Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
In the wake of Thursday's announcement from athletic director Pat Haden, you'd have been hard-pressed to find any member of the USC football team overjoyed by news that the NCAA denied the school's appeals case regarding last summer's imposed sanctions.
For some Trojans, this upcoming season would have represented their final time to get to a bowl game or play in the newly-introduced Pac-12 Conference Championship Game. Nonetheless, if there is a silver lining in the dark clouds hovering over Troy, it comes from the work being done in the classroom by redshirt seniors TE Rhett Ellision and DT Christian Tupou.
Both Ellison (21 catches, 239 yards and three touchdowns in 2010) and Tupou (a 2009 All-Pac 10 Honorable Mention) graduated earlier this month with bachelor's degrees in international relations and political science respectively. However, with one year of scholarship eligibility remaining for two of the team's elder statesmen, they made the choice to go back to the classroom for master's degrees.
The teammates recently began their one-year Communications Management program through USC's Annenberg School of Communications - a move both agree made sense for several reasons.
"This could be my last year of ever playing football and I need to prepare for the professional world," Ellison said regarding what the degree means for his future. "For me, that preparation starts with getting my master's right now. If you're going to be here for a fifth year anyways, you might as well get that extra degree."
For Tupou, who missed the entire 2010 season due to a torn ligament in his left knee, a year away from the game helped him realize there is more to his USC experience than football. It's a lesson he hopes to pass down to other Polynesian children.
"There are a lot of great football examples for Polynesian kids to look at out there," Tupou said. "When I was growing up, it was Junior Seau, Vai Sikahema, Troy Polamalu and Lofa Tatupu. But, there aren't a lot of Polynesians getting their master's. Why not take the first step an be an example?"
Ellison, however, learned at a very young age growing up in Portolo Valley, CA, the importance of balancing academic and athletic activities from his father, former USC and NFL linebacker Riki (Gray) Ellison. Riki, a lobbyist and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA), made sure to impress upon his son the value of having other passions besides football.
And while USC's starting tight end doesn't know yet where his master's degree will take him, he's thrilled to have an opportunity to narrow his choices.
"I like having the balance of academics and sports, it keeps you organized and it keeps you in a routine," said Ellison. "But I felt undergraduate studies were so broad. With a master's, I can focus in and figure out what I want to do."
While Ellison plans to use his degree to narrow his sights outside of football, Tupou is interested in working for the CIA, FBI or somewhere where he can find some semblance of normalcy, which he admits is hard to come by as a member of the USC football team. And if that somehow doesn't pan out for the jovial defensive tackle, he believes getting the chance to go back to school can serve as a reminder to those that look up to him that you don't need to box yourself into a future based solely on sports.
"Polynesian kids out there aren't exposed to a lot of things I'm learning," said Tupou. "I can tell them that there is a whole set of other ideas and things you can learn about that can push you forward instead of putting all your eggs into one basket just for football."
Other former Trojans who took part or were accepted into the one-year Communications Management master's program include fullback Brandon Hancock and quarterback Mark Sanchez (who left school early after being selected 5th overall by the Jets in the 2009 NFL Draft).