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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, September 25, 2003

Rice is ahead of the class when it comes to academics

 •  Owens 'surprised' by two-game suspension
 •  Rice can't avoid island's beauty

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Playing football for Rice University means you're never very far from the classroom, even when you are 3,907 miles from campus.

Take backup Owl quarterback Kyle Herm, for whom preparing for Saturday night's game with the University of Hawai'i isn't his only pressing assignment here this week. Somewhere between practices and meetings and the game at Aloha Stadium, there is also the matter of some classwork to be done in History 424: The History of Cartography and Navigation.

For Herm, it isn't enough just to know who on the UH defense will be taking the pitchman on the option. There is also an urgency to finding out more about the star compass and the voyages of Hokule'a. There may even be extra credit to be earned for meeting its navigator, Nainoa Thompson.

Such are the challenges of holding up both sides of the student-athlete equation at a school that annually ranks among the top in both the U.S. News & World Report rankings of America's best colleges and among the best in NCAA Division I-A in graduating its athletes.

Eighty-two percent of Owl football players who entered college between 1996-97 graduated within six years — a rate double that of nearly half the schools in the Western Athletic Conference in the most recent period surveyed, according to the NCAA.

Previously, Rice has won the USA Today/NCAA Academic Achievement Award that came with having the best graduation rate for all athletes.

Have team will travel, with laptops and academic coordinator.

"You can't be lazy in my class just because you're an athlete," said Patricia Seed, an anthropology historian who teaches History 424 at Rice, where the mid-range on entering SAT scores is 1,320 to 1,520 of a possible 1,600.

Studying a model of the Hokule'a in class is one thing. Actually visiting it and learning first-hand of its journeys of rediscovery would be something else. So, when Seed found out Herm was a football player and the Owls would be playing at UH, she assigned a visit to the Polynesian Voyaging Society and homework to better illuminate some of the lessons learned in class this semester. A couple of other players who previously took the class and some who have become intrigued by the project are expected to accompany Herm.

It is the kind of side trip, along with tomorrow's team visit to Pearl Harbor, that underlines the educational mission and abundant resources at Rice, one of the nation's most selective (23-percent acceptance rate) and best endowed ($3.37 billion) universities in the country.

But while the Owls hold their own with the Ivys in the classroom Monday through Friday, it has been more of a struggle competing with the rank and file on Saturday afternoons and evenings as their three-touchdown underdog status to UH suggests.

The Owls arrive here 0-3 and if they don't win this week, it is anybody's guess when they might this season. Only once in the past five years has Rice had a winning season.

But, then, as the student cheering section likes to remind its tormentors at home games: "Ho, ho, hey, hey, you're going to work for us someday."

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.