With medical school potentially in his future and a 3.6 grade point average on his résumé, Andrew Friederich cannot accurately be described as the typical St. Ambrose student-athlete. The two-time academic All-American and standout senior football player qualifies as extraordinary.
On the other hand, every student-athlete at SAU is extraordinary in his or her own right.
"We recruit good kids," said fourth-year women's head basketball coach Krista Van Hauen, who previously worked in NCAA Division I programs where some players viewed themselves athletes first and foremost. "That's one of the reasons I like the NAIA level. These kids have perspective. They enjoy playing the game but they are students first."
School was not Friederich's first love. "Football was all I cared about in high school," he confessed. But a year-plus away from both school and football brought a revelation. "I wasn't really doing anything with my life. I decided if I was going to go back to school, I was going to have to put all my effort into it."
He chose St. Ambrose because of its academic reputation. The fact there was good football being played here qualified merely as a happy coincidence.
On arrival, Friederich said he needed to be taught how to be a serious student and there was ready help for that, both through the Student Success Center and tutoring from a football graduate assistant whose central assignment was coaching academics.
While SAU programs with smaller rosters don't have an academics tutor, the coaches insist that their athletes be strong students. "The coaches don't just say they focus on students' academic success," said Ann Austin, director of reading and study skills at the Student Success Center, "they really mean it. They work closely with us."
That level of teamwork extends to student-to-student tutoring. Friederich made ample use of the student-run Student Instruction program early on, and now is pleased to say he is both a tutor and the student in charge of that program.
This coming summer, Friederich will take time to reflect on his experience as a St. Ambrose student-athlete.
Best four years of his life? "Definitely, the biggest four years of my life," he said.
The best part of being a St. Ambrose student-athlete is that, armed with a strong education and a fundamental grounding in enriching lives, their best years are yet to come.