NCAA football-players-turned-law-students take an academic star turn
Sean Bedford (1L) celebrates with the Georgia Tech football team in the October 2010 win over Virginia. He was ranked as one of the top 25 smartest people in sports last year. (Photo by LensEffects)
By Jared Misner
Sean Bedford — a first-year law student, 6-foot-1, two-time first team All Atlantic Coast Conference center, aerospace engineer, former Gainesville Sun Scholar Athlete of the Year and seemingly perfect embodiment of everything a young man should be — is tired.
The former Georgia Tech offensive line standout isn't tired from his twice-daily workout regimen, which is a shadow of his football-playing days, or from the demands of his first weeks in law school – after undergraduate classes like fluid dynamics and aero-elasticity at Georgia Tech, Bedford talks about his torts textbook like it's a vacation.
Bedford is tired of being the poster child for athletes who excel in the classroom.
He flashes an ear-to-ear smile at the compliment, but he wants to be remembered as more than the athlete/intellectual.
"I don't think of myself as Sean Bedford: Georgia Tech Athlete, Sean Bedford: Burlsworth Trophy Winner," he said, referring to the award he received that recognizes the best walk-on football player in all of college athletics. "I'm hardly the exception to the rule."
For Bedford, who Sporting News ranked as one of top-25 smartest people in sports last year alongside the likes of Peyton Manning and Grant Hill, is just being Sean.
"I don't look at myself as actively redefining that student-athlete mold. I just think of finding my own way of fitting that mold, and it just happens to have a huge emphasis on academics," Bedford said.
Bedford's road to Georgia Tech started while building model rockets with his dad, also an engineer, when he was 4. Bedford's childhood love of space even took him to space camp three times. The decision to learn how to build life-size rockets at Georgia Tech, he said, was an easy decision.
But how does Sean Bedford: The Rocket Man become Sean Bedford: The law student?
That, he owes to Frankenstein.
Too busy thinking about NASA missions and aerodynamics, Bedford never considered law school until his freshman English class staged a mock trial of Dr. Frankenstein as a class lesson for the 19th-century novel.
"It was such a silly assignment, but it made me really think about law school," he said.
From there, Bedford began taking pre-law classes in addition to his rigorous engineering classes. He was also a walk-on — meaning he had no scholarship offer — for the Georgia Tech football team.
When Paul Johnson took over as head football coach for the Yellow Jackets he saw something that the college scouts hadn't and the coach tapped Bedford as starting center.
From there, the Gainesville native poured "blood, sweat and tears," into the football field and a host of academic challenges.
Now planning to study intellectual property and patent law, Bedford said he's glad he chose an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering because it taught him how to think, how to reason and how to examine problems in a step-by-step process, all of which he uses in law school.
"It's incredibly interesting, the idea of who owns ideas," Bedford said. "But I'm getting used to reading a lot more." He added that the first-year law school jitters have yet to phase him.
"Pressure isn't going to class and taking an exam," he said. "Pressure is being 280 pounds and wearing Spandex in front of two million people on TV."
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Bedford isn't the only former college football starting at UF Law this year. He isn't even the only offensive lineman.
Bert McBride (1L) played as an offensive lineman at Stanford University. Here he defends his quarterback at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., in 2008. (Photo by David Gonzales/Stanford)
Bert McBride will tell you the only good thing about growing up in the tiny town of Thonotosassa, Fla., are the strawberries and the football.
And football is big business in this Tampa suburb.
"We were a football powerhouse, and that's all we tried to do," said McBride, former Armwood High offensive lineman, said.
McBride helped power Armwood to back-to-back state football championships in 2003 and 2004 and then moved on to Stanford University's offensive line. But did more in high school than just football.
He was the valedictorian with the grade point average that couldn't be stopped, coming to rest at 6.37.
He was a National Merit Scholar. He founded Armwood's debate team. He was the Junior Orange Bowl Committee Scholar-Athlete Award winner in 2005 as the player with the highest grade point average in the state title game.
He's also the son of Alex Sink, the former Florida CFO and 2010 Democratic nominee for governor, and Bill McBride (JD 75), the 2002 Democratic nominee for governor.
But for the 6-foot-3 first-year law student, it's all about the academics.
"You can be the best football player in the world, but no one's going to remember who you are in 20 or 30 years," McBride said. "But the college you choose is going to stay with you for the rest of your life."
And for the younger McBride, the choice, to attend UF Law was an easy one.
"I was looking to get back in Florida, and this is by far the best law school in Florida," he said. "Plus, my dad would kill me if I went anywhere else."
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You might say that Jim Barrie was born to be a Gator.
Jim Barrie (1L) celebrates after UF's national title win in 2008.
"I was going to football games in my mom," the first-year UF Law student said of those early trips to Florida Field.
And if there's a central thread in Barrie's life it's football. The 6-foot-5 man who, at age 7, was deemed too big to play football with his peers, hopes to practice sports law after he graduates.
"I want sports to be part of my life until I'm gone," he said.
But for Barrie, that thread was almost cut short.
The heavily recruited lineman suffered a career-ending injury during a 2008 UF practice.
"Someone just got thrown into the back of my knee," he said. "It just blew up the inside of my knee."
Barrie described the accident as "devastating" and as "the worst thing to ever happen to me," but he also described it as an eye-opener. He is where he is today because he could no longer play football.
"The injury definitely helped me," Barrie said. "After my injury, I felt like I had all the time in the world."
Barrie remained steadfast in his rehabilitation, doing everything he could to stay on the team that had won two national championships in as many years.
Even after nine months of rehabilitation, Barrie realized he just couldn't keep up at practice.
He became a student assistant during the 2009 season, helping former offensive coordinator Steve Addazio coach younger players on the best techniques and formations.
Finding he now had more time to himself, Barrie's interest in law came alive while taking a foreign policy class. Dreams of starring in the NFL were no more. But dreams can change. Now, Barrie wants to intern with the NFL.
He's happy about his new path and glad the time-management lessons he learned while playing football apply to law school.
What's more, as a former football player, Barrie has a thick skin, a quality he says few of his peers share.
"It's a lot easier to get yelled at by a professor than it is Coach Addazio," he said. "I can assure you of that."