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The Graduate

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When I wandered up to Chris Jacobson last week at Pitt, I was hoping the fifth-year senior offensive lineman would share a scoop on a Panthers player who was having a strong off-season and could surprise us this fall.

“Give me a story,” I asked him.

After raving about several teammates, Jacobson let slip that he was one final exam away from earning his 120 credits necessary for his degree in administration of justice. He was proud of this accomplishment – and with good reason, considering how far he’d come in four years.

It didn’t take long for Jacobson to realize what had happened.

“Looks like I became your story,” he said with a smile.

He was right – and a good one at that.

* Like most Division I-A football players, Jacobson aspires to play in the NFL and knows that his switch to center this spring might improve his chances. If he can learn to long snap, they are even greater.

Most of all, the move shows that the new coaching staff comprehends the importance of a position that, under Dave Wannstedt, had a pair of walk-ons earn starting spots over scholarship players.

“This is a great change, but it was for the betterment of the team,” Jacobson said. “I’m excited about it. We’ll see what happens.”

* Jacobson is thrilled to have earned his degree, in case the NFL doesn’t work out. He hopes to have a post-playing career in either the FBI or U.S. Secret Service, or some other type of law enforcement. If those options fall through, he has a backup plan in mind.

“I’m going to be a bounty hunter,” Jacobson said, with a laugh. “That would be fun, with the vest.”

* I covered Jacobson in high school, where he was a U.S. Army All-American at Keystone Oaks, and understood why he was so “stoked” about graduating. He really had difficulty qualifying for freshman eligibility, and impressed Myles Caragein, a teammate at KO and Pitt, with his work ethic.

“I’m proud for him, seeing what he did, after the struggle he had to get into college and progressing and now he’s going to be a college graduate. It’s something else to see,” Caragein said. “The SATs got him a little bit, and he had to do good his senior year to get his GPA up. He spent extra time meeting with teachers, trying to do everything he could to get his GPA up.

“It just shows how hard he’s worked, the improvement he’s made and the will that he has to get better. It’s tremendous.”

* Caragein also is graduating this summer, with a math degree, and he and Jacobson have emerged as senior leaders in not only the classroom but the weight room and conditioning drills this summer.

“It’s definitely going to mean a lot to us, to get our degree together,” Caragein said.

With Jacobson at center and Caragein at nose tackle, they go head-to-head on almost every play every day in practice.

“Almost every play, it’s me against him,” Caragein said. “It’s tough. We battle every day. He’s quick off the ball. He gets off that snap quick and has his hands into you and has a good leg drive.”

Jacobson learned long ago how powerful Caragein is, as he tried to help the all-state heavyweight wrestler prepare for the PIAA championships when they were seniors. Although Jacobson had never wrestled before, he tried to use his muscle to give Caragein a good workout.

In a matter of seconds, Jacobson was on his back.

“I think he lasted two or three days,” Caragein said. “He came in more as a practice partner for me. I think he was doing it to help me out but also to help his conditioning. I was really amazed and impressed that he would do that for me. It shows the friendship we have for each other. It shows that he has great character and is willing to help somebody else succeed.”

* Keystone Oaks coach Nick Kamberis recalled how he put a 5-foot-10, 180-pound Jacobson at fullback, which lasted all of one varsity practice. A teary-eyed Jacobson requested a move back to the offensive line, and opened eyes almost immediately.

“Chris was engaged with a down lineman, came off at the last second and ‘de-cleated’ this senior linebacker who was blitzing,” Kamberis said. “It was an amazing play, a great football play.”

Kamberis saved an essay Jacobson wrote as a ninth-grader, when the 5-10, 180-pounder predicted that he would play for the Pitt Panthers one day. Jacobson returned to KO for its Future Stars camp last summer, and Kamberis read the essay to the campers for inspiration and then had Jacobson address the kids about setting goals.

“When you set your goals and stick to them,” Kamberis said, “nothing can stop you.”

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