Jan 13, 2014, 10:37 AM EDT
If you’re a fan of college athletics, chances are you’ve seen the NCAA commercial stating that “there are over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and just about all of us will be going pro in something other than sports”.
That slogan certainly holds true across the three divisions of NCAA athletics, including the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Regardless of if a student-athlete goes pro in sports or something else, there is no doubt that he or she will be well prepared to take that next step. Still, it’s a tall task to be able to balance academics and athletics while finding success in both at the same time.
There are plenty of examples of student-athletes excelling at points spanning the professional spectrum. But rarely has there been a player like William & Mary senior offensive linemen Matt Crisafi, who’s been able to display a consistency and willingness to go above and beyond, whether that’s blocking opponents on Saturdays in the fall or tackling the Tribe’s rigorous academic expectations.
“I had a lot of older guys on my high school team getting recruited, signing scholarships and using football as a stepping stone to put them in a position to be at a challenging academic institution, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps,” Crisafi said during a interview with CAA Football in November. “William & Mary had everything that I wanted. It’s a competitive football program in a tough conference. One of the best conferences in all of college football, and definitely the FCS, and an academic institution where I don’t think anything else compares, hands down.”
A native of Marietta, Ga., outside of Atlanta, Crisafi arrived in Williamsburg prepared to play football, but also came to campus with an understanding that getting an education was the ultimate goal. That’s usually the case with most William & Mary student-athletes due to the College’s challenging academic standards.
Nearly five years later, the 6-foot-4, 302-pounder wrapped up his collegiate athletic career having started 41 consecutive games–a streak rarely reached by offensive lineman–while developing into a solid leader for the Tribe. Even more impressive is the fact that Crisafi has already graduated Cum Laude with a degree in finance and is currently finishing his Master’s degree in accounting. He recently earned his fourth-straight W&M Provost Award in addition to earning All-CAA Football academic honors in four consecutive seasons.
After also garnering First Team All-CAA Football and Second-Team Sports Network All-America honors off the field in 2013, he was again recognized for his work in the classroom as a member of the Athletic Directors Association (ADA) FCS Academic All-Star Team.
“I looked to older guys like Keith Hill and Jonathan Grimes,” explained Crisafi. “They’re people who are just successful at everything they do. I just watched how they handled football, what they did at practice and how it was all football when they stepped on the football. But when they got off the football field, they focused on academics or whatever else they were doing. That was something that helped me,” he added. “Overall, I think that William & Mary demands that you try to figure out how to balance your time, and fortunately enough, I was able to do it even though it was tough.”
The Provost Award, a honor given to William & Mary student-athletes who carry a GPA of 3.5 or higher–roughly 10 percent according to Crisafi–is certainly something Crisafi began to appreciate, especially after earning the nod year after year.
“After I won it the first time, I had to research what it was and then it was a motivating factor to push me to work harder academically and to maintain my GPA,” he said. “A lot of athletes who receive that award are the type of people who work just as hard on the field as they do off the field. And it’s been an honor to win that award for the past four years; something I’ve challenged myself to do.”
Interestingly, Crisafi believes that much of his success and stability in the classroom was a reflection of his improvement on the gridiron, and more importantly, his improvement as a leader on the football team.
“It’s very similar to football,” Crisafi said of the Tribe’s business school and the College’s academics in general. “Everyone wants you to do well and to be successful, but they’re going to critique you, challenge you and tell you what you need to improve on. And they’re not going to give you an easy pass or let something slide. They really want you to maximize your capabilities and reach your full potential.”
Reaching his full potential was a factor that both the fifth-year senior and his Tribe witnessed firsthand this season after the team finished with a disappointing and uncharacteristic 2-9 record in 2012. The team also dropped five heartbreaking games by three points or less that year. Crisafi and his fellow senior leaders Jerome Couplin and George Beerhalter decided to use the struggles they faced that season to their advantage, and it paid off. W&M was picked to finish ninth in the league’s 2013 preseason poll, but ended the season with a 7-5 record and just missed the FCS Playoffs.
“Everyone was hungry, ready to start a new story and get things moving in the right direction by putting that 2012 season in the past,” said Crisafi. “I think Jerome, George and all of the other seniors took it upon ourselves to set the standards through our actions; to set an example for the younger guys. That started to trickle down and proved to be effective.”
It’s been a common theme for the Peach State product, who’s demonstrated an ideal representation of what it means to be a CAA Football student-athlete. Still, with all of his personal on- and off-the-field achievements, Crisafi was quick to credit the players before him and the foundation that they’ve built for what the program is today.
“That’s one thing that I’ve really, really loved about this school,” Crisafi said. “I think that there’s such a tight-knit network and group of guys who are continually trying to help the younger people in the program grow and be better than they were. We make sure that the program is in safe hands.”
As for what’s next after graduation this spring, Crisafi plans to return home and work in Atlanta as an investment-banking analyst, a prospect that he looks forward to after a fabled five years in Williamsburg.
“I’m excited to go back to Atlanta and be back home near my family,” he said. “I love Atlanta and always dreamed about moving back there after I came up here. I’ll be able to use what I’ve learned here at William & Mary both on and off the field and roll it over into my professional career.”
After the many consecutive games that he started, his academic achievements and the impact he’s had on the Tribe’s football program, it should come as no surprise that Crisafi wouldn’t want to change a thing.
“Coming in, if I could have written a story about what I did here, I probably would have done the same thing that’s happened.”
I’m sure the same can be said by the Tribe.
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