Published: May 6, 2016
Derek McCartney

There’s something to be said for mapping out your future, particularly if you are about to become a college graduate.

Colorado football player Derek McCartney has quite obviously done his homework in that regard — but depending upon the circumstances, his path will take one of two wildly divergent roads two years from now.

McCartney is a starting outside linebacker for the Buffs who will graduate this weekend after just seven semesters at CU. He’ll pick up his diploma in Integrative Physiology and still have two years of NCAA eligibility remaining. (While it is a rarity for an athlete to earn his or her degree with two years of eligibility still left, two Buffs could manage the feat this year. Along with McCartney, inside linebacker Addison Gillam is also slated to pick up his degree this weekend and will also have two years of eligibility remaining.)

“I don’t know that I ever planned to graduate this early, but as time went on, as I was planning my schedule, I figured out I could finish up early,” McCartney said. “It just kept unfolding and was really cool to see how God’s plan helped me graduate quicker.”

The task of graduating with a college degree in four years is not easy. Earning a degree while also devoting all the time and effort necessary to participating in Division I sports make the task that much more difficult.

Doing both in less than four years is … well, a daunting task, to say the least.

“Time management is something you have to learn as an individual in life,” McCartney said with a shrug. “It’s tough. The worst part is you are always tired. You are tired from practice or workouts in the morning. Then you have to go to class, stay focused, stay awake, take good notes and motivate yourself to be the best you can be. Then you have to go home, do homework and you are tired — and you know you have to get it done. That balance is the toughest part, and making it all work together.”

But, while athletics adds hours to the equation, it also brings a measure of discipline and work ethic to the formula.

“You have a different kind of focus as a student-athlete,” McCartney said. “As an athlete, you have to keep your grades up in order just to compete. That’s motivation in itself. But you have a different focus, a work ethic that helps you get through things. You learn how to deal with the tough times.”

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