The freshman year of college can be an eye-opening reality check, especially for kids going away to school.
"It was different than little Hanover," former Wildcats standout Derek De St. Jean said of Wabash College. "I never studied in high school and I always passed tests. I had a rude awakening. It's all business. There's no writing papers the night before in college. I learned by mistake."
Not that De St. Jean is or was a slacker. He was a 3.4 student in high school. He took honors and college level classes, and graduated with an honors diploma. Nor did he go Animal House and party his time away at Wabash, though he did pledge a fraternity, Sigma Chi.
"I had a little too much on my plate," De St. Jean said.
De St. Jean is majoring in Rhetoric with designs on law school.
"I'm not afraid speaking in front of people," he said.
In addition to his schoolwork, the 2011 state medalist in the shot put and discus throws for the Little Giants track and field team, and was vice president of his pledge class. A few weeks before school started, basketball coach Antoine Carpenter sought out the 6-foot-4 former center to play hoops.
"I was never acknowledged for basketball," De St. Jean said. "I wasn't trying to pursue it, then I got a call from the coach. He saw that I had a good jumper from the free-throw line and being a D-III, they could use me down low. He said I'd be one of their top recruits."
De St. Jean was ready to roll, but his academics weren't going real well, so ultimately he had to tell Carpenter no.
In the second semester, he learned how to budget his time, studying on long bus rides to meets and even getting papers done between events.
The high school-to-college transition in track and field went a lot smoother for De St. Jean, who put together a monster season. After taking the North Coast Athletic Conference shot put title at the indoor championships, he broke the school record in the discus (48.1 meters) and claimed NCAC outdoor honors in both throws — a rare feat for a freshman at any level — to go with a third in the hammer throw.
"I had seniors telling me, 'Hey, you're goin' down,'" said De St. Jean, Wabash's Newcomer of the Year. "I was like, 'OK, that's different.' The shot and disc are bigger in college, so it usually takes a few years to learn the technique, to get that down pat. It took me a while to adjust, but it finally clicked. They told me I'd probably break the (discus) record, and I did."
While home for the summer, De St. Jean is working out and running every day to stay in shape, and installing satellite dishes for work.
"It's a good summer job," he said.
When De St. Jean heads back to Crawfordsville next month, he plans to give hoops a whirl, confident he can pull off the juggling act.
"Playing two sports there is pretty bold," he said. "It takes a lot of dedication, but I really want to pursue that. I want that label as a two-sport athlete. I missed basketball."
As for the concern that five classes, two sports and all the studying and training might be too much, De St. Jean shrugs off the notion.
"That's how I am," he said. "I'm always doing something. I was born and raised to accept new challenges, to not ever settle. I'm going to be really busy. There won't be a lot of social events. What down time there is, is for napping. Hopefully, it'll pay off in the long run."
I'm thinking yes.
This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.