oaks amid much fanfare, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound U.S. Army All-American rated the state's top recruit and one of the nation's top-10 offensive guard prospects by scouting services.
Overlooked was what Jacobson endured to qualify academically.
He admits that, as a high school freshman and sophomore, "I didn't really try as hard." It wasn't until he realized he could receive a scholarship that academics became a priority.
Jacobson had help. Keystone Oaks history teacher and assistant coach Jeff Sieg tutored him and taught him how to study. Since-retired guidance counselor Joel Vanucci worked on core courses needed to pass through the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Still, Jacobson struggled to pass the SAT.
"It was one of those deals where he always had the dream and goal to play college football, but early on he got himself in a little bit of a hole and had to dig his way out," Keystone Oaks coach Nick Kamberis said. "We were kind of holding our breath whether he was going to qualify or not."
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Jacobson received a qualifying SAT score on his third attempt. But the celebration was short-lived, as Jacobson dislocated his right knee cap two weeks into Pitt's training camp and was lost for the season. The injury required microfracture surgery, which involes tiny holes being drilled into the bone near the knee.
"I don't think he realizes how bad his knee was," Kamberis said. "I was told by the doctors and coaches that it could have been career-ending. He's the epitome of integrity, as quality a person as you're going to get.
"You can't help but root for the kid."
Where the redshirt season allowed Jacobson to adjust to college's academic demands, the season away from practice cost him on the field. Once penciled in as a potential four-year starter, Jacobson couldn't crack Pitt's lineup. He was powerful enough to play, but mental mistakes kept Jacobson on the bench, behind Joe Thomas at left guard.
"I knew it was going to take hard work, of course, but I think a lot of kids who come into college don't expect the change," Jacobson said. "I think the mental part is way more important than the physical part. What I had trouble with was the mental part of it. That took me a long time."
Jacobson made a surprise start in the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl and has a 14-game streak of consecutive starts. Now entering his fifth and final season, he has become one of the team leaders. He even volunteered to switch to center this past spring when the Panthers had trouble finding someone who could handle making shotgun snaps.
"That's what I want to play, and that's what I want to do: I want to better this team," he said. "It's been a big change. ... I like being the guy right in the middle, making all the calls. The guys have to trust me."
Pitt coach Todd Graham, who was not only the first in his family to graduate from but also attend college, loves how Jacobson immediately embraced the new coaching staff. Graham talks about Jacobson's heart, his work ethic in the film and weight rooms, and the example he has set by overcoming adversity to earn his degree in four years.
"Education and coaching has changed my life, so he's a guy I've connected with," Graham said. "You talk about a life-changing experience, getting your degree is one of the biggest. It's one of those things people don't talk about, good stories like this. We talk to our guys all the time about competing as hard in classroom as we do on the field, and he exemplifies what we stand for. I think he's very proud that he's graduating. The thing that made me happy was that he wanted me to be proud of him."
You can't help but root for the kid.
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