By John Rohde // SoonerSports.com
According to the NCAA, only 1.7 percent of college football players go on to play professionally.
According to the University of Oklahoma, 100 percent of its students with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering are offered a job upon graduation.
Offensive tackle Sam Grant is smart enough to play the percentages, which you might expect from a kid fond of math.
A redshirt sophomore from North Royalton, Ohio, Grant arrived as a tight end known for his blocking skills as much as his pass-catching, with 88 pancake blocks his junior season. While moving one step toward the middle of the field from tight end to tackle, Grant spent his first two seasons with the Sooners packing on the pounds while pounding the books.
“In high school, I always liked math and science, so I figured that’s what I was going to do,” Grant said.
While attending St. Edwards High School, Grant did a brief internship with Chesapeake Energy to verify he had chosen the right career path. “You’re out of the office a lot, so that’s what I liked about it.” Grant said with a smile.
OU’s petroleum engineering program ranks among the nation’s elite. OU’s football program also is among the elite, which created the perfect combination for Grant. “I always wanted to get a good education,” Grant said. “Since their petroleum engineering is in the top three in the country, that was really a defining step in picking a school. Football here is the best in the country, in every which way – the best since World War II – and their petroleum engineering is the best in the country.”
Grant had an impressive backup plan had the petroleum engineering/OU combo not happened. “I would have studied mechanical engineering,” Grant said. “If I hadn’t come here, I probably would have gone to Michigan and tried to work for Ford (Motor Co.). They’ve got mechanical engineering up there.”
OU petroleum engineer graduates reportedly have an average starting salary of over $100,000. Grant is on pace to get his bachelor’s degree in four years and tries to load up on the more difficult classes in the spring and summer because football season is so time-consuming and maneuvering his class schedule gets tricky. “Some of my classes don’t even fit because they’re during practice time in the fall, so I have to take those classes in the summer,” Grant said.This summer, Grant did an internship with Duck Creek Energy, Inc. in his home state of Ohio, where he performed a research project on re-purposing well production water (saltwater brine). For the past decade, Duck Creek Energy has taken its production water, processed it to Clean Water drinking standards except for the chlorides (salt) and made it into a product called AquaSalina™ that is sold to many Northeast Ohio cities and the Ohio Department of Transportation as a liquid de-icer (www.naturesownsource.com).
Duck Creek Energy president David Mansbery instructed Grant to submit a research paper to his professors upon his return, detailing why OU should consider a research project in conjunction with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to re-purpose brine waste product as a renewable natural resource. “He sent an early draft to me,” Mansbery said. “I didn’t like it. I threw it back at him and said, ‘That’s not good enough.’ And he stepped up. He understood exactly what we wanted. He did something of value which hopefully the people in Oklahoma will take seriously.”
Mansbery admitted he doesn’t come across many athletes seeking a summer internship. “No, not many,” Mansbery said. “He sought us out and initially I thought, ‘Yeah, well, whatever.’ Then I thought, ‘I’m going to make him work, but I’m going to make him do something of value, not just throw him a bone.’ I threw him something with meat on the bone.”
While sharing Grant’s job description, Mansbery sounded a bit like a football coach barking at one of his players. “I set expectation levels for him,” Mansbery explained. “I said, ‘This is what I expect in your time here. Other than that, Sam, quite frankly you ought to be paying me. Because right now, you don’t know anything. You know nothing. You’re going to figure out how to make yourself of value.’ And he did. He did it very well.”
Grant has some potential fellow engineers inside the OU locker room. Sophomore kicker Jack Braught of Duncan also is majoring in petroleum engineering and freshman defensive back Caden Sander of Deer Creek is considering doing the same. Freshman cornerback Jordan Thomas of Klein, Texas, is contemplating mechanical engineering.
Grant’s inner-circle of friends includes junior center Ty Darlington, who is on pace to graduate in December. Darlington initially chose health and exercise science as his major before switching to multi-disciplinary studies and said he hopes to get his master’s degree while still on scholarship.
Grant and Darlington arrived in the summer of 2012 and immediately bonded. “Me, him (Grant) and maybe four or five other dudes, we’re inseparable,” Darlington said. The other “dudes” include quarterback Trevor Knight, fraternal twin/tight end Connor Knight, wide receiver Grant Bothun and fullback Joe Palange (who transferred in from William & Mary).
“I always resonate more with Sam than on just a football level,” said Darlington, who was class valedictorian at Apopka (Fla.) High School, where he had a 5.1 weighted grade-point average. “We both have a strong academic background. We’re both taking a lot of the same classes. I understand the struggle he’s going through being in some difficult classes, and he understands the same with me.”
It didn’t take long for word to spread there were some brainiacs wearing football helmets. At 6-foot-7 and 281 pounds, Grant is hardly your normal-sized tutor. “Some guys give me a hard time,” Grant said. “I’m always getting asked for help. That’s the only problem.”Ditto for Darlington. “People want to ask you all the trivia questions, spelling advice and whatnot,” Darlington said.
On those rare occasions when they weren’t practicing, playing or studying, these dudes did some serious Netflix binge watching in Grant’s living room with Prison Break, Band of Brothers, Flashpoint, Spartacus and Black Hawk Down heading the list. “Sam’s a big military guy. He loves the military. Definitely a patriot,” Darlington said.
On the field, Grant has completed the transition from tight end to offensive tackle, having added roughly 50 pounds since his arrival. He is now seen as a valued backup.
“Oh, definitely,” Darlington said of Grant. “He’s made the switch. He’s wearing No. 76 (rather than No. 81) and he’s playing right tackle. That’s another area where we both bonded right away when we first got here. We were both trying to gain weight. I came in as a 260-pound center needing to get to 295. He came in as a (235-pound) tight end who was trying to put on 15 pounds. Now he’s put on another 30-40 pounds.”
With young men like Grant on the roster, Sooners head coach Bob Stoops knows just how attractive OU can be to top-flight students whose aspirations include both football and a potentially-lucrative career.
“Sam is a very bright young man who has worked hard to make the transition from tight end to offensive tackle this year,” Stoops said. “We look forward to him helping our team this season. Sam also has great head start on his future career as a student in OU’s petroleum engineering program. He enjoyed a fantastic experience this summer as an intern for Duck Creek Energy back in his home state of Ohio and is definitely making the most of his opportunities on and off the field at the University of Oklahoma.”
As a collegiate football player, Grant’s dream job would be playing in the NFL. And his dream job as a petroleum engineer?“Honestly, I don’t know,” Grant said. “They’re drilling a lot in Ohio right now. It’d be really nice to be back home with my family and stuff. I’d like to work for a really big company … and definitely be out of the office more than in the office.”
|About John Rohde|
|John Rohde is a respected name on the Oklahoma sports scene and will provide regular features for SoonerSports.com. Voted Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year five times, Rohde has covered OU football and basketball, the Oklahoma City Thunder, OKC/New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, the Final Four, Masters and PGA Tour. He spent over 26 years for The Oklahoman, serving as a columnist and beat writer. He can be heard on 107.7 The Franchise, the flagship station for OU Athletics weekdays from 5:30-9 a.m.|