CHICAGO -- Robert Marve has had a lot of labels attached to his name in his 21 years on planet Earth.
Blue chip recruit. Alabama verbal. Miami signee. Car accident victim. Unfocused freshman. Miami starting quarterback. Miami malcontent. Purdue transfer.
(Miami fans probably could add a few more that can't be printed here.)
But scholar-athlete? That might be the most surprising title of them all.
"I’m trying to hold on tight with it," Marve said. "Don’t let it go."
The most surprising part about Marve's makeover at Purdue isn't what he has done on the field. From the moment he set foot in West Lafayette, he became one of the most gifted players in recent memory to wear the Old Gold and Black.
But Marve hadn't been a four-star student, not even close. That has changed.
"The one area that’s foreign to him is the pursuit of academic excellence," Purdue head coach Danny Hope explained. "Academics was never his true passion."
At Purdue, Marve had to make it his passion.
He earned a 3.0 grade point average in his first semester at Purdue and elevated it to 3.4 in the spring semester.
After struggling academically at Miami, Marve had to make up ground after transferring. He took 18 credits during the 2009-10 school year and nine this summer. He nearly has caught up and will be on track to graduate after the fall semester in 2011, which coincides with his senior season.
"You kind of mess up your freshman year of college, and I knew I had to get in the right program," Marve said. "Once I got the ball going and started going in school, I started taking it personal a little bit, to a point where I wanted to do well for me. They always tell you it helps you out with football.
"It gives you a relaxed mind where you know you don’t have to stress and worry about making grades to be eligible."
Marve didn't have those worries at Miami. That was part of the problem.
"You’re not at home anymore, you’re away, you don’t have a curfew," he recalled. "Everyone has fun, and reading a book might not be your first priority."
LeBron James ditched the Midwest for Miami; Marve took the reverse route and found a home in a far less glitzy setting.
“[Purdue] presented less opportunities for any liabilities in some ways," Hope said, "but it doesn’t matter where you’re at, you can get into anything you want, anywhere, if you look hard enough. But certainly South Beach can be a distraction to an 18-year-old. It’s a distraction to me, and I’m 50 something."
A torn ACL suffered last summer kept Marve off the practice in the fall, but the 6-1, 210-pound junior distinguished himself as Purdue's top signal caller this spring. Still, Hope didn't award Marve the top job after spring ball concluded.
He wanted to wait and see if the quarterback continued to excel in the classroom.
"That was one thing that was outside of his comfort zone that I wanted to see a commitment from him," Hope said.
Hope got the answer he wanted and named Marve the starter in July.
"I come there early in the morning and he’s there, working out," Hope said. "I come back later in the afternoon and he’s there, throwing and catching. And I come back in the evening and he’s there with mentors and tutors. He pulls 12, 15 hours a day all summer long to get ready for the 2010 season. I’m really, really proud of what he’s done from an academic standpoint."
When Marve arrived at Purdue, Hope didn't waste time rehashing the Miami situation. Marve knew the public perception, and Hope saw no need to humble the quarterback or rebuild his confidence.
"He'd had that talk with himself before he came here," Hope said. "He came to Purdue to do something special."
Academics weren't Marve's only obstacle at Purdue. He also had to recover from the knee injury, which still "felt horrible" four or five practices into spring ball.
Marve's nerves about the knee persisted through the spring game, but they went away this summer. He went through running and conditioning pain free and recorded a faster 40-yard dash time than he did before the injury.
"Just the happiest I’ve been," he said of his current state. "The best grades I’ve had, my knee’s finally together, and everything is going in the right direction."