PISCATAWAY, NJ – Being successful in sports first begins with being successful in the classroom. That was the message shared with a group of 7th and 8th-graders at Schor Middle School by athletes from Rutgers University.

On Thursday, the students, many of whom play in Piscataway’s Pop Warner Football program, had a chance to hear first-hand accounts about why it is important to take studying as seriously as preparing for the big game.

And while the students waited for the Rutgers’ athletes to arrive, the group was treated to a surprise visit from the Piscataway Chiefs’ head football coach, Dan Higgins who described what it takes to be a successful student-athlete, and what would be expected of them if they move on to play football at the high school level.

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“You are labeled as the football player and a leader,” said Higgins. “You can’t be part of acting up when the class is acting up.”

“You have to be strong enough to stand alone, especially with character,” he added.

It was a timely lead-in to the guests of honor, who gave personal accounts of their experiences as student-athletes at the college level.

Kyle Holder, a track and field athlete at Rutgers greeted the students with a vignette about certain college players who didn’t take school seriously and as a result could not participate in their sports because they didn’t make the grades. He also gave examples of players who were sidelined by injuries and had trouble trying to figure out what to do next, being that they had not given priority to any course of study while a student.

“Sports end,” said Holder. “Being a superstar on the field or court doesn’t matter if you don’t perform in the classroom.”

Chris Laviano, a quarterback with the Scarlet Knights football program, agreed. He shared his personal story of choosing to redo the 8th-grade because he “didn’t do well enough to be able to play high school football.”

Laviano told the middle schoolers about the process he had to go through in order to be a better student and a better person. “Attitude and effort can get you to the places you want to go,” he said.

But the Rutgers players understand that some students might not like having to go to school.

“The better you guys do in school the more football you can play,” advised Darius Hamilton, a defensive lineman and the son of a former New York Giants player. He wanted the group to realize they have to be prepared to move on after football. “You owe it to yourselves to be the best you can be,” he said.

And Julian Pinnix-Odrick, another defensive lineman for the Scarlet Knights and whose older brother currently plays in the NFL, spoke of how important it is to be motivated in life.

During high school Pinnix-Odrick set a goal of getting into college, and learned to use his height to his advantage on the football field. In the process he found “the motivation to get better grades, which led to playing better football, which led to Rutgers University” and a football scholarship.   

The Rutgers athletes’ messages seemed to reach the students.

Sonal Bhatt, a math teacher at the school, organized the program and was pleased with the response. “I think the assembly made a difference,” she said.