Football Players Smart In Their Own Way

Football Players Smart In Their Own Way

Christian Tupou is a student-athlete. He plays football, and more specifically he plays defensive tackle.

The combination of these simple traits traps USC's Tupou in a series of stereotypes that thrust him to the bottom of the intellectual scale at a top-tier university.

But listening to Tupou talk and watching him show his football skills muddies the water. The starting redshirt senior has boatloads of athletic intelligence in addition to school smarts.

With fall camp fast approaching, he's studying Pacific 12 Conference centers and guards to see which hand they use to snap the ball, and to see how far apart their feet are. In games he'll use his off-season studying to help him shoot his gaps. Then when the ball is snapped, he'll let his experience and athleticism take over.

It's all a part of the intelligence athletes build over time that fans and students sometimes take for granted.

Some wonder about the balance between student and athlete, or about how a particular player could have gained admittance to a specific school. At their core, these questions assume that some student-athletes aren't smart — or at least not smart enough to have earned a place among the elite. But coaches and experts agree that athletes possess multiple types of athletic and classroom intelligence that allow them to succeed in all subjects, including football.

Football "is one subject, and we invest so much in this subject," Tupou said. "The coaches are with us two hours every day teaching [during camp] — and that's not enough. So in class, we're thinking about it. When we're lifting weights, we're thinking about what they've told us to expect. I'm thinking about it all day."

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