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The William F. Campbell Trophy is presented annually by the National Football Foundation to the American college football player with the best combination of academics, community service, and on-field performance.
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger is a finalist for the honor known as the “Academic Heisman.” The award will be presented virtually today at 10 a.m. Central.
The Longhorn football program boasts two Campbell Trophy winners in Dallas Griffin in 2007 and Sam Acho in 2010.
I caught up with Acho in November for his thoughts on Ehlinger, the balance of being a student-athlete, and more.
1. What are your thoughts on Sam Ehlinger, Campbell Trophy nominee? What do you think it means, and how important is it?
Sam Acho: “For me, that’s huge. The Campbell Trophy, that’s the one award that I still talk about to this day. I just wrote a book and one of my accolades I talk about is winning this Campbell Trophy. For me, that was the trophy that put it over the top. Being the finalist for the National Football Foundation scholar athlete, but also winning that Campbell Trophy, those two things were the highlight. Of course, playing in the national championship, that was great. The highlight was that because it was like a cherry on top of the work that I had put in on and off the field. It was a sacrifice, dude.”
2. How well-respected is the Campbell Trophy in college football for those who may not be familiar with it?
SA: “The Campbell Trophy is the academic equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, so much to where my fifth year in the NFL I signed with the Chicago Bears. Our defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, was actually really good friends with Bill Campbell before he passed. In our first defensive meeting, the first thing he said wasn’t about all the players and the accolades. He said ‘guys, we have a guy here who won the Campbell Trophy, Sam Acho.’ Even in the NFL and NFL locker rooms, team meetings, and facilities, that award goes a really, really long way. It’s one of the most well-respected awards. It’s the academic equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.”
3. How difficult is the balance of being a student-athlete, but also being a McCombs School of Business student athlete and balancing that with being a Texas football player full-time?
SA: “It was extremely difficult. The thing about the McCombs School of Business is they don’t let you get away with being average. I remember my first year in McCombs was my sophomore year because I transferred in. I was in the business school. I was in football. I didn’t take class too seriously because I was getting A’s everywhere else. I’ll be fine. I got a B and I got a C in one of my classes, and was this close to getting kicked out of the program. I was like, I’m a football player. I’ll be fine in the spring. This was the fall season and we had a busy schedule. They said ‘Sam, everyone in McCombs has responsibilities and obligations. Some people work two or three jobs to make ends meet. Some people are taking care of their family members. We’re not going to give you a pass.’ So you need to come and compete, as Sam Ehlinger says, all the time. You need to compete in the classroom as well. I remember, we were playing OU. We would go to Dallas, and I would take my books with me on the way to Dallas. I’d be studying on the bus. The night at the hotel, after we go to a movie or do film, I’d go to my room and be doing an assignment. That’s the academic rigor that’s part of McCombs.”
4. Sam is a quarterback, the face of the program. How is it for him to do all those things you just described, but also doing that as the face of the program?
SA: “I couldn’t imagine. I think about Colt McCoy and all the responsibilities he had as a quarterback, and now add the academic responsibilities as well. I have so much respect for Sam and what he does. I can’t imagine the difficulty of being the face of the program, the meetings, and all the things that quarterbacks do more than every other player, and still having that type of focus, dedication, belief, and academic prowess as well. For me, I’m really amazed at what he’s been able to do. Then you get a chance to sit and talk with him, and you realize this dude doesn’t play around. He competes. He gives it his all, and he’s doing it for a bigger reason.”
5. What is your lasting impression of Sam?
SA: “I got a chance to sit down with Sam a couple of days ago and listen to him. The thing that impresses me the most about him is his faith in God. For him, some people say I’ve got an opportunity. I’m the starter. I want to make my name famous and I want to be the first round pick, all those things. The thing he keeps on pointing people back to is Jesus. Every day, he’s like ‘I know God gave me gifts. I know God gave me abilities. I want to honor God with my gifts.’ That’s the thing that impressed me the most about Sam. He’s not ashamed of who he is. He’s like ‘I follow Jesus. I love him, and he’s given me the ability to honor God with my gifts.’ That’s what stands out to me the most about Sam Ehlinger.”