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"Grow and Take Risks," NFL Star Andrew Luck Tells DePauw Students in Ubben Lecture

April 24, 2015

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"I think you use your college education every day," Andrew Luck, the star quarterback of the National Football League's Indianapolis Colts, said at DePauw University tonight.  Luck discussed "Creating Your Personal Game Plan for Success" as a guest of DePauw's Timothy and Sharon Ubben Lecture Series in a conversation moderated by DePauw's head football coach, Bill Lynch.  A crowd of 1,215 people -- many of them DePauw students -- gathered in Kresge Auditorium for the event. 

They welcomed Luck with a standing ovation as he entered the venue, and gave him another as he left.

"I was very fortunate to have great teachers, and my parents stressed academics in the house," Luck said.  "My siblings and I, it was always very important, and we weren't necessarily allowed to sacrifice academics for sports.  You figure out how to do both and do it to the best of your abilities."

Luck was born in Washington, D.C., but spent much of his childhood in Europe where his father, former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, was an executive in the World League of American Football (WLAF).

"He never forced me to play football," Andrew Luck told his DePauw audience.  "The only rule in our family was if you started a season in whatever sport, you had to finish that season.  There was no quitting halfway, which I'm thankful for," noting that there are positive lessons to be learned from difficult experiences, including injuries.

Luck also played basketball and baseball and ran track in high school.  "I think playing multiple sports helped me to be a better quarterback," he noted.  "Playing basketball and learning how to move and guard and take someone one-on-one and understand leverage and boxing out and jumping ... It's a great way to understand and maybe see space and angles and how space closes up or opens up, how balls can get through."

Highly recruited, Luck described the process by which he chose a college, his interactions with Stanford's Jim Harbaugh, who became his college coach, and deciding on a major. 

"I knew I wanted to do some sort of either civil/structural engineering or architecture. I always enjoyed math, I always enjoyed projects as opposed to writing, and my grandfather was a civil engineer, as well."

A class in the history of architecture sealed the deal: he would major in architectural design.  "I knew then, in the middle of that class, alright this is interesting, this is what I want to do ... Also, I loved playing with Legos when I was a kid and building things.  I was like, 'If I can do a major where you, like, play with Legos for two hours a day, I'm doing that, you kidding?," as the crowd laughed.

Called "a genuine student-athlete" by USA Today, Luck earned a 3.48 grade point average at Stanford and received the Al Masters Award, an honor given to an athlete each year, "for the highest standards of athletic performance, leadership and academic achievement."  On the gridiron, he was an all-American and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in both 2010 and 2011, and in 2011 won both the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Award as college football's player of the year.

He was projected to be the #1 pick in the 2011 NFL draft, but he decided to stay at Stanford and finish his degree. Luck says he "loved college" and the prospect of being injured during his senior year and diminishing his prospects never was a factor in his mind. "And I don't think I was ready to leave college; I don't think I was mature enough to handle living on my own and being a professional football player.  I think I would have really struggled. And I needed to get better at football.  So there were so many reasons to stay, and not many to go."

Coach Lynch noted that it was exactly three years ago today that Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson announced that the team would use its #1 pick to select Luck.  The now-25-year-old quarterback has led the Colts to the NFL playoffs in each of his three seasons in the league, and Indianapolis claimed division titles in 2013 and 2014. The man who wears #12 has also been named to the Pro Bowl in all three of his pro seasons. He holds a number of NFL records, including most passing yards for a quarterback through his first three seasons (12,688), most passing yards for a quarterback through his first five postseason games (1,703), most consecutive 350-yard passing games on the road (5), and Luck became the first quarterback in the league's history to throw for 350+ yards in five consecutive road games.

In 48 games, Luck has passed for 12,957 and 86 touchdowns. His quarterback rating, which has climbed each year, averages 86.6.

Andrew Luck arrived on campus in the afternoon and began his DePauw visit by meeting with the Tiger football team in Thompson Recital Hall.  The session offered DePauw student athletes an opportunity to ask questions of Luck, and the group posed for a photograph.

Next up was a news conference which, at Luck's request, was limited to DePauw student journalists. 

That was followed by a small reception.  Attendees included four students who won a contest that was held as part of Philanthropy Week. A number of philanthropic-related events have taken place this week; for each  event that a student participated in, he or she was entered into a raffle to meet the Colts quarterback. Approximately 450 students were entered into the raffle.

After the short meet-and-greet session, Luck returned to the Green Center for the evening's main event, the Ubben Lecture.

"I miss college; I miss playing college ball," he told the football team.  "I miss everything about it.  It's a very special time in life."

Luck urged DePauw students "to take advantage of the resources that are there ... Get out of it all that you can because there is a finite date, end to it.  Meet as many people as you can. There's a great network of Stanford alums out there that know you're a football player now, so take advantage of it.  That's an open door.  Just like I'm sure there's a great DePauw network out there.  At least better than Wabash," Luck said to applause from the audience.

"It's almost like you have four years ... to grow, to do new things, to try new things, to make a mistake, and it's OK and it might not be as bad consequences, you know, to put yourself out there, to figure out who you are, in a sense.  It sounds a little bit cheesy, but I think it's true.  I really do, it's like a free pass.  Being able to grow and take risks was a big part of college," Luck declared.

Luck says his closest friends are his Stanford teammates and that college builds the most important relationships you'll have in life.

He then added with a grin, "As far as advice?  I'm only 25. I don't have any advice for you," to more laughter from the crowd.

There isn't a tradeoff between athletics and studies, Luck maintains. "I thought football helped me so much with my time management, I thought football helped me in school.  If I didn't have football I don't think I would have done as well in school ... I think it teaches you that time is valuable."

The NFL star says he leaves the country for three weeks after the end of each season to "get away from football" and finds that getting outdoors and taking walks through Indianapolis is a good tool for helping him "think through things," as he put it.

"I love reading," the quarterback admitted, telling the crowd he just finished Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, a 1959 book by Alfred Lansing, which recounts the ill-fated expedition to to cross the continent of Antarctica headed by Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1914.

"And he survives, and every crew member survives with him." Luck calls the book a lesson of "incredible fortitude and survival instincts ... Can you imagine a year in the dark with no food, with 30 people -- rough sailors -- and managing the egos and the personalities to survive, just so you don't kill each other.  Fantastic read."

Lynch also commended Luck for the way he handled a seemingly impossible task, stepping into a position that was vacated by a legend, Peyton Manning, who presented an Ubben Lecture on the same stage in October 2004

"I'm not going to worry about replacing Peyton Manning, no one can, one of the best ever if not the best," Luck said.  "If I woke up every morning saying, OK, I'm gonna fill Peyton's shoes today, I'd go crazy. You can't ... I'm not going to worry about what Peyton did before or didn't do, I'm just gonna do the best I can.  And it was actually a lot easier than you think.  The locker room was so supportive; not once did I have an older player say, 'No, you've gotta do it this way because Peyton did it.' I remember walking in the first day, Dwight Freeney said, 'Hey young one, come to my office.' I said, 'Where's your office?', he said, 'It's my locker.' (laughter)  So I walk over to his locker and this is Dwight Freeney, the most fearsome pass rusher arguably ever in the NFL.  And he says, 'Look, we're all behind you.  You do it your way, we're gonna go win football games, that's it and don't worry about anything else.'  You know, that was awesome to hear as my first day in the locker room and it put all those fears and doubts aside."

Luck says he also learned about "the ultimate preparer" by asking his new teammates about Manning.  "And I was always a fan of Peyton growing up.  He's been so kind and gracious to me and classy in helping out when I first moved to Indy."

Displaying humility along with a sense of humor throughout the evening, Luck stated, "Professional sports is a business and people come and go, and that's just the ugly truth of it.  Like Reggie Wayne this year -- it stinks, but it happens ... Eventually someone's gonna replace me. Hopefully it's later rather than sooner, but you don't know."

During a question-and-answer session with DePauw students which followed the presentation, Luck was asked about reports that he actually congratulates defensive players for a "nice hit" after the fact. "You'd be surprised at the interaction between players on the field in the NFL.  It is somewhat of a big fraternity. (You're lining up against) a lot of guys you've played college (football) with, a lot of guys you've been on other NFL teams with, or high school.  There are some hilarious conversations when you go up there sometimes, and it's like, people lining up across from each other and you hear this conversation about their kids or something. Or, you know, 'How's your Aunt Margaret doing?'  We're at a football game, I'm supposed to hate you," a smiling Luck said as the crowd roared. (at right: Luck with retired head football coach Nick Mourouzis and his wife, Marilyn)

After the NFL, Luck says he may go back to school to continue his studies in architecture and earn his license.

Injuries are an obvious impediment to athletes, and Luck says maintaining focus is another. "I think in the NFL one of the obstacles is just keeping your head on straight, keeping your eyes on the prize, in a sense.  The media machine is so big and you do live in somewhat of a fishbowl that I think you could easily get astray.  And so making sure you have good people around you that'll give you honest opinions when you need 'em ... that's so important."

Luck admits that as an NFL, being a leader is part of the job. "I think for leadership to be effective it has to be within your own personality," Luck stated, adding, "you'll be exposed as a fraud and a phony if it's not and it won't come off as genuine.  A big part of leadership is being competent at what you're doing, being good at it.  You can have great teammates, it takes nothing away from them, but it's hard to be in a true leadership role if you're not good at what you're doing on the field and in your performance ... I think understanding the people around you is so important," the quarterback stated.  He then joked, "I know also I get somewhat of a sick enjoyment out of getting to yell at people."

He drew more laughs when asked about the perks of his job, which have included appearances on TV's Parks and Recreation.  "Other cool things that I've done?  Talked at DePauw University."

Luck reminded the audience that Will King, who played football at DePauw and graduated in 2012, was a high school teammate and remains a friend.

Asked about whether the Colts can take the "next step" in the 2015 season, Luck replied, "Hopefully we take two steps this year -- get to the Super Bowl and win it."  "I think it's a realistic goal for us," he added.

The session ended with Coach Lynch handing Luck a DePauw sweatshirt as the crowd roared for one final time.

It marks the fifth and final Timothy and Sharon Ubben Lecture of the 2014-15 academic year. The 44th Vice President of the United States, 1969 DePauw graduate Dan Quayle, visited campus on March 31.  This year's other Ubben Lecturers have been television's Jimmy Kimmel (seen at left), Orange Is the New Black author Piper Kerman and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Established in 1986 through the generous support of 1958 DePauw graduates Timothy H. and Sharon Williams Ubben, the lecture series was designed to "bring the world to Greencastle" and has now presented 101 programs.

Other previous Ubben Lecturers have included Bill Clinton, Benazir Bhutto, F.W. de Klerk, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mike Krzyzewski, Oscar Arias, Jesse Jackson, Tony Blair, Elie Wiesel, Ralph Nader, Jane Goodall, Ron Paul, Willy Brandt, Gwen Ifill, Michio Kaku, General Colin Powell, John Major, Shimon Peres, Jim Lovell, Brian Mulroney, Spike Lee,  Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, General Wesley Clark, Bob Woodward, Oliver Sacks, Naomi Wolf, Ross Perot, Paul Volcker, Karl Rove, Howard Dean, Todd Rundgren, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Eric Schlosser, Harry Belafonte, Leymah Gbowee, Sam Donaldson, Martin Luther King III, Ken Burns, David McCullough, Carl Bernstein, Mitch Albom, Julian Bond, Lee Hamilton '52, Jimmy Wales, David S. Broder, Jason Reitman, Bret Baier '92, Candy Crowley, William J. Bennett, Jane Pauley, David Gergen, ice cream entrepreneurs Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield, Sister Helen Prejean, Bill Bradley, Ferid Murad '58, David Ho, Allen Neuharth, Andrew Young, Paul Tsongas, Rebecca Skloot, Zbigniew Brzezinski, George Will, Carl Rowan and many others. (above photo: Sharon and Tim Ubben with President Bill Clinton)

To view a complete roster of Ubben Lecturers -- which includes links to video clips and news stories -- click here. Video montages of many events are available on YouTube.

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