We regarded it as the perfect late-spring exercise, a task well-suited to this season of mortarboards and diplomas, of pomp and circumstance. SI set out to find two College Athletes of the Year, a man and a woman. To do so we surveyed the nation's campuses, scouring gyms and stadiums, labs and lecture halls, in search of the beau ideal of the well-rounded college athlete. We sought out head-turning sporting achievement, to be sure, but we also looked for jocks who made an outsized impact in the classroom, the community or some non-athletic extracurricular pursuit. Then we sifted through the candidates to choose 10 finalists, five men and five women, who found that sweet spot between "student" and "athlete."
Over the next couple of weeks you can mull over profiles of each, filed here by SI writers, and make your choices of the most deserving. On Wednesday, May 22, SI will announce the two winners on SI.com and in the magazine.
Headlines suggest that the term "student-athlete" is under siege. But we know from the depth and range of our finalists how many collegians are working to undermine the dumb-jock stereotype, be they Oregon's Liz Brenner, a four-sport athlete who mocks this era of specialization; or Kimberlyn Duncan of LSU, a five-time NCAA sprint champion who carries a 4.85 weighted grade-point average; or USC lineman Khaled Holmes, a cello-playing Classics major who, his brother says, "sounds like a poet."
None of our finalists has yet brokered peace in the Middle East -- although North Carolina field hockey star Loren Shealy's status as a Robertson Scholar, an unlikely joint effort of Carolina and Duke that had this Tar Heel taking classes in Durham for the spring semester, suggests that she might know how to mediate intractable conflict. And while none has found a cure for cancer, either, Cornell wrestler Kyle Dake's four titles at four different weight classes show a willingness to literally throw himself at any challenge.
So go ahead. Read up. See if you don't find your cynicism about college sports give way, at least slightly, to something resembling inspiration. Then add your voice to the debate over who among these 10 honorable candidates most deserves the ultimate honor.