SALT LAKE CITY — Running back Lucky Radley is still making his mark on the football field for the University of Utah. As a sophomore, he netted 50 yards and scored one touchdown.
In the classroom, though, Radley has made great strides. On Thursday, he joined several Utah student-athletes in commencement ceremonies at the Huntsman Center — receiving a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
“It’s a great day. Not only for me but for my family as well,” said Radley, who plans to earn a master’s degree in exercise and sports science over his final two years of football eligibility with the Utes.
Radley is on track to do it. He’s already taken some prerequisites.
“It wasn’t my goal but after my first year it just panned out,” he said. “I re-evaluated my goals and changed them. It was definitely possible, and I went after it.”
Retired coach John Pease, who recruited Radley to Utah, isn’t surprised.
“He has a motto. He said, ‘I’m just going to keep chipping away,’ and that’s what he does,” Pease said, noting that Radley takes a heavy load of classes in the summer. “Whatever you ask him to do, his work ethic is off the chart.”
The 5-foot-8, 187-pound junior from Inglewood, Calif., acknowledges that it’s been difficult to aggressively pursue both academics and athletics.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that with having a significant role on the football team. I didn’t know if I wanted to put myself through that,” Radley said. “It’s tough. It’s not easy. But I just challenged myself, and I’m going to get it done.”
While sporting a cap and gown for graduation, Radley felt a sense of satisfaction.
“It’s amazing. It’s great,” he said. “Being able to put on those (football) pads is a blessing, and this is a blessing as well. I’m very blessed to do both.”
Fred Whittingham Jr., Utah football’s director of player personnel, emphasized that graduation is the No. 1 goal for those in the program. He said that 19 of last season’s 22 seniors have already graduated and all 22 members of the Class of 2013 are on target to earn their degrees by December.
“From the time they’re recruited, the message to (players) and their families is that if you’re not interested in pursuing and earning your degree — if you’re only interested in playing football — this probably isn’t the right program for you,” Whittingham said. “Because the No. 1 goal of the program is for them to get their degree. Coach Whitt talks all the time about their football life being a relatively short period of time in their life and the rest of their life is established by the foundation of a great degree from the University of Utah.”
That’s the No. 1 focus, he added, and everything is in place to help them succeed. Things like academic mentoring, tutors and other support systems.
In the end, Whittingham said the most rewarding aspect is seeing the pride in the eyes and smiles of the student-athletes and their families at graduation.
There were many happy gatherings prior to commencement, involving various sports.
Ashley Lear, Utah’s life skills coordinator, noted that many of the student-athletes are the first members of their families to earn a degree, making it a special and exciting event for all.
Lear estimated that 50-55 graduating student-athletes were invited to the reception honoring their academic accomplishments.
“It’s a credit to them. They do a great job balancing their time,” she said. “It’s almost like working a full-time job and being a student.”
Basketball player Chelsea Bridgewater was among the attendees. She’s headed to law school at BYU after earning degrees from Utah in psychology and political science. Although she took her last final earlier in the day, Bridgewater did take time to reflect on her four-year journey.
“It’s kind of a whirlwind and so it comes quicker than you expect,” Bridgewater said. “At the same time, it’s been a long and challenging but exciting road.”
As for moving on, Bridgewater admits it may be tough to give up basketball.
“I’m going to have to play intramurals or something. I don’t know,” she said. “It’s crazy. It’s a crazy milestone.”