My first semester in school in nearly three years. Four PhD classes at MIT. Four A's. The streak continues!!!
— John Urschel (@JohnCUrschel) May 24, 2016
That "streak" includes picking up his bachelor's and master's degrees in math at Penn State with 4.0 grade-point averages.
Urschel has prided himself in remaining at the head of the class. While many NFL players have finished college by picking up their undergraduate diplomas, Urschel is working on his doctorate at one of the premier mathematics universities in the country.
According to his MIT profile, Urschel is focused on spectral graph theory, numerical linear algebra and machine learning.
Urschel's mother wanted him to attend MIT as an undergraduate and even called the football coach to send game film. It was at that time when the coach told Urschel's mother that there was no need to do that. MIT doesn't make cuts in football. You just show up.
So, this offseason was Urschel's way of making his mother happy and pushing himself mentally again.
"After the end of my rookie season in the NFL in 2014, my decision to put off grad school began to eat away at me," Urschel wrote on the Players' Tribune website. "I had always prided myself on not sacrificing football for math, or math for football. And yet, during my first offseason, when I was honest with myself, I knew I wasn't pushing myself to become the best mathematician I could be. I had more to learn. I wanted to grow."
Urschel hasn't forgotten about football. He's lifting weights four times per week, working on offensive line drills and running sprints with the Engineers, a team that features 17 high school valedictorians and a quarterback majoring in aerospace engineering.
"I probably had about 50 or 60 pounds on the biggest guy on MIT's O-line," the 310-pound Urschel wrote. "But when we ran, they put me to shame. They could outsprint me."
Urschel's learning wasn't limited to the MIT classrooms. Working with a Division III football team caused him to readjust his perspective on the game.
"We talk a lot about dedication and passion in the pros, but the truth is, sometimes the game feels like a job," Urschel wrote. "You start to think of the paycheck. You feel the grind. But training with the team at MIT, I started thinking about what had drawn me to football as a kid. It felt like a game again. I had thought I might have something to teach the team. I never imagined they’d have so much to teach me."