The best football players at the University of Kentucky, Jim Kovach, also is the most remarkable. A handful of players become all-America linebackers. And a few thousand people go into medical school each fall. Kovach has done both. It ain't easy.
He goes to classes that sportswriters can't spell, but they all end in "ology." Thirty-one hours a week, he is in a classroom. Forty hours a week, he studies those ologies. Fifteen hours a week, he practices football. Saturdays, such as tomorrow at the University of Maryland, are game days.
In his spare time, Kovach is married, to Debbie, and they have a 3-year-old son, Jim Jr.
"Jim is doing real well at all this so far," Debbie said the other day. "Like, he looks at football films, studying, on his lunch hour, and he has a night schedule at home for his studying. He has this log he keeps as to when he goes to bed and when he gets up."
Normally, it's lights out at 1 a.m. and up at 6:30.
Debbie adds wistfully, "It's crummy, not getting to see him any nights."
Kovach is a classic linebacker, quick, strong and bright. He is 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds. Like every kid who played football in the Cleveland suburb of Parma Heights, Kovach dreamed of pro ball. He was a regular three years at Kentucky, chasing that dream, until he tore up his shoulder in the first game last season. He set out the season.
It was over, he thought. He would go to med school and forget football.
Easier said than done.
Because the injury came so early, Kovach was given an extra year's football eligibility.
That brought up the question: med school or football?
And, soon enough, another question occurred to Kovach: why not do both?
Sanity and health are good reasons to not do both, for while it is one thing to have a coach screaming at you, it is another to have a 3-year-old crawling on your ology books while your wife pesters you to pencil her into your schedule.
Kovach figured her could handle it.
Now, after two weeks of med school classes, he is, as football coaches might say, cautiously optimistic.
"It's going OK, but it's really been hard on me," he said.
The first week of classes came the week before Kentucky's season opener at South Carolina. The med school professors ran a power sweep over the linebacker.
"They threw a lot of stuff at us right away, just to scare us," Kovach said.
"I stayed up until 2:30 or 3 every night studying. I wasn't getting any sleep at all because I was too busy being scared of all that work."
Kentucky left Lexington that Friday afternoon for the flight to South Carolina.
A state police car picked up Kovach at the med school and sped him, lights flashing, to the airport. Kovach and the football coaches have an agreement: med school comes first in everything.
By the time Kovach arrived in South Carolina, he was sick. He had the flu. "I'd burned off all my energy being scared all week and my resistance was low," he said in self-diagnosis.
It was hot in South Carolina. The Kentucky defense played all but four plays of the first quarter. Kovach wondered why he was doing this crazy thing. "It was unbelievably torturous," he said."It was the worst experience I've ever had in football. I had nightmares about it afterward."
Kovach's weight dropped from 224 to 210 that day. He couldn't drink water without throwing up.
He made a decision.
"I'm not going to do that anymore," he said. "If it comes down to having to quit football, I'll do it."
Happily for Kovach, and for those idealists who see college football as more than a nursery for Pete Rozelle's babies, the linebacker now feels more in control of the med school routine. He studies only until 1 a.m., not 3 ("Five hours sleep is enough"). He gained back his strength and played superbly in Kentucky's second-week victory over Baylor.
While Kovach says he will quit football if his first test grades are poor - the tests come up next week, just before the Penn State game - Kovach yet keeps alive, however dim it might be, the dream of pro football.
"It really is tempting, but it took me a long time to get into med school," he said. "To have to leave school to play pro ball, I probably wouldn't do that."
Kovach fell silent.
"The only way," he said, dreaming, "is if I could get into a med school somewhere where I'm playing. But that is a lot of 'ifs.'"