CHENEY — The long-standing image of the “dumb jock” is alive and well on college campuses, thanks partly to a long line of athletes who view classes as little more than a necessary evil blocking their path to the pros.
Fortunately, there are plenty of college athletes like Eastern Washington football player Jeff Minnerly. An honors student who majors in finance and may add a second degree in electrical engineering, Minnerly will put down the books long enough to play in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs today against the visiting Wagner Seahawks of New York City.
“Jeff would study all day, all night, but he always managed to get time with his friends and football,” recalled teammate and former roommate Nicholas Edwards, who starred at Foss High School.
“He does time management really well. You could see him studying all the way up till 3 o’clock in the morning, but still be able to get up and go to weights.”
Minnerly, a senior free safety with a 3.78 grade-point average, has a long history of winning on and off the field. He was a 4.0 student at Spokane’s Ferris High School, and in his two seasons on the varsity, the Saxons lost three football games and zero basketball games.
“You kind of get sick and tired of talking about it, honestly,” Minnerly said about his prep career. “But I do think you appreciate it more (as the years go by).
“I mean, I’ve always been very blessed. Even when I was a little kid, we were always winning.”
Interestingly, Minnerly said all that winning can have its drawbacks.
“You’re very fortunate to win all the time and be on great teams,” he said, “but it’s almost a bad thing because it doesn’t teach you how to lose responsibly or maturely until too late of an age.”
Minnerly’s winning ways have continued in college, including a 2010 national championship in the FCS (formerly Division I-AA). This year, the Eagles (9-2) are seeded second in the FCS playoffs after tying Montana State and Cal Poly for the Big Sky Conference championship.
“Jeff is as competitive a person as I’ve ever been around,” Edwards said. “He doesn’t like losing, and he doesn’t like being No. 2.”
Minnerly was a distant No. 2 at quarterback behind Bo Levi Mitchell in the spring of 2010 when he was asked to switch to safety.
“I wasn’t thrilled about it,” Minnerly admits.
He was quick to add, “I didn’t have Bo’s arm strength or (quick) release.” He also had very little experience at safety – none since early in his freshman year at Ferris – but he said teammates like Edwards, Chase King, Grant Williams and Evan Cook “helped me get through that time, because it wasn’t easy.”
Minnerly briefly considered transferring, “but ultimately, I couldn’t see myself leaving Eastern, primarily because I love my teammates too much. I would rather be in a less-than-ideal situation individually and be with them than in a better situation individually somewhere else.”
Minnerly has been a starter or key reserve at safety for three seasons, during which he has never cut his hair because of to a friendly wager with teammates. Minnerly says he’ll finally visit the barber after the season and donate his hair to Locks of Love, an organization that provides hair to young people who suffer from medical hair loss.
Unseeded Wagner (9-3) defeated Colgate, 31-20, last week in the first round of the playoffs, while Eastern had a bye. Today’s 3:05 p.m. game on the red turf of Eastern’s Roos Field will be streamed live on ESPN3.
Eastern was ranked No. 1 earlier this season, and Minnerly sees no reason why the Eagles can’t add another national championship to the one they captured in 2010.
“In some areas, we’re probably better, and in some areas maybe the other team was probably better,” Minnerly said. “The one area I do think we’re similar to the 2010 team is just kind of the attitude: the way we approach things, the way we get after things and the way we find different ways to win games.”