Tom Brady briefly attempted retirement, but at age 45 he is still a few years away from fully joining AARP. University of Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett IV, who will soon be 25, is already embedded in the retirement group.
Mr. Bennett and some of his linemen star in a new Georgia AARP commercial warning seniors about cheating. A student quarterback might seem like an odd choice to be a retiring pitchman, but Mr. Bennett is one of the most popular people in the state, having given the Bulldogs their first national championship in 41 years last season. It also represents a surprising development in college football: Many of the players are much older than they used to be.
College football careers are being extended from four or five years to as long as eight years – and the main reason is the pandemic. The NCAA granted a bonus year of eligibility to all football players who competed in the abridged 2020 season.
“I’ve been here since it feels like 1920,” said Sean Clifford, Penn State’s sixth-year quarterback, who joined the team in 2017 but didn’t have it.”
On rosters across the country, most veteran players are creeping into their mid-20s. With the steady influx of 21-year-olds into the NFL each season, this means there are many college players older than the 147 active NFL players who are currently 22 or younger. In some cases, these collegiate players are the same age as the pros in the last year of their four-year rookie contracts.
College football’s oldtimers don’t just hang around campus with nothing to do. NCAA rules require that they actively work towards a degree to remain eligible. And unlike former USC quarterback Matt Leinart, who famously enrolled only in ballroom dancing during his 2005 senior season, today’s veterans are nearly all graduate students.
Some, like Northern Illinois linebacker Kyle Pugh, have managed to earn multiple advanced degrees. He arrived on campus in 2015 and was able to stay eight seasons due to bad luck with injuries — he played through a torn bicep and a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery in 2018, and fractured his shoulder socket two games the next season before going under the knife again and got well for the pandemic season, only to tear his ACL in a “non-contact situation” during final spring 2021 training and miss the season.
To come onto the field in 2022, he successfully applied to the NCAA for an additional eligibility waiver. “My application probably wrote itself,” said Mr. Pugh, the second known eighth-grader in NCAA history after East Tennessee State’s Jared Folks last year.
While he couldn’t be on the soccer field, Mr. Pugh was busy in the classroom earning a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and a master’s degree in exercise management. He’s on track to complete a second master’s degree in exercise psychology this spring, meaning he has more degrees than most graduate students in Northern Illinois.
“It’s funny because I’m definitely the old guy,” said Mr. Pugh. “‘Grandpa’, whatever you call it, I was called it.”
His position coach, Robert Wimberly, prefers a different nickname: “Methuselah,” at 969, the oldest man in the Bible. Mr. Pugh has some catching up to do: He’s only 25.
It’s gotten to the point where there are players like sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan from Minnesota, who came to college with a full head of hair and will leave a married man with a scalp as bald and shiny as his coach, 41 years… the old PJ Fleck.
“It’s really quite simple,” Mr Morgan said of why he changed his hairstyle. “I’m bald.”
“Tanner Morgan has been in the league forever,” Mr. Fleck said in July of his 24-year-old quarterback, one of the Golden Gophers’ four sixth-year starters. “It’s amazing: they’re married, they’re engaged, they give me advice.”
While these players are still closer in age to the youngest 17-year-old rookies than their coaches, the age gap can make for some ridiculous moments in the dressing room.
When Mr. Bennett, Georgia’s nearly 25-year-old quarterback, admitted that his favorite pre-game hype song was Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly” from his childhood, he drew blank looks from his teammates. It’s hard to blame them: The catchy tune came out in 2007 when most of his underclass teammates, including his new brother Luke, weren’t even in kindergarten.
Then there’s Tom Hutton, the Australian Oklahoma state punter who started as a 28-year-old freshman. He spent the previous decade at a carpentry trade school and then worked in a paper mill while working part-time as an Australian footballer outside of Melbourne. He said it wasn’t that bad dealing with the seniors when he first arrived in Stillwater, Oklahoma, but the advent of TikTok — watching his teenage teammates practice and film dances — has made the age gap much “more undignified.” ” did.
Mr. Hutton, now 32, is constantly confused about his trainers when he checks in for dinner with the table attendants.
“They ask, ‘Are you an employee?’ literally every day,” said Mr. Hutton. “Now I’ve started to say, ‘Football player, Hutton.’
Everyone else within the football program is caught up in the joke. Cowboys specialists call Mr. Hutton “Pops” or “Dad”.
Mr. Hutton could come back for the 2023 season after receiving the Covid-year bonus from the NCAA, but he’s already made up his mind.
“I’m not taking it,” said Mr. Hutton. “I’m old enough already.”
Authors: Laine Higgins at firstname.lastname@example.org
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