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Marching to Success on the Gridiron, and at Commencement

Recent NCAA graduation stats showed that the University of Cincinnati football program ranked No. 1 out of the top 10 BCS teams in graduating its players. Now, after the best season in school history this fall, two more success stories will see a successful end to their academic efforts at UC's Dec. 12 Commencement.

Date: 12/7/2009 12:00:00 AM
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825

UC ingot   Each weekend this fall has been special for UC football starters Brad Jones, Jeff Linkenbach and Aaron Webster. This coming weekend will be, as well, although there is no football game on the schedule.
Aaron Webster
Aaron Webster

Jones, Linkenbach and Webster will all be receiving their bachelor degrees on Saturday, Dec. 12, when the University of Cincinnati holds its December Commencement ceremony.

On the football field, the three senior starters have been a part of the greatest regular-season in UC’s 125 year history of playing the sport. The Bearcats are 12-0, Big East champs for the second year in a row, ranked No. 4 nationally and headed for a berth in the Sugar Bowl to play defending national champion Florida.

But Jones, Linkebach and Webster are also part of another success story associated with the program –  success in the classroom. UC ranked first out of the top 10 teams in the BCS standings for the graduation rate of its football players, according to new figures released by the NCAA.

Linkenbach starts at offensive tackle. Jones and Webster start alongside each other in UC’s defensive backfield, and both have stories to tell about the rewards that come for student-athletes as they grow and persevere throughout their college experience.
Brad Jones
Brad Jones

Jones came to UC as a first-team all-state performer from Canton McKinley High School, who had helped lead his team to the Division I state championship game as a senior. But thanks to two future NFL draft choices in front of him, it wasn’t until his final season this fall that earned a starting spot at cornerback for UC.

Adjusting to college while not seeing the playing field wasn’t always easy.

“Early on, it was difficult,” Jones says. “It took me a while to mature and learn how to work on my time management, but as I got older, I realized football and academics had to be 1A and 1B on my schedule, and my social life had to fall in behind that.”

Jones thought coming into college he might like to be a broadcaster, but an early “Intro to PR” course ignited his interest and he became a Communication major. He hopes to extend his football career by playing professional ball after UC’s season is over, but ultimately sees himself ending up in public relations in either athletics or the entertainment industry.
Jeff Linkenbach
Jeff Linkenbach

He’s a long way removed from the person he was coming into college. “Really, the only thing I knew about UC before they started recruiting me was Kenyon Martin and UC basketball. Now, I love UC,” he says. “I feel like the team is more like a family and that when you need something, guys are always there for you. And still, as players, we have all the opportunities to do anything else you want to do on campus. We have guys who are in fraternities and honoraries. If you can make time for it, you can do anything here on campus.”

Webster arrived at UC as an all-league player from Birmingham Groves High School in suburban Detroit.

While he had a history as a motivated student in the classroom, his graduation is particularly notable for when it is occurring – he has earned his degree in just over three years, a truly remarkable accomplishment given the time demands that also come with being a scholarship athlete in football.

“It’s kind of almost surreal,” says Webster. “I just turned 21 and it doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was a freshman thinking I would be here four years and wondering if I would make it. Reaching this point has a lot to do with the people who have been around me, the coaches and teachers, who were pushing me to strive for more.”

Webster, who will be graduating with a degree in Criminal Justice, took 15 credit hours his first quarter at UC, then went to 18 hours his second quarter and has been at that mark ever since. He also continued coursework during his summers.

Part of his inspiration has a funny story behind it. “My sister Adrienne made it through the University of Michigan and had a 4.0 (grade point average) all through college, so that was a little bit of my push, too,” Webster says.

Adrienne Webster, it turns out, is an opera singer, which begs the question: Does Aaron sing?

He says he does not, but “when I was growing up, I used to get sick of my sister singing all the time at our house, so I would usually go out and play basketball.” So, in a way, UC’s success in the secondary this year can be traced back to opera, as it helped push a promising athlete to spend more time on the playing fields.

Webster carries a 3.4 grade point average within his major, including a performance last winter quarter when he logged a 4.0 GPA. In his drive to graduate in December, he took 15 credit hours over this past summer and is taking 18 credit hours this quarter – all of them coming in online courses.

“I knew that might be crazy, but I thought it would give me more control of my time during the football season,” he says. “But online is actually harder than a regular class, because you don’t have those chances for one-on-one with the professor if you don’t understand something. You have e-mail, but you are pretty much on your own.”

Like Brad Jones, Webster is also going to try and break into pro football. His stock is not hurt by the fact that he was awarded first-team all-Big East honors this season. “But I want a backup plan academics-wise, so while I’m training this winter I’m going to be visiting some college programs so I can look at coming back to get my master’s degree.”

Right now, he thinks he might like to be a paralegal.

“I don’t think it will hit me until after graduation that college is already over,” Webster says. “When I was being recruited, I had it down to UC and Wisconsin, and I decided I wanted to go to a program that where people could see that we were building and now, here we are.  But it’s almost sad – you almost don’t get to enjoy the good times because they go by so quickly, but I’m sure they will be something I will look back on and enjoy."

Linkenbach will be graduating with a degree in finance. A native of Sandusky, Ohio, he has been a starter for the last three years on UC's offensive line. This year, he earned second-team all-Big East honors for his play in UC's high-powered offense.

UC Commencement Web site

UC Commencement News