It’s easy to become cynical about college sports when you see schools rent soon-to-be-professional athletes with no expectation that they will graduate, or when you see privileged athletes behave in a heedless fashion.
To counter those images, I give you Alex Mack and Taylor Rochestie. Mack, one of college football’s premier offensive linemen, decided to forego an opportunity to enter the NFL draft next month because it would prevent him from finishing his undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley. Rochestie, a starting junior guard on Washington State’s basketball team, announced he will give up his $25,000 scholarship next year so that Coach Tony Bennett can offer it to a highly regarded high school prospect.
The families, educators, and coaches who raised these young men should be proud. They are right here in our community. Mack is a graduate of San Marcos High, and Rochestie came out of Santa Barbara High.
After the Golden Bears concluded a somewhat disappointing season with a 42-36 victory over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, Mack sat down at home and discussed his options with his father, Steve, and Jim Michalczik, Cal’s assistant head coach.
There was a good chance he would go high in the draft. The NFL is hungry for big, agile offensive linemen, and Mack fit the bill. The 6Ê¹5Ê° 300-pounder was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy as the top center in the nation. He received the Morris Trophy as the Pac-10 Conference’s top offensive lineman, as voted by his rival defensive linemen. He was physically sound, all the more reason to make a move to the pros now.
But to prepare for the draft, Mack would have to perform in the NFL combine and go through extensive training sessions. With only one semester remaining until he would earn his BA degree in legal studies, he would have to put school on hold. “The main reason I went [to Cal] was to get a Berkeley education, and I wanted to finish what I started,” Mack said. “I also wanted to help Cal be as good as it could be. Last season was not how I wanted to leave it. The NFL will be there next year, but college won’t.”
So Mack will spearhead the Bears’ offense next fall as a fifth-year senior, and he will take additional college courses, because “I don’t like wasting time.”
Rochestie visited Berkeley last week with the nationally ranked WSU basketball team. The 6Ê¹1Ê° guard scored 18 points and dished out six assists in a 70-49 victory over Cal. He is the Cougars’ main ball handler, and his assist-turnover ratio (2.98) is eighth best in the nation.
Rochestie has more than earned his keep, but he wanted to express his gratitude for getting a chance to play in the Pac-10. He did not get that chance out of high school. He went to Tulane University and had to endure a homeless season with a team that was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. After deciding to transfer, Rochestie received Bennett’s offer to come to Pullman, Washington. He talked to his father, Howard, about the possibility of donating next year’s scholarship. Yes, they could afford it. “It was a no-brainer,” Rochestie said. But like Mack’s commitment, it was uncommon-refreshingly so.
TITLE SEARCH: This final week of the regular basketball season finds UCSB with one Big West championship in hand and the possibility of another. The Gaucho men trail first-place Cal State Northridge by a game and face the Matadors on the road tonight (Thu., Mar. 6). A win there and at Long Beach State on Saturday would guarantee the Gauchos the top seed in next week’s conference tournament. : UCSB’s women have already clinched the title, their 12th in 13 years. They’ll take the floor at the Thunderdome tonight against Northridge and Katie Holloway, a unique player in Division I basketball. Her right foot was amputated when she was 20 months old. Until she began talking about it openly, few people knew that Holloway, a 6Ê¹4Ê° senior, has been playing with a prosthetic lower leg. : UCSB seniors Jessica Wilson and Chisa Ononiwu will play their final home game Saturday (2 p.m.) when they take on Long Beach State.