decision may not rank with the Bakke decision, but it is a particularly
compelling case in point, the point being that excellence on the gridiron is
not antithetical to excellence in the classroom. Jim Kovach, a Phi Beta Kappa,
is a first-year student in medical school. He spends as many as 20 hours a day
plumbing the mysteries of gross anatomy, histology, biochemistry and conjoint
sciences. Ordinarily, med school alone is almost more than a person can handle,
so almost everyone at the University of Kentucky was astounded when Kovach
decided that he also intended to finish his varsity football career.
"Doc," as his teammates call him, is one of the nation's premier
linebackers, a 6'2" 226-pounder who was picked as a preseason
decision might not be all that unusual at some less athletically oriented
college where "student-athlete" is more than a public-relations phrase.
But Kovach is tackling his academic load at a school where football is anything
but a casual diversion. In the Southeastern Conference, coaches have been known
to be fired fast if they didn't win, and Kentucky alumni want to win; the
Wildcats draw a full house of almost 58,000 every time they play in Lexington.
Last season Kentucky was 10-1 and ranked sixth in the AP poll, and the only
reason it did not play in a bowl was because it was on NCAA probation for
improper recruiting and for giving students extra financial aid and benefits.
That is big time. Yet Kovach, with the acquiescence of his coaches, has missed
more practices than he has made this fall. While his teammates are out there
sweating and grunting and pondering Xs and Os, their defensive captain is more
likely to be found in Kentucky's Medical Center Lab tackling Gray's
thoughtful young man, Kovach is well aware of just how special his situation
is. He considered it recently during a rare break for dinner at a Lexington
restaurant. Usually Kovach stays at the Medical Center and eats a brown-bag
supper that his wife Debbie—oh, yes, he also is a husband and the father of a
3-year-old son—packs for him every morning. That saves a little time, and time
is precious to Kovach.
the coaches for suppressing their instincts as coaches and helping me,"
said Kovach. "Their instincts are for me to practice. After all, their jobs
are on the line. Can you imagine me at another major college, saying to another
coach that I was going to have to miss most of the practices, and that even
when I go I can't work too hard because I have to study? Or that on road trips
they will have to send a police car to pick me up from class and hold the team
plane 10 minutes or so until I get there?"
Fran Curci shrugs off the inconvenience. Part of the reason might be the
Wildcats' 3-4-1 season, which would prompt any coach to accommodate an esteemed
the understanding right from the outset that medical school comes first,"
Curci says. "Anything he needs to do, he does it. He's an exceptional kid.
There's not a kid on our team who has the slightest resentment that he misses
practice. They respect him for what he's doing because nobody else could do
obviously works hardships not only on Kovach but also on the team, which must
practice without a key player. By missing so much time, Kovach isn't the player
he could be, as Debbie pointed out to him after the Maryland game early in the
"She told me
to quit going after a runner's feet and start looking for his body," Kovach
says. "That's something I had never done before. It's pretty bad when your
wife starts to tell you what you did wrong. When she's right, it's even worse.
But when you're practicing so little, the hardest thing is keeping your
technique up. You slip into bad habits if you don't do it over and over and
avid supporter, other than Debbie, is Curci. The coach realizes that Kovach,
even when he is at less than his best, still is better than most linebackers in
the nation. Nevertheless, player and coach had a misunderstanding early in the
season, and medical school was at the bottom of it.
During the home
opener against Baylor, which the Wildcats won 25-21, Kovach twice called
timeouts to check the signals he was getting from the coaches on the sidelines.
As a result, Kentucky had no time-outs left late in the game when it
desperately needed them to stave off a Baylor comeback. Afterward, Curci said
his defensive captain had missed so much practice because of med school that he
had not properly assimilated all the signals and formations. Kovach